December 1, 2015

Ice Cube: War & Peace Vol. 1 (The War Disc) (November 17, 1998)

O'Shea Jackson's fifth solo album, the awkwardly-titled War & Peace Vol. 1 (The War Disc), came five years after his prior effort.  During the interim, he filled the days by dropping a compilation album (Bootlegs & B-Sides), a Westside Connection project (Bow Down), a film that is considered to be a cult classic today (Friday), his weed carrier Mack 10's debut, and not by recording a goddamn thing for the whispered-into-the-wind promise that was Helter Skelter, his collaborative album with former N.W.A. coworker Dr. Dre that was teased with the intense "Natural Born Killaz" off of Death Row's Murder Was The Case soundtrack.  Yeah, there was that one other track that Suge Knight got a hold of and gave to 2Pac instead, but aside from that, Cube and Dre never did shit to advance this particular narrative.  It's a shame, really: in the mid-1990s, that album could have changed lives and shit.  

In the five years between solo albums, the hip hop landscape had changed significantly, and not all for the better.  Ice Cube was forced to contend with the combination of musical genres, a conspiracy set forth by record label executives in an effort to sell more units to a wider audience.  At least that's my explanation for the existence of Limp Bizkit.  The watering-down of hip hop is still something that's a problem today, but back in 1998, Cube actually thought he could fight back, which was admirable.  This is how War & Peace Vol. 1 (The War Disc) was born, sort of.

What Cube had originally wanted to do, if I'm not mistaken, was release a double-disc album called just War & Peace, with each disc assigned one of the titular descriptions.  Since 1998 was a time when hip hop labels were all about double albums (you would only need to sell half as many to earn a platinum plaque from the RIAA), I'm not sure exactly why this concept was abandoned, with Cube dropping this project's "sequel" two years later.  Unless he was concerned that two discs full of Cubeism was overkill; if that's the case, I applaud his restraint and hope that he can share those best practices with his younger peers (*cough* The Game *cough*).  

War & Peace Vol. 1 (The War Disc) consists of aggressive, antagonistic songs that support the "war" angle, but not consistently: a lot of this album is Cube trying to reclaim his throne after a five-year hiatus where he never actually went anywhere.  And a few of the tracks are some pure unadulterated bullshit.  But one of the best aspects of Ice Cube's finest work was his storyteller's ear, and thankfully, that version of O'Shea stuck around in the studio after hours.

Essentially an intro that, well, introduces the "new" Ice Cube: the millionaire Don Mega who feels young enough to still get involved, and feels young enough to say "fuck y'all" to the "guppies" (there's that slang that never caught on again), but old enough to know that he doesn't have to prove anything to anyone. And yet he still tries, but his flow has long since abandoned the politically-charged seething anger that dominated his early solo work, as he now has the system working for him.  The T-Mix beat wasn't bad, but the O'Shea that spits on "Ask About Me" is the actor Ice Cube playing an aggressive role, not the guy formerly of N.W.A.  It's nice that he included his weed carrier Mr. Short Khop on the hook: I suppose Mack 10 was too big a name at the time to contribute grunt work such as that?

The first single, which I honestly remember liking back in 1998, even though it isn't that great of a performance.  Cube sounds like he's aping what hip hop sounded like in that era, with marginal success ("My n---a Lincoln help me navigate"?  Really?).  But he's earned the confidence he has behind the microphone: he's "been making rap money since the tenth grade", after all, and he was seventy-three when this album was recorded.  Just kidding.  I actually still kind of like "Pushin' Weight" today: for one, it's not about selling cocaine, and N.O. Joe's beat is different from anything else Cube has utilized up to this point in his career.  Short Khop offers up a closing verse that sounds like Weed Carrier 101, but he does sound decent enough over the beat, so that's something.

I appreciate what O'Shea was trying to do on "Dr. Frankenstein", but it ultimately doesn't work out.  Cube uses the ineffective beat to compare the creation of the Frankenstein monster to his come-up in the gangsta rap game.  He goes the storytelling route (he's going to do that a lot on here: he's kind of well-known for it), but the impact is lessened thanks to the beat, the horribly-acted wraparound skit, and Short Khop, Weed Carrier Overly-Ordinaire's terrible hook.  At least O'Shea sounded okay: that Don Mega persona was temporarily dropped in favor of stark reflection on here.  Also, props to Cube for remembering that Frankenstein was the name of the doctor and not the monster.  But this shit sucked anyway.

And there's Don Mega again: he never actually left, he was just over at the bar this entire time.  "Fuck Dying" was the second single from War & Peace Vol. 1 (The War Disc) if I'm not mistaken, released as a way to capitalize on the ridiculous rap-metal subgenre's success in the late 1990s.  "Fuck Dying" features the backing musical styles of Korn, returning a favor after Cube made a guest appearance on their own 1998 album Follow The Leader: Cube was also one of the headlining acts on the inaugural Family Values tour alongside Korn and Limp Bizkit.  The late 1990s were a strange time: Y2K, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.  "Fuck Dying" is essentially O'Shea defeating Death in a game of Twister, with a built-in rallying cry that probably drove every single rebellious teenager out of their suburban hideaways and into the streets.  Just kidding: this song wasn't anywhere near a hit.  For what it's worth, it doesn't sound awful: Korn were competent musicians even back then.  (Yeah, I know what I said.)  But the mash-up feel, created before mash-ups were as prevalent as they are now, was a bit much.

Samples No Doubt's "Don't Speak".  Not only that, the hook is an interpolation of Gwen Stefani's first few lines of that particular song, altered to match the title of this track. Yeah, this shit is terrible.  But hey, Mack 10's name is dropped at the very end, which has to count for something, right?  No.

Short Khop's name was also dropped at the end of "War & Peace", so if we follow the narrative thread, Cube was almost killed after his car was wired to explode, and his life flashed before his eyes, and he called Khop to talk about it-slash-spit all of the "Ghetto Vet" bars.  (The best part is when Khop responds, "Who is this?")  Khop and a Mack 10 sample from "Foe Life" provide the hook, but "Ghetto Vet" is the Ice Cube show, and he does a much better job detailing rthe violent lifestyle he grew up within than he did on "Dr. Frankenstein", and how he's now older (a "vet", obviously) and a moving target for "youngsters who are trying [to] be ghetto stars" by taking him out.  Cube's storytelling abilities on here are impressive, even when he mentions "meet[ing] Doctor Who at King Drew Medical Center", which was goofy, but the progression of this story is deep, dark, and depressing as shit, as Cube ends up (SPOILER ALERT!) a "handicapped gang-banger".  Bud'da's beat complements O'Shea's tale well.  This was closer to the kind of shit Cube used to spit.

And then he follows it up with "Greed", a plenty terrible song celebrating Ice Cube's greed, along with that of all of the record labels O'Shea shouts out at the very end as though this trait was a complementary one.  Very much biting the han that feeds you, Cube.  Whatever.  (Although him saying "Ruthless Records greedy" was kind of funny.)

8.  MP
Remember when Master P has enough clout in this here rap game that he could make random appearances on high-profile projects and nobody would bat an eye?  Yeah, me neither.

Mack 10 stops by to introduce "Cash Over Ass", a self-produced track Cube uses to stress the importance of money over everything.  O'Shea the financial advisor is a funny thought, but the non-misogynistic parts of "Cash Over Ass" actually constitute some solid advice: all our host needed to do was mention 401Ks and matching contributions from your employer and he could double as your Human Resources department.  The song itself was more ass than cash, though.

War & Peace Vol. 1 (The War Disc) is a study in contradictions.  After putting "Cash Over Ass", Cube decries "The Curse Of Money", describing what happens when everyone knows you're getting paid and think that they all deserve a piece.  You know those stories about lottery winners who lose everything and end up worse off than before?  Essentially that, except Cube also talks about what happens when you're no longer a hot commodity, and Mack 10 pops back up to spit the final verse.  Cube's last words on the track ("I'm cursed! (Laughs) But I love it!"  No, really, that's what he says) also manages to mix up the message.  The listener is left not really knowing what to think about the topic at hand.  The song?  Okay, I suppose?

An interesting beat (credited to our host and something called Deep Fried Damp) is wasted on "The Peckin' Order", on which Cube (and Mack 10, during an interlude toward the end) claims a spot at the top of the food chain, a position you'll never fill as long as he gets his way.  Too bad: the instrumental could have been put to much better use, possibly for a Westside Connection song.  Why even include Mack 10 if he isn't contributing a verse?  Moving on...

O'Shea rapping about living the high life?  That's actually pretty accurate: it is his lifestyle, after all.  This song is just as stupid as its title, but at least our host tries to shake things up by casting Short Khop in the role of a man who desperately wants what Cube has and plans on taking it by any means necessary.  Both men try to undercut the message by spouting, "You need Jesus in your life" during the hook, but this shit still doesn't really work.  It's that whole mixed-message thing again: the uncertainty doesn't make Cube sound deep, just confused.

Hey, when in doubt, a sequel will help you out.  Right, Barbershop: The Next Cut's Ice Cube?  "Once Upon A Time In The Projects 2" doesn't have as good a beat as the original (found way back on 1990's AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted), but at least Cube's storytelling skills are up to par, even though he relies on the "these motherfuckers set me up!" trope that all rappers tend to lean on.  Surprisingly, though, Cube does not break out and kill everybody, nor does he become the hero: he actually runs and hides in a bedroom.  Granted, he's looking for some sort of weapon, but it was still a nice change of pace.  Deserved a better instrumental.  I'm also disappointed that the titular phrase is never mentioned in full during the song, as that would have been fucking hilarious.

"If I was fucking you right about now / You'd have a dick stuck in you."  Um, obviously?  That's just fucking lame, O'Shea.  At least he shares the wealth, allowing Short Khop and The Comrades' K-Mac to jump in on the misogyny (Cube actually says "We can try to reform these potential dykes", which, sure, that's how it works, whatever).  Our host earns bonus points by having the Big Worm character from Friday (as played by Faizon Love) bookending the piece, bringing "If I Was Fuckin' You" to an overall final score of zero.  Ugh.


Now our host is on the run, fleeing the state of California after getting word that the feds are out looking for him.  Cube's attention to little details helps him stand out in the road: there aren't many rap songs that talk about how difficult it is to rent a hotel room or a car without a credit card.  He's eventually caught (obviously, as the song is called "Extradition"), but he describes a wild time leading up to that point.  The Cube and Bud'da beat was kind of weak, but O'Shea the storyteller is on point.  Not terrible. 

Ice Cube rides out the baseball metaphor inadvertently introduced by President Bill Clinton when that whole "three strikes" rule took effect, beating the listener over the head with the similarities and references (he drops player names and terminology as though this were ghostwritten by GZA).  I just found it weird that "3 Strikes You In" wasn't a direct continuation of the tale woven on the previous track.  The N.O. Joe beat was alright, but the song itself wasn't so hot.

War & Peace Vol. 1 (The War Disc) ends with the E-A-Ski-produced "Penitentiary", with Cube (who also handled a bit behind the boards) orating on how unfair the system is for Black people, specifically those around his way.  He says there's nobody fighting for them in the Senate ("How can you relate to a project tenant?") and ends his rant letting his boys know that "just because you gotta stay, you ain't gotta rot away", which was a nice sentiment.  The song doesn't hit as hard as an indictment of the system really should, and then it just kind of ends.  As will this paragraph, I suppose.

FINAL THOUGHTS:  War & Peace Vol. 1 (The War Disc) is far from essential listening: hell, your life may even improve by not ever listening to it.  The low moments are among the worst of the man's long and storied career.  However, one shouldn't count the man out: his mind may be Hollywood, but he did start off as a rapper first, and when he realizes that, the moments that are created are actually pretty palpable.  His ear for beats is pretty shit, and I write that knowing that he co-produced several songs on the album, but lyrically, when the man actually gives a damn, you'll give a damn.  Hip hop doesn't really have a ton of storytellers anymore: all I ever hear on the radio are shit-talkers, fake gangsters, and Drake clones.  So when I come across an older album with some choice examples of what it sounds like when a writer gets a hold of a rap song, it's worth noting.  Again, War & Peace Vol. 1 (The War Disc) is not a good album in any sense of the word.  But there are moments worth sharing, and for that, the man should be proud.  Not that Korn song, though: I think we all should forget that shit ever happened, Cube included.

BUY OR BURN?  Burn it if you must, but you should at least listen to "Ghetto Vet" on YouTube or something.

BEST TRACKS:  "Ghetto Vet"; maybe "Once Upon A Time In The Projects 2" and "Pushin' Weight" if I'm feeling charitable


Catch up with O'Shea by clicking here.


  1. Progress on that West Coast trek! I will need to check out Ghetto Vet now, and I have some hope it will be good. I like "You can do it" from the second disk as well, so he was still able to make some good songs

    1. you can do it sucks , not convinced that was where Ice Cube's career needed to be in that point in time

    2. Oh its not a good song. Bad phrasing by me.

      Just one of those bad songs that is kinda catchy that I like to throw on every once in a while if that makes any sense

  2. I think I'll pass. A Cube that has lost his ways in political rap is NOT worth my time. And yes, that does include his Westside Connection venture.

  3. feel brave enough to review the peace disc?

  4. Please review Game's new albums - cheers!

  5. LOL tis was the album that made me realize that Cube had fallen the fuck off! (The Peace disc is even worst)However, he redeemed himself with Laugh Now Cry Later

  6. Wow. You couldn't tell 8 year old me that this album wasn't hot.