Saturday, October 27, 2007

[041] AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted
(or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb Squad, Part 2)

Album: AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted
Artist: Ice Cube
Release Date: May 1990
Label: Priority
Producers: The Bomb Squad, Sir Jinx & Ice Cube

“I heard payback's a muthafucking nigga
That's why I'm sick of gettin’ treated like a goddamn stepchild
Fuck a punk cuz I ain't him
You gotta deal with the nine-double-M
The damn scum that you all hate
Just think if niggas decide to retaliate
They try to keep me from running up
I never tell you to get down, it's all about coming up
So what they do? Go and ban the AK
My shit wasn't registered any-fucking-way
So you better duck away, run and hide out
When I'm rolling real slow and the lights out
Cuz I'm about to fuck up the program
Shooting out the window of a drop-top Brougham
When I'm shooting let's see who drop
The police, the media, and suckers that went Pop
And muthafuckers that say they’re too black
Put ‘em overseas, they be begging to come back
They say keep ‘em on gangs and drugs
You wanna sweep a nigga like me up under the rug
Kicking shit called street knowledge
Why more niggas in the pen than in college?
Now cuz of that line I might be your cellmate
That's from the nigga ya love to hate”
- from “The Nigga Ya Love To Hate”

More than any other rapper, Ice Cube is probably the prime example of the commercial possibilities of Hip-Hop. He grew from being the angriest 18-year-old ever on wax, to a hero for potheads, to a family movie institution. If the parents that took their kids to his movies heard AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, they'd be rioting out of the multiplexes. When he escaped from the unhealthy situation that N.W.A. had become, he refused to become just another gangsta on record. He instead turned his attention to detail on the entire country, from corrupt law enforcement and a faulty justice system to gold diggers, drug dealers, pimps, and homies from around the way. AmeriKKKa’s Most is an album full of the American hypocrisy that was apparent to the ghetto youth of the late 80’s, and that went a long way to fueling the Golden Age of Hip-Hop. The fact that N.W.A. continued after the Ice Cube split is pretty perplexing; Cube wrote so much of the lyrics on Straight Outta Compton, you had to know their creativity would suffer. But honestly, no one was really caring; everyone knew Ice Cube was, for that brief moment, the best MC in the world, and so he went and got the best producers to make his solo debut. The Bomb Squad put their all into making AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted one of the best Hip-Hop albums of all time, but for some reason, seventeen years on, unless you’re a head, a connoisseur, then you probably don’t know it ever existed. It went double platinum and routinely shows up on greatest of all-time lists in Hip-Hop mags, but it didn’t have any hit singles and the couple low-budget videos didn’t get any substantial airplay, and even now you never hear of young kids discovering it. But while the world is dismissing Cube as a Rap relic, putting out albums when he doesn’t really need to anymore, and pointing and laughing at Are We Done Yet?, I guarantee you that rappers are still studying this textbook on emceeing; Cube’s style is so broad, you can hear future strains of 2Pac, Nas, Biggie, Redman, Outkast, Xzibit, Ludacris and Lil’ Wayne.

Despite still being the primary critical talking point for the album, The Bomb Squad’s production is not as ubiquitous as everyone remembers. The key to the album’s brilliant funk tapestry is that Cube’s Lench Mob producer, Sir Jinx produces just as much of the album; now I wasn’t in the studio, so I don’t know if Sir Jinx was learning his tricks from the Shocklee brothers, but the element that separates AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted from Fear Of A Black Planet is that bass – the kind that West Coast Hip-Hop is built on. Public Enemy’s classic is a treble monster, needles in the red, but Cube and Sir Jinx’s feel for the cruising grooves that were paramount for West Coast rappers, the kind that Dr. Dre would perfect on The Chronic, made this album a woofer-challenger. Right off the bat, “The Nigga Ya Love To Hate” is obviously a Bomb Squad production, but the late 70’s Funk samples immediately stick out more. If The Bomb Squad brought one thing, it was a sustained fast tempo. They looked at Cube’s success on the brisk pace of “Straight Outta Compton”, and so their tracks move faster than most Hip-Hop out at the time; and Cube excels, spitting clear and concise at rapid-fire speed. The bravest decision that both the Squad and Jinx made is to change up beats mid-verse. They must have had a glut of beats, because even in the 90-second “What They Hittin’ Foe”, the beat changes three times. There are sirens, gun shots, and people yelling and screaming throughout; the foot-chase at the end of “Endangered Species” is terrifying. The combined effect of all these different approaches is an album with the chaotic menace of a riot.

Ice Cube’s style is equally menacing. At the time of its release, AmeriKKKa’s Most was the most incredible statement from a single MC yet in Hip-Hop. What I mean is that Chuck D had to share the spotlight with Flav and The Bomb Squad, Rakim shared the spotlight with Eric. B, and Slick Rick and LL Cool J were hitting good, but never this good. Cube rhymes full of ferocious cynicism, blacker-than-black humor, uplifting social perspective, and depressing misogyny, working on a cerebral level that is way beyond his 21 years of age. Even on the cover, he’s been scowling for so many years that he looks aged. Even now, as a 38-year-old superstar playing light in movies, he still kinda looks mad all the time. On this album, he had plenty to be mad about. His opening verse [at the top] illustrates exactly his point throughout the album – just because he’s done some criminal shit in his past, doesn’t mean that allows The Man and Black bourgeoisie to run in the ghetto, doing some fucked up hypocritical and counter-productive shit when Cube’s gone and rehabilitated himself and elevated his mind. He knows his stance is unpopular, that’s why the chorus that follows that verse is “Fuck you, Ice Cube!” His criticism of Los Angeles’s bizarro microcosm of America is sharper here than anywhere else; on the title track, he furthers his exposé on the blatant racism by police, noting, “I think back to when I was robbing my own kind, the police didn’t pay it no mind; But when I start robbing the White folks, now I’m in the pen with the soap-on-a-rope."

Even when he’s not dismantling the legal problems of the ghetto, he’s studying the sociology of the harsh characters that inhabit it, and the fact that they have their hypocrisies too. “Who’s The Mack” exposes the two-faced nature of the ghetto male, while on the skit “The Drive-By”, the “hard” gang members are setting off violence to Young MC’s cheesy classic “Bust A Move”; it predates the similar moment in the film A Bronx Tale, when C’s racist friends are preparing for violence to the sounds of Jimi Hendrix on the car radio. The firestorm that descended because of “You Can’t Fade Me” was no surprise – Cube contemplates kicking a pregnant woman in the stomach to cause a miscarriage – but the attention on the portrayal of the expecting gold digger overshadowed Cube’s essential message about unchecked pregnancy in the ghetto and the responsibilities that go along with parenthood. On the battle-of-the-sexes “It’s A Man’s World”, Cube plays the misogynist to the hilt in order to give Yo-Yo ammo to speak the women’s point of view, and she slays like a pro.

The masterpiece “Once Upon A Time In The Projects” pulls all the album’s themes together into one lazing funk tune. In the tale, Cube goes to pick up a girl, but is depressed by everything his eye catches; the parenting is atrocious – Mom is a crack dealer with a shotgun who’s smoking a joint, the brother is gang-banging, the baby is walking around sick, with a dirty diaper, the younger sister is “only 13 and already pregnant”, and the boys hanging out in the parking lot are always getting too high. When the cops bust in, it’s a case of wrong place-wrong time, and Cube paints the officers as being as ignorant as the parent. It’s here that you learn Cube’s overarching point – life in ghetto is a case of wrong place at the wrong time in and of itself – and even if you have to initially take some crap from resistant forces, getting out is of the utmost importance for any intelligent youth looking to make something of their lives. Cube made it out by playing the system, honing his acting by portraying the angry ghetto youth (he was filming Boyz N The Hood around the same time he was making this album), simultaneously holding up a mirror to all the horrible contradictions of his home.

"The Nigga Ya Love To Hate" [audio]

"Once Upon A Time In The Projects" [audio]

"Who's The Mack?" [video]

- BONUS: "You Can't Fade Me" [audio]
- BONUS: "A Gangsta's Fairytale" [audio/fan video]
- BONUS: "It's A Man's World" [audio]

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