Saturday, September 6, 2008

Review: Ice Cube "Amerikkka's Most Wanted" [1990]

I promised my friend this record, but I have yet to get it to him, so everyone benefits! Back in the day I listened to hip-hop and when I want to relive those days this is one of my favorite records to put on.

Basically, Ice Cube made a record which merged gritty East Coast beats with hardcore West Coast gangsta rap. Many times the explicit glorification of violence, drugs and misogyny in hip-hop is defended as a window into the ghetto the practitioners of hip-hop come from because mainstream media does not cover it. I see it, especially this record, as a historical documentation of a period in time, much the same way early Bob Dylan records are seen as "protest songs" but are actually more like documents of the time. Not that the records are not respectively part windows or protests, but remain less effective as such.

Nevertheless, "Amerikkka's Most Wanted" plays like a good gangsta movie, say...Boyz in the Hood. Both have violence and can be appreciated by people who only want to see that. However, each has a message, "Boyz n the Hood" more blatantly than Amerikkka's Most Wanted, and that message is, "The way we live is not the way it should be."

Over the course of the record Ice Cube goes after the media, sell-outs (including Soul Train and Arsenio Hall) and the status quo. What sets this record apart from other gangsta rap records is the incredibly crafted songs. It feels this is not necessarily Ice Cube trying to create a gangsta personality the same way it feels like other rappers are trying. Instead it sound like he is telling stories which happen to take place in the ghetto surrounded by gangsta points of view. The best example of this is probably "Once Upon a Time in the Projects."

Of course, Ice Cube did not always take the high road with veiled, higher messages. Sometimes he just got down and dirty and attacked what he did not like. For instance, "The Nigga You Love to Hate" does not play around and gets right to the point without mincing any words.

And many of the songs do dwell in misogyny, but on "It's a Man's World" Ice Cube goes toe-to-toe with a woman, Yo-Yo. The song is very similar to Otis Redding and Carla Thomas' "Tramp" with WAY less polite language. And much like that song, the woman seems to get the upper hand over the man in Ice Cube's song too.

The record I have for preview here also contains the EP "Kill at Will" with the amazing song "Dead Homiez."

Over the course of the record Ice Cube makes the case as the best MC in the game. It is hard to argue listening to his rhyme schemes and the strength of his songs on "Amerikkka's Most Wanted." And the samples, both from songs and news reports, makes the record feel like the situation Cube rhymes about is dire.


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