November 17, 2009

Ice Cube - The Predator (November 17, 1992)


Seventeen years ago today (who here feels old? Join me in raising your hands. You realize I can't see you through your screen, right?), Ice Cube released his third full-length solo album, The Predator, on Priority Records. That would make this project older than some of my two readers. Then again, if you happen to fall into that category, odds are that you aren't fully aware of O'Shea Jackson's "angry" period, as all you may know him from are his family-friendly films. You can't really tell today, but back in the 1990s, Ice Cube was pretty pissed off.

Released shortly after the riots in Los Angeles, which were triggered by the acquittal of the four police officers who beat Rodney King, The Predator, ostensibly, continues walking the fine line between outlining racial tension in America and succumbing to an outright racist attitude, although, to be fair, The Predator is nowhere near the level of Cube's previous effort, Death Certificate, when it comes to courting controversy. O'Shea kept the beats mostly in-house, handling the bulk of the work on his own, with a handful of assists from the likes of DJ Muggs and DJ Pooh. He also chose to limit the guests to one track (he even completely ignored his boys in Da Lench Mob), and the overall result is an album that isn't hampered by the constant switching of styles that most hip hop albums with multiple guest shots tend to contain these days.

The Predator was Cube's most successful solo release, selling over two million copies and garnering almost consistently positive reviews in the mass media (except for a negative write-up in Billboard, which resulted in multiple potshots thrown the trade rag's way on this album). Many hip hop blogs call this the pinnacle of Cube's career, with songs that absolutely must be heard by any "true" hip hop fan, or else you're just a fraud. Because, fuck it, two million fans can't be wrong, right?

Right?

1. THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL (INTRO)
Spoiler alert: this intro has nothing to do with school. Also, it may lead you to believe that watching American Me instead of listening to this album is a good thing. Follow whichever instinct you have.

2. WHEN WILL THEY SHOOT?
Cube's own instrumental is busy but catchy. However, behind the mic, O'Shea's lyrics, while still antagonistic to a fault, have noticeably diminished a bit. This isn't a bad song by any means, but after his first two albums, I was expecting a bit more from Cube. There is so much going on with this beat that I was reminded of MC Ren's musical backing from his Kizz My Black Azz EP.

3. I'M SCARED (INSERT)
I had to double check the credits to make sure that this interlude, which probably heightened racial tension more than it simply discussed it, wasn't produced by Prince Paul, as it sounds almost exactly like much of Paul's earlier work, with the dialogue spliced together over a tightly-wound beat. Huh.

4. WICKED
This shit still sounds really good today. This blunted nightmare of a beat (provided by Cube himself and someone known as Torcha Chamba, who also produced a track off of MC Ren's aforementioned EP) is among the best O'Shea has ever rhymed to, and the guy has worked with some of the greatest behind the boards. Lyrically, this shit is a wash, mainly because our host isn't saying a goddamn thing on here, but the total package at least sounds awesome. I understand that rock group Korn has recorded a cover of this track: as I stopped caring about Jonathan Davis and friends long ago, I haven't had the misfortune of ever listening to it, so this original song remains untainted in my mind. (If you've actually listened to the remake, let me know in the comments section if it's worth everybody's time.)

5. NOW I GOTTA WET'CHA
Not surprisingly, DJ Muggs supplies a beat that sounds like something which would make for a better Cypress Hill song. Actually, I take that statement back: the beat actually sucks balls, so B-Real (and to a much lesser extent, Sen Dog) probably couldn't salvage this either. (B-Real's declaration that "Muggs made [Cube's] best songs on [his] third album", taken from Cypress Hill's never officially released "Ice Cube Killa" (over the beat from Westside Connection's "King Of The Hill"), is officially proven to be false with this track.) Cube gives it a good old college try, but everything about this abomination screams "cutting room floor".

6. THE PREDATOR
I wasn't impressed with this title track, which isn't based upon the film of the same name, but may as well be. Cube's flow, which resembles how he spits today more so than what he was capable of back in 1992, isn't bad (the actual rhymes aren't so hot, though, especially because hearing a rapper dis Johnny Carson is like hearing Spongebob Squarepants trash talk The Wanda Sykes Show: the two worlds don't fit together), even though working a potshot at Billboard into the lead-in to the "chorus" grows tired after the first successful attempt. What kills this song for me is the DJ Pooh beat, which sounds as if it couldn't decide whether it wanted to be high-energy or sinister, and instead chose to suck. Sigh.

7. IT WAS A GOOD DAY
Cube's storytelling skills hit its zenith with this Isley Brothers-sampling hit, which details what appears to be a perfect day in the life of our host. None of his friends are injured, the police leave him alone, he wins some money in games of chance, he sleeps with an unrequited love from his senior year in high school, and, as a reward for the day's excellence, the Goodyear blimp decides to validate his existence. A classic Ice Cube track. I never cared for how director F. Gary Gray (who later helmed Cube's Friday script, among other films) ended the video by having Cube surrounded by the cops: it brought too much reality into what was supposed to be a fantasy tale. But this is still a classic composition.

8. WE HAD TO TEAR THIS MOTHAFUCKA UP
The Predator sure loves it some dialogue samples, doesn't it? The Muggs beat reminded me of Cypress Hill's "Cock The Hammer", which is a good thing, since I happen to like that song. However, that means that this still comes off as O'Shea's attempt to write his own Cypress track, all while trying to retain his own identity. And I have to say, this is a much better effort than "Now I Gotta Wet'Cha".

9. FUCK 'EM (INSERT)
I have to say, I quite liked the music layered underneath this interlude. But that's where it stops.

10. DIRTY MACK
The first few bars make Cube sound as perverted as Quagmire from Family Guy. And nobody wants to hear that guy rhyme. Cube later moves on and disses Billboard again, but the damage has already been done.

11. DON'T TRUST 'EM
I always find it funny when a rapper's reference to the year is backmasked, because the album was pushed back so many times that, by the time it finally hits store shelves, the track itself is no longer relevant. (One of the few exceptions to this rule is Killah Priest's "Tai Chi". Side note: even though I haven't gotten to this yet, Cube's video for "Bop Gun (One Nation)" (from his next album, Lethal Injection) also hilariously (to me, anyway) points out that the year the song was released and the year the video was shot were two completely different things.) However, I've already used up too many words to describe what is essentially a weak-ass track, so it's time to move on.

12. GANGSTA'S FAIRYTALE 2
Producers Pockets and Ice Cube himself slow the popular-in-hip hop "Impeach The President" sample down to a crawl, while O'Shea goes back to the well for a sequel to a track from AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted. This particular fairytale leaves a lot to be desired, especially when he spits a hook that only instructs the listeners to "Jump!", which, even when taken in context, makes no sense; what, exactly, about this song makes you believe that the listener will participate in any kind of physical activity, Cube?

13. CHECK YO'SELF (FEAT DAS EFX)
Thankfully, Cube decided a remix to this Muggs-produced track for the video and radio versions, lest this song always be remembered as the Ice Cube song that sounds like Salt-N-Pepa's "Shoop". The video features Cube in jail, as it was meant to be a follow-up to the "It Was A Good Day" clip. Das EFX only supply the hook, but they still sound awkward on here: the version that jacks "The Message" wholesale is most definitely a better fit. But this is interesting as a curiosity piece.

14. WHO GOT THE CAMERA?
Meh.

15. INTEGRATION (INSERT)
...

16. SAY HI TO THE BAD GUY
The intro to the track fakes you out: instead of getting a final track that follows the same thread as Dr. Dre's "The Roach (The Chronic Outro)", we get a high-energy ending, one in which Cube apes Das EFX briefly while critics document that his lyrical skill begins to take a tumble. The overall execution of this song is a mess, though, leaving this as a disappointingly ambiguous way to end The Predator.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Listening to The Predator from start to finish is the audio equivalent of watching Ice Cube's career fall down a well. It's kind of like viewing The Glass Shield, and then following it it with the double feature of John Carpenter's Ghosts Of Mars and Are We There Yet? (Carpenter used to be a good director, by the way. What the fuck happened?) After two albums (and an EP, Kill At Will) that can best be described as "incendiary", O'Shea Jackson was bound to run out of steam, and he does so spectacularly on The Predator. With sixteen tracks (which include only twelve songs) heavily dependent on overused dialogue samples, interludes, recycled ideas, and instrumentals that are mostly not up to par, Ice Cube delivers a throwaway product that has little of the spark that made his first two albums (and his work with N.W.A.) classic material. O;Shea is far more successful when he abandons the pretense and just simply talks shit ("Wicked") or when he intricately details a day in his life in such a simple manner that it becomes damn near transcendent ("It Was A Good Day"), but when he tries to recapture past glories, he's like the college sophomore drinking alone at the high school after-prom party: you want to ask him what the fuck he's doing there.

BUY OR BURN? You two can burn this one. While his first two projects are highly recommended by HHID, this one is mostly unnecessary. Save for the tracks listed below, of course. And as always, the comments section is there for a reason, folks.

BEST TRACKS: "It Was A Good Day"; "Wicked"; "We Had To Tear This Mothafucka Up"

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
Other Ice Cube albums are being discussed here.

23 comments:

  1. Raised my hand bro lol.

    This is one of the first hip hop albums I tried when i discovered hiphop. ( this one plus PE's "it takes a nation..." and IceT's OG album ... what a way to start things hey ^^)

    I listened a lot to this one , remember Flea going nuts in the 'Wicked' video , Max ? Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan I feel old lol.

    Should give this one a spin again to check if it holds up for me or not, been quite a while. I'll get back to you when I listened again somewhere this week, ... nostalgia lane, here I come !

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  2. Once again you are reviewing an album from Studio Gangster Cube.

    "Who gaot the camera" isn't meh. To me it's one of the album's best songs. Although it wrapped up with a slow instrumental, the lyrics are ok. Don't forget, Cube had back then a tight face, swollen eyebrows etc etc and he had to spit hard lyrics.

    "Wicked" was a big hit back then, because ragga became a trend in the early 90's. That's why Das EFX appear on the album. Personally, I never liked ragga combined with rap. But, you know... Jamaican guys looked scarrier.

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  3. To no suprise! i am the first to comment on the day u finish this review. This is his second best album but by far has his best hits! Anyway that guy drinking alone you wouldn't happen to mention be Ice Cube in "Higher Learning" mixed with a little Doughboy description?? lol. Good album review and it happens to have my favorite classic west-coast joint "It was a good day" peace!

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  4. Well…………….I wouldn’t count Cube out with this particular album. It’s a very good effort that deserved the props it received but Cube took the wrong turn with Lethal Injection (talk about corny). The Predator, for the most part, satisfied heads that craved that Death Certificate flavor but many people didn’t predict the horror to come. Complete the Cube golden years and buy The Predator (it is essential listening) but forget the rest. Hell, I stopped at Bootlegs & B-Sides. Much respect to HHID.

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  5. ill have to say that while i dont reccomend an actual $15 purchase i think it would be nice for a hip hop fan espcially one whose into westcoast hip hop like myself to own an actual physical copy whether you steal it from a friend or find a cassette version at your local thrift shop it still should be in ones said collection.

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  6. buy this shit , a dope album, , max does not have a clue.

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  7. Hello AtomicNovember 17, 2009

    So about the 1997 Korn cover, it's actually Chino Moreno from the Deftones doing the rap verses (we all know that's what he does best right?), and J.Davis trying to replicate the dancehall delivery of the original chorus by grunting dead animal noises (he owns the copyright of that shit).

    It's about as good as the two other Korn/Cube related tracks out there. You get the idea.

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  8. Nice to see your back Max. Used to drink 40's and look for trouble to this cd. Looking back on it now there are a few clunkers. But 6 bangers hold up for me. Keep them coming.

    -Hip Hop 4 Life!

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  9. Death Certificate this is not, but by no means is it bad. Id say its not a must buy but if you find this for cheap and you got some extra cash this is worth buying.

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  10. i really got into cube late. and from this point of view, it isn't much worse than the other early albums. nice one!!!

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  11. Anyone wanna review "Before I Self Destruct?"

    AHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHHA

    160K 50 Cent U prick!

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  12. gangstas fairytale II and the title track prettymuch undersore max's inability to appreciate a certain kinda sound...you two youngsters remember: this is dude's OPINION,his saying it's so does'nt make it so

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  13. Hello Atomic - I have heard the other two Cube/Korn songs..."Fuck Dying" and the other one, which I can't recall the name to. Anyway, I was never impressed, so thatns for saving me four minutes of my life. Although I do like the Deftones...god damn it! Maybe I'll look it up on YouTube or something.

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  14. Ayo Max, how come you reviewed Royce's latest EP but you haven't reviewed his album yet (Street Hop)? And where's that new Cormega, M.O.P., Rakim and whatnot? You've been slacking homie.

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  15. I believe you were looking for the word "apex" -- top -- rather than "zenith" -- bottom -- in your review of IWAGD.

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  16. Hello AtomicNovember 20, 2009

    Yeah it's pretty bad.

    I have to admit the tentative rendition of the original beat with live instruments is somewhat interesting though.
    Like, for an "only listen once and then totally forget about it" experience...

    It's on "Life is Peachy", which is only their second record so if you actually cared about Korn at some point you might even have it in your collection !

    On a related note you might wanna hear the Wu/System of a Down collab they did on "Shame on a N***a" ten years ago for a numetal-rap compilation that i'd advise you not to EVER listen to if you still have faith in music and humanity as a whole :)

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  17. Hello Atomic - I have you beat on that final comment: http://hiphopisntdead.blogspot.com/2007/06/drink-coasters-various-artists-loud.html

    Although your general assessment is pretty much dead on.

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  18. Hello AtomicNovember 21, 2009

    Haha great I missed it !
    There's always worse though, check this, the tracklist alone will melt your eyeballs:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Take_a_Bite_Outta_Rhyme:_A_Rock_Tribute_to_Rap

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  19. Hello Atomic - I somehow missed that one. I almost want to actually hear it, just so I can tell the universe how bad it appears to be.

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  20. ok, back again as I found time to pick this one out of the vaults. Gave it another spin again and to me it still stands the test of time . Maybe not everything on here is topnotch but it's still very enjoyable. Hell , I even took time to listen to "Lethal injection" as a prelude to your upcoming review of that Ice Cube album.
    And I must say: hearing George Clinton chanting 'party over here, fuck you overthere' still puts a smile on my face =)

    And to joint the rock and hiphop fusion- discussion : when it sucks, it sucks megaballs ... but when it's done, good it's amazing .
    Need proof ? Check the superb OST from "Judgement Night" or the crossover classic albums from Urban Dance Squad : " Life 'n perspectives of a genuine crossover" and "Mental floss for the globe" , you will NOT regret it !

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_Dance_Squad

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2a4MPP7zRI&feature=related

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  21. The Predetor has a connection to the Movie with good ol' Arnold.
    you can hear the Predetor self destruct (no 50 Cent) at the end of the title track, i think it was the title track...

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  22. Disagree with "NOW I GOTTA WET'CHA" review. That track is clownin'. Yeah, he re-uses that Cypress guitar hit but there are much more elements that make this track great.

    It's obviously an extension to Cypress' 'Kill A Man' in which Cube appeared in the video.

    He's putting Muggs on display here.

    Muggs' tracks brought that east coast cadence/ fierceness out of Cube: "Muggs make it rough."

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  23. Well, in my opinion, this one doesn't go far enough to be a classic, but it's dope. To me, part of the problem was that this was where Cube sounded like he was trying to follow then-current trends instead of doing his own thing (thus, the attempts at copying Das Efx and Cypress Hill, as you mentioned). The main turn-off for me was that I was used to the detailed ghetto/political stories on the previous Cube albums, but on a lot of songs here, he sounded like he was trying to show how many rhymes he could cram within one line (especially on the title track and "When Will They Shoot?") instead of making points about various issues. Oh yeah--re: the "Jump" chorus on "Gangsta's Fairytale Pt. 2," I think Cube was probably either copying or ridiculing Kriss Kross' song "Jump," which was huge in 1992. Things would get way worse on "Lethal Injection," though.

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