Monday, November 19, 2012

Ice Cube

One of the greatest artists to emerge from the West Coast specifically and one of the greatest of all time period, Ice Cube is a bonified legend, no question about it. Whether it's in a gangsta form, or a social and/or political one, you can always count on him to deliver a strong message. He influenced a generation, not to mention one of the first hip hop artists to successfully transition from the recording booth to the big screen, and still able to maintain a certain degree of credibility when he releases new material (he should never be referred to as a "sellout"). Beginning his career as one fifth of the legendary group N.W.A., his contributions to the "Straight Outta Compton" album (not to mention penning Eazy-E's classic "Boyz N The Hood") are essential. After leaving N.W.A. due to creative and financial differences in 1989, Cube then embarked on a successful career and never looked back. Let's take a look.

I just found out something interesting regarding the background of this album. After Cube split from N.W.A., he initially wanted Dr. Dre to produce his debut, but manager/co-founder of Ruthless Records Jerry Heller vetoed it, and Dre reportedly wanted to do, but it didn't happen. Can you imagine Cube in his prime over Dre production circa 1990? Wow. Fortunately, that didn't stop the plans for this album, as Cube linked up with Public Enemy's production team, "The Bomb Squad", and created one of the greatest albums/debuts in hip hop history. Lyrically, Cube was as sharp as they come, and he seemed to be SO energetic over the Bomb Squad's incredible production. Definitely the best album of 1990.

Rating- 5 stars

5 favorite songs- The N**** Ya Love To Hate, Amerikkka's Most Wanted, The Bomb, Endangered Species (Tales From The Darkside), and Turn Off The Radio

Possibly the best hip hop EP of all time, the 7 track "Kill At Will" was released two months after "Amerikkka's Most Wanted", and to say that it capitalized on the success of that album would be an understatement. It was just as good as his debut, including classics such as "Jackin For Beats", a quite legendary song where Cube, in a first ever occurrence, "jacks" other hip hop beats and viciously flows over them (such beats include LL Cool J's "Big Ole Butt", Digital Underground's "Humpty Dance", Public Enemy's "Welcome To The Terrordome", just to name a few). In 2003, it was remastered and included on the re-release of "Amerikka's Most Wanted" (also remastered).

Rating- 5 stars

Favorite songs- Jackin For Beats, The Product, Endangered Species (Tales From The Darkside Remix), and Dead Homiez

Instead of rehashing the same thoughts for this album, here's the link to my previous post on this album.

Coming off the classic album "Death Certificate", as well as his acting debut in "Boyz N The Hood", Cube returned in 1992 with his third album "The Predator", and it would prove to be his most successful album to date, also including his most successful and well known single, "It Was A Good Day". This was also released months after the infamous "L.A. Riots" in 92 (which was all but predicted on "Death Certificate" in the form of "Black Korea"). Over strong production from DJ Muggs, DJ Pooh, Sir Jinx, and Cube himself, he was still in top form lyrically, and while not quite on the level of his first two albums, it's still excellent.

Rating- 4.5 stars

5 favorite songs- Wicked, It Was A Good Day, When Will They Shoot, Check Yo Self, and Now I Gotta Wet Cha

With hip hop being dominated by the G Funk sound in 1993 (thanks largely to Death Row Records), Cube decided to go in this direction for his fourth album, to very good results. "Lethal Injection" to this day is unfairly dismissed by some as a "weak album", but in my opinion it's anything but. It's still very good all things considered, and while Cube wasn't as sharp as previous years, he still got the job done over. You can argue that he was beginning to focus a little more on his acting career, but make no mistake about it, this is still Cube in top form. I consider this his most underrated album.

Rating- 4 stars

5 favorite songs- Really Doe, You Know How We Do It, Ghetto Bird, Down 4 Whatever, and Bop Gun (One Nation)

Returning with a new album almost 5 years after "Lethal Injection", not to many much success on the big screen (specifically in the form of the classic "Friday"), Cube released the first volume of his double album set "War & Peace". Although a LOT had changed in hip hop since 1993, Cube would have a very good year in 1998, as this album was released along with "The Player's Club", which was his directorial debut. I haven't played this album in quite some time, and I actually got this (and Volume 2) in 2008 or 2009, but based on what I remember, I thought it was ok, but nothing special, so I wouldn't classify this as a "great comeback".

Rating- About 3 stars

Highlights include "Pushin Weight, Once Upon A Time In The Projects 2, and Ghetto Vet

Coming almost 2 years after "War & Peace Vol. 1", which was all but forgotten at this point, Volume 2 was released in the year 2000, but it received less attention than Volume 1, largely because there was no strong single pushing it like "Pushin Weight" from Volume 1. Quality wise, it was more or less on par with Volume 1, in that it's ok, but nothing special.

Rating- Probably 2.5 or 3 stars

The highlight is definitely the reuniting of 3/5 of the original N.W.A. (in this case Cube, Dr. Dre, and MC Ren), with the hard hitting "Hello".

Wow, 6 years between albums is somewhat an eternity in hip hop, but Cube managed pull off this return so well (even better than the forgettable "War & Peace" series) and delivered his best album since "Lethal Injection". Over tight production, we got an inspired Cube for the first time in years and what resulted was an excellent album, possibly his last great one.

Rating- 4 stars

5 favorite songs- Why We Thugs, Laugh Now, Cry Later, Growin Up, The N**** Trapp, and Steal The Show

Released quietly in 2008, so quiet that I didn't initially hear about it till I went on on a particular day, lol.This was a very good, albeit slept on, album, not quite better than "Laugh Now, Cry Later". I may need to revisit this one soon.

Rating- About 4 stars

5 favorite songs- I Got My Locs On, Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It, Jack N The Box, Take Me Away, & Hood Mentality

I remember anticipating this quite a bit prior to its release, as Cube stated he was going to "take it back" for this album. Well, that turned out to not be the case at all. This is clearly the worst album in his discography on all levels, as he sets out to cater to a new audience, to ultimately lackluster and forgettable results. I don't plan to revisit this.(He did announce his next album, titled "Everything's Corrupt", and I hope we get something way better than "I Am The West". While it wasn't mentioned as such, this could very well be the last Ice Cube album.)

Rating- 2.5 stars

Overall, Ice Cube will definitely go down as a legend. I did allude to this a little bit in my introduction up top, but it's remarkable that he can make a movie such as "Are We There Yet" and yet still retain his credibility in hip hop circles without being dismissed as a sellout. 20 years plus in hip hop is a fairly big deal, so I have all the respect in the world for O'shea "Ice Cube" Jackson for all of his accomplishments.

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