“I Shot The Sheriff” versus “Cop Killer”

body countTwo historic songs that share a common theme of finding justice against police brutality couldn’t be more different in audience acceptance.  Double standard or justified?  On one hand you have a beloved epic song inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame, while the other song was compared to inciting hatred akin to Hitler’s Nazi Germany and a major test of our First Amendment Rights.    In each song, the singer is African-American from a region of a world known for police corruption and racial profiling.   Let’s compare Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff” and Ice-T and Body Count’s “Cop Killer”:

Song Theme: “I Shot The Sheriff” chronicles a man who openly admits to killing daryl gatesa police officer (a sheriff) in self-defense. The narrator is proud that he only fired his gun in retaliation and he caused no harm to the deputy. “Cop Killer” claims the police are on the hunt, pulling black men over for nothing. It’s kill or be killed. Rather than sit idly by, the song promotes going on the offensive before they’re attacked.
Motive: Marley: “Sheriff John Brown always hated me, for what….I don’t know” …”All of a sudden I see Sheriff John Brown aiming to shoot me down, so I shot, I shot him down”. Ice-T: “Cop Killer, better you than me…Cop Killer, F*** police brutality”

sheriffHistoric Relevance:  Bob Marley’s version is one of his signature songs.  It’s included on his “Legend” compilation.  Eric Clapton’s cover of  “I Shot The Sheriff” went to #1 on the Billboard Charts and his version was inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame.  “Cop Killer” was denounced by President Bush and VP Quayle.  Ice-T’s record company, Time Warner, was boycotted and groups like the PMRC and Charleston Heston openly denounced the song.  Eventually the album was even pulled from store shelves.



i shot the sheriffTiming:   Violent crime plagued Jamaica during the 60’s and 70’s.   Homicides and gun related assaults was at an all-time high.  Drug trafficking, poverty, and corruption at the highest levels of government created angst among the Jamaicans.  Marley’s song in 1972 struck a nerve with the world.    “Cop Killer” was written in 1992 to coincide with the L.A. Riots, the Rodney King debacle, and the infamous L.A. Police Chief Daryl Gates.   Racial profiling and a judicial system that appeared to let cops get away with murder, sparked Ice-T to make his protest record.

Attitude:   “I Shot The Sheriff” is a cherished sing-a-long reggae ditty with a bouncy hook.  body_count0You wouldn’t be out of line cranking the song up at a beach party.  “Cop Killer” is hardcore with Eddie C’s blistering metal guitar solo.  The lyrics are laced with profanity and threats including “Tonight we get even”.    The latter song encourages the listener to support your right to freedom of speech and chant the chorus along with Body Count.