No gangsta rap analysis could be complete without taking a look former N.W.A.’s Ice Cube (and eventually N.W.A.). As far as I remember, his first album I knew was also his first album, so today we look at the provocatively titled AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, which was released in 1990.
What I remember: I remember the collaborations with Chuck D and Flavor Flav because Public Enemy were everything to me and got me into hip-hop. I think I remember some dissing of N.W.A. because this was his solo attempt after he got out of there. I remember it being aggressive and angry, angry at the police and America, even if I’m not sure I understood the title of the album already. I remember that it was political and that I really liked it, although some songs put me off a little.
What I say now: The album opens with a skit of Ice Cube getting electrocuted and his final words are “Fuck all ya!” This sums up the sentiment of the album quite well. I remembered the album being angry and it’s really angry. The second line of the first real song The Nigga Ya Love to Hate (pretty telling title too) is ‘I’m sick of getting treated like a goddamn stepchild.’ Ice Cube wanted to be taken seriously and not just the dropout from N.W.A. He rants against ‘the police the media and suckers that went pop’, with “pop” being the back-then equivalent of selling out.
The title song goes more into bragging territory and it’s a bit silly.
I’m not a rebel or a renegade on a quest
I’m a nigga with a ‘S’ on his chest
So get the Kryptonite cos I’m a rip tonight
Cause I’m scarin ya, wanted by America
I would have preferred the rebel. The problem here is that there again isn’t much more than anger and insults. Unfortunately, this trend continues, What They Hittin’ Foe? portraying him as a great player who kills all the other players in the end.
Once Upon a Time in the Projects is a tale about black people living shitty lives into which Ice Cube gets involved because of a girl who lives there. He describes all the misery, neglected kids, drug dealers, gang bangers, pregnant teenagers but he seems really disgusted. The police barges in and he’s arrested because they think he’s one of them, you know, the miserable project people. What’s the moral according to him? ‘Don’t fuck with a bitch from the projects.’ There is something incredibly stupid about this.
He complains about the radio programming that lacks hip-hop in the conventional Turn Off the Radio. Endangered Species is the Chuck D collaboration and it’s a great-sounding song, which starts with a funny fake newscast about black teenagers being considered an ‘endangered species’. There are some nice lines by Cube, but it boils down to ‘mad as fuck’, the general sentiment of the album. And while it’s always a pleasure to hear Chuck D, his lyrics don’t add more of a message really. But it’s the song most enjoyable to listen to.
A Gangsta’s Fairytale is a silly mix of fairytale and gangsta rap tropes and looking at it made me cringe a little. Only Out for One Thang is the Flavor Flav collaboration and is nothing but a stupid, misogynist sex song and I remember not liking it even back in the day. There’s a skit called The Drive-By which shows a drive-by for no apparent reason. It’s a Man’s World is so odd. It’s a collaboration with Yo-Yo, a female rapper. Ice Cube throws out misogyny in all kinds of ways and Yo-Yo shoots back with the most intelligent lyrics on the album. The song ends with the chorus of Ice Cube saying ‘This is a man’s world, thank you very much’ and Yo-Yo adding ‘But it wouldn’t be a damn thing without a woman’s touch’ to which in the end Cube adds ‘or a big butt.’ What’s the point of this song? Yo-Yo gets her time and if you just listen to her, there’s the rare thing of feminist rap, but Ice Cube doesn’t change throughout the song. It’s worse because he says the same things all over the album. The final song The Bomb is again fast but has nothing new to offer lyrically, more bragging violence, more big butt paranoia, more anger.
Listening to this album again was disappointing. I always had some reservations about it, as I said before, but looking at it now shows me that there isn’t much there. There is more provocation than actual political lyrics and more misogyny than I can stand nowadays. It’s mostly a pleasant listen, but lyrically it’s superficial and makes Ice Cube sound like an angry child that wants to prove to everyone he’s a grown-up. It’s probably more interesting for a therapist than for a political activist.