July 14, 2008

Ice Cube - AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted (May 16, 1990)


While in high school, Friday's O'Shea Jackson took a liking to hip hop music, and started a group with his friend, Sir Jinx, called C.I.A. Sir Jinx just so happened to have a cousin named Andre Young (ever since I started HHID, I'm constantly surprised by the bloodlines contained within hip hop's family tree), who produced their only released EP, which is either called The C.I.A. EP or My Posse (depending on if you trust Wikipedia), in 1987. That same year, Macola Records, who distributed The C.I.A. EP, released the so-called "debut" album from Barbershop's Ice Cube's other rap group, N.W.A., and, as a result, C.I.A. was no more, although Sir Jinx and The Glass Shield's Ice Cube still continued to prosper together.

After the 1988 releases of the seminal Straight Outta Compton and Eazy-E's solo debut, Eazy-Duz-It, The World's Most Dangerous Group (also the name of their barbershop quintet) renegotiated their contract with Eazy's business partner Jerry Heller, who helped him run Ruthless Records, Eazy's label. MC Ren, Dr. Dre, and DJ Yella signed their new contracts without delay, with dollar signs in their eyes (Arabian Prince had already left the crew at this point), but Torque's O'Shea Jackson requested that a lawyer read what Heller had drafted prior to signing anything. After consulting his legal representative, Anaconda's Ice Cube was advised of how much he should have been getting paid for his work, considering that he wrote the majority of those two aforementioned albums. He felt that he was entitled to his fair share, and also noted that there were issues within the contract itself that prevented him from fully profiting from his work: instead, the money would conveniently find its way back into the pockets of Eazy and Heller. First Sunday's Ice Cube requested a new contract be drafted, and was flatly denied by both Eazy and Heller: as such, he broke the hell out and flew out to the East Coast before recording started on any new N.W.A. project. Eazy, Dre, and Ren responded in song by dissing the shit out of their former bandmate, but, as we all know by now, it turns out that Cube was right all along about their money situation being fucked up, and the ramifications of those contracts are still felt in hip hop to this day.

John Carpenter's Ghosts Of Mars's O'Shea Jackson may have defected to the East Coast for a spell, but his heart was still firmly set in California. He linked up with Public Enemy's producers The Bomb Squad, essentially trading in one innovative and controversial hip hop collective for another, and quickly crafted his solo debut album, AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, in 1990. The sound was an amalgam of West Coast sensibilities and the East Coast's penchant for sampling from unorthodox sources, and was an immediate hit in all areas of the country (even possibly Montana, although I have no proof of this). Critics hailed the album for its charged lyrics and musical styling, but bashed the blatant racism and misogyny: these critics apparently had no idea what they were in for when Cube released his follow-ups.

Boyz N The Hood's O'Shea Jackson followed up his debut album with his acclaimed film debut in, well, Boyz N The Hood, playing one of the most memorable characters in the John Singleton canon, Doughboy. I believe there was even some Oscar talk back in 1990, but of course, nobody thought a rapper deserved an Oscar for acting back in those days. It didn't matter, anyway, since Three Kings's Ice Cube stuck with his first love, making music, for a good while, until he discovered that there was simply more money to be made in Hollywood than in the music industry (thanks, bootleggers!), turning to flicks such as Are We There Yet? to finance the new guesthouse on his huge lot of land.

Yes, kids, if your gangsta rap is done properly, you, too, can reap the rewards.

1. BETTER OFF DEAD
Well, I was hoping to hear a musical tribute to the John Cusack classic ("Two dollars!"), but instead, we get a creepy-sounding intro featuring Cube getting fried in the electric chair. Notable for featuring a corrections officer demanding "Switch!", a sound bite that would be re-used over and over again in hip hop.

2. THE N---A YOU LOVE TO HATE
After getting his ass electrocuted (and living to tell about it), Cube steps in with the same fierce delivery that earned him praise and a legion of fans. It is admirable that he doesn't outright go into "Fuck N.W.A." mode, instead choosing to focus on other sitting ducks, although the Bomb Squad chops up multiple N.W.A. Ice Cube vocal samples, so as to remind the listeners (and, apparently, Cube) how we got to this point.

3. AMERIKKKA'S MOST WANTED
The Bomb Squad beat here is passable at best: it's not nearly as confrontational and hard-hitting as you would expect a title track to be, especially with this fucking title.

4. WHAT THEY HITTIN' FOE
This one-verse wonder is just barely under the minute-and-a-half mark, but Cube continues to captivate while the instrumental incorporates, at minimum, seemingly forty-seven different beats concurrently.

5. YOU CAN'T FADE ME / JD'S GAFFILIN'
A good, and yest disturbing as shit, track, in which we find our hero O'Shea confronted with the possibility that he may have fathered a child with (gasp!) an ugly girl. He runs through his train of thought at the time, which happens to include a couple of abortion techniques that no clinic would consider administering. His description of avoiding all of his boys in order to sleep with said ugly girl is amusing, though. "JD's Gaffilin'", an interlude hilariously listed as track 5 1/2 on the album's back cover, comes off as the loneliest stand-up routine ever recorded.

6. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE PROJECTS
Reggie Noble loves this song, and chances are you will, too. Other than the fact that O'Shea uses the word "object" at the end of his story, instead of the term "moral", which is what he meant to use had he not been pressured to actually rhyme his verses, this exemplary example of Cube's storytelling is still fucking photo-realistic today.

7. TURN OFF THE RADIO
This advice actually holds more weight today than it did in 1990. Come on, tell me I'm wrong. That's right, you can't do it.

8. ENDANGERED SPECIES (TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE) (FEAT CHUCK D.)
Cube and Chuck D. (from Public Enemy, but hopefully the hip hop fans that check out my blog didn't need me to add that qualifier) trade verses over an incendiary Bomb Squad beat. There is nothing more to say, other than: this shit just sounds good.

9. A GANGSTA'S FAIRYTALE
O'Shea's retelling of many popular children's fairy tales is funny, but gimmicky, and you'll probably only listen to it the once. The kid featured shouting on the interludes is also annoying as fuck: you guys couldn't get a better child actor?

10. I'M ONLY OUT FOR ONE THING (FEAT FLAVOR FLAV)
Flavor Flav takes some time out of his busy reality television and sitcom schedule, jumps into an awaiting time machine, and finds himself on Ice Cube's debut solo album. Cube sounds like he's just messing around (in a good way), but, well, let's just say Flav isn't known for his mic skills for a good goddamn reason.

11. GET OFF MY DICK AND TELL YO BITCH TO COME HERE
Before the sub-genre of rock music known officially as "Crappy Emo Shit" took song titles to ridiculous lows, Ice Cube submitted his contribution to a contest nobody was administering. (He would later top this with the Kill At Will EP, on which he includes this song title, but adds the word "remix" to it, thus retaining the title for an additional six months.) I gotta tell you, I appreciate the fact that Cube didn't feel the need to pad this song into a five-minute crapfest that's four minutes too long: he keeps it short and sweet.

12. THE DRIVE-BY
In ego trip's Big Book of Rap Lists, Prince Paul himself called this one of his favorite hip hop skits, simply because the characters are listening to Young MC's "Bust A Move" while shooting up some poor guy who's only claim to fame is getting shot the fuck up on an Ice Cube record. The song selection makes for a funny contrast, but otherwise, a skit is a skit is a skit. Now if Paul had produced the skit...

13. ROLLIN' WIT THE LENCH MOB
A track about hanging with your weed carriers that doesn't actually feature said weed carriers rhyming all over it? Brilliant! And the song itself is entertaining as hell.

14. WHO'S THE MACK?
In a complete 180-degree turn from the previous tracks, Cube takes on an observant role in this social commentary, running down a list of actions that result in women being used, bused, and generally played by men. The delivery is the least angry that Cube has been on the entire album, and the song is better for it.

15. IT'S A MAN'S WORLD (FEAT YO-YO)
The intro to this track, which is much too long, leads one to believe that this will be a natural extension of Cube's early N.W.A. song "A Bitch Iz A Bitch", but once Yo-Yo starts rhyming, the tone shifts into a battle of the sexes that is both hilariously profane and proof that both sides need each other to coexist.

16. THE BOMB
Most critics of AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted feel that this final track is the worst on the entire album, and I'm inclined to agree with everyone, considering that the feel of this song doesn't mesh with the preceding fifteen tracks. It doesn't help that the song sounds bland as hell.

FINAL THOUGHTS: AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted proves that Ice Cube was a born solo artist. He may have been just a tad bit lost without his boy Dr. Dre manning the boards, but the Bomb Squad picked him up, dusted him off, and helped him create some of the bets music of his career. His delivery is as vile as it was on Straight Outta Compton, but he is undeniably likable, making this album an excellent, straightforward listen, with the exception of that godawful final track.

BUY OR BURN? Buy this album. Every fan of hip hop should have this in their collection, and as for the fans of Are We Done Yet?: um, do your parents know you're reading this blog? I mean, there are a lot of italics used on here.

BEST TRACKS: "You Can't Fade Me"; "The N---a You Love To Hate"; "Once Upon A Time In The Projects"; "Who's The Mack?"; "Endangered Species (Tales From The Darkside)"

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
Read the other Ice Cube-related entries by clicking here.

8 comments:

  1. One of the best to do it!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Putting the titles of shitty movies Cube's starred in before his name is GOLDEN.

    ReplyDelete
  3. My compliments on the blog. Your pieces are interesting and very entertaining. But what exactly do you mean by "the ramifications of those contracts are still felt in hip hop to this day."? Eazy's dead, Dre is rich, Ice Cube probably too...

    ReplyDelete
  4. Nice one. One of my favourite albums. And one of my favourite rappers, even today. Speaking of which I just missed his show today. :(

    Eye See.

    ReplyDelete
  5. i enjoyed the review, Max. You don't have much for Ice Cube left, right?
    However, this album is good. I agree that track 16 is shitty... and Ice Cube a studio gangsta (a fake one!)

    -Kay-

    ReplyDelete
  6. Still his best album in my opinion. This was one of the best from '90. 5 'broken records' in the Source, too.

    Vincent
    thimk.wordpress.com

    ReplyDelete
  7. One of the best Hip Hop Albums Ever. And I'm from fucking Omaha...and love East Coast shit.. this album changed my life. I was 12 and my moms was like "you can't listen to this"... I'd turn it off whenever she came into the room...

    Fast 4ward3 years... "The Predator" wound up being the first CD my parents bought for me lol.

    ReplyDelete