Welcome to our latest author Q&A, where we chat to the writers behind new and upcoming 33 1/3 books! Today Ben Apatoff talks to us about his addition to the series: Body Count’s Body Count. He tells us about his experience of writing a 33 1/3 book and what it was like to speak to some of the greatest punk, metal and rap artists who ever lived.
How would you describe your book in one sentence?
The first-ever book about Body Count, the all-Black hardcore band who unleashed one of the greatest records of the ‘90s, faced a censorship battle that went all the way to the United States federal government, and overcame some of America’s most powerful forces to reshape the world’s cultural conversation.
What drew you to Body Count in the first place?
Another kid played it for me on his headphones in the school library—the first song I heard was “KKK Bitch.” I had just gotten into punk rock and it felt very punk to me, not to mention I’d never bought any rap so this was my first time hearing a lyricist like Ice-T. There wasn’t a lot about Body Count online or in magazines in the late ‘90s, so it felt like a cool secret—I knew that a song had been removed from the album, but I had no idea how big the controversy had been. They were just the coolest, scariest, funniest band to me, even more so about a year later when I found the version with “Cop Killer” at a used CD store.
Body Count has also gotten more meaningful to me the older I’ve gotten. So much of the time I’d see something in music or the news and think, “Why aren’t more people talking about Body Count?” They’re so influential, and important, and they rarely seem to get credit for it. Every week there’s another story about police brutality, or white supremacy, or book-banning, and I think about how Body Count were persecuted for being right.
If you were introducing someone to Body Count for the first time, what would you recommend they listen to?
It’s a predictable choice, but I’d say “Cop Killer,” for the same reasons you’d introduce someone to Motörhead with “Ace of Spades.” If they’d only heard “Cop Killer,” I might suggest “There Goes the Neighborhood,” which is probably the closest Body Count got to an MTV hit, or “Bowels of the Devil,” which I think of as my fan favorite, although during book research both lead guitarist Ernie C and cover artist Dave Halili cited it as well.
What was it like writing the book? Did you learn anything new that you didn’t know going into the project?
Without downplaying the very real stress of writing a book, it was more exciting than I ever could have imagined. I got to speak with some of the greatest punk, metal and rap artists who ever lived. Researching Body Count felt like reading a modern day adventure story—they’re such badass, interesting guys, and watching them outsmart their censors again and again was really inspiring. Even today, I’ll hear a song or watch a clip of them and think “Man, what an honor to write about this incredible band.”
When I asked Ice and Ernie for their thoughts on every song on the record, Ernie said the music to “Body Count’s in the House” was inspired by Blue Öyster Cult’s “Godzilla,” and Ice said the lyrics were inspired by Suicidal Tendencies’ “Pledge Your Allegiance.” It was such an insight into the way Body Count blends metal and punk into their original, hardcore sound. There are punk bands that metalheads like, and metal bands that punks like, but I think Body Count is one of the only albums you could realistically put on a list of the greatest punk records or greatest metal records.
Are there any interesting stories that didn’t make it into the final book?
Plenty. There are so many great characters, stories and facts that I had to cut to make the word count. Max Cavalera had a story about him and his wife Gloria trying to visit South Central Los Angeles and the cab driver telling them they were all going to get killed. Gibby Haynes had a story about the Butthole Surfers and Body Count seeing who could shoot a scarier gun over the crowd at the first Lollapalooza. Also, Ernie has stories about everyone from Sly Stone to Eddie Van Halen to Rob Zombie, some of which are in the book, but he really deserves his own book about his life.
If you got the chance to write another 33 1/3 on one other album or genre – what are you picking?
Man, that’s tough. But I’d love a great book on Appetite for Destruction.
Ben Apatoff‘s writing has appeared in Alternative Press, Loudwire, Ultimate Classic Rock, Metal Injection, MetalSucks, Daily News, The Deli, Electric Literature, Beyond Race, Outburn and MLB.com. He is the author of Metallica: The $24.95 Book (2021). You can find him on Twitter, @Bapatoff.
Body Count’s Body Count is out September 7th 2023 and available in bookshops and online (including at Bloomsbury.com).