“It’s ridiculous how easy it was for a 20 year old Ice Cube to balance entertainment with politics.”
Ice Cube’s performance on his debut album has been raved about by many, and the above quote pinpoints why. AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted is easily one of the best solo performances on a debut album that rap has ever seen. At a time where group acts dominated the genre – including the group that Ice Cube himself was famously departing from – AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted was a pretty big deal. Say what you want about who was the most skilled member on N.W.A., but it’s fairly obvious that Cube was the angriest. It’s no difference on this record as Cube spits with a ton of conviction throughout – and with a greater sense of antagonism considering the solo nature of this album. Take the first cut – The “Nigga Ya Love To Hate” – as an example. “So what they do, gonna ban the AK / The shit wasn’t registered any-fuckin’-way”, or “Once again it’s on the motherfuckin’ psycho / Ice Cube, the bitch killer, cop killer.” Cube’s flow is raw, brash, angry – he’s the perfect voice for a political rap album. It’s that same flow that made me clamor for more Ice Cube on Straight Outta Compton, and with improved Bomb Squad production it seems like he was meant to rap on this specific album. His lethargically abrasive flow will not amaze you with wordplay or assonance.
However, what he lacks for in technical ability, he makes up for with passion. He’s not an incredible lyricist by any means, but there’s power in his simplicity. That being said, Cube can still be incredibly aware when he needs to, especially from “The Nigga Ya Love To Hate”:
“Why there more niggas in the pen than in college? / And ‘cause of that line I might be your cellmate / That’s from the nigga you love to hate”
Or from the title track:
“But when I start robbin’ white folk / Now i’m in the pen with soap on the rope”
Or even “Endangered Species”:
“They kill ten of me to get the job correct / To serve, protect, and break a niggas neck.”
All are prime examples of Ice Cube’s ability to balance entertainment and politics with relative ease.
For the sake of comparison, I’ve always thought that the production is much more consistent on AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted than on Fear of A Black Planet (the other Squad produced album in 1990). The highs aren’t nearly as high, but the lows don’t dip nearly as low. Take “Reggie Jax” and compare it to “Rollin’ With The Lench Mob.” All things considered, The Bomb Squad does a tremendous job of balancing their signature sound with the West Coast flavor of Cube. The highlights are within the intricate details, and there’s a ton of them on this album. There are three beat changes within the third verse of “The Nigga Ya Love To Hate”; the drum break during the fourth verse on “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted”; the “Funky Drummer” breaks throughout “What They Hittin’ Foe?”; the subtle “1, 2, 3, 4” lead into the third verse on “Rollin’ With The Lench Mob”; the sensual flutes and groans all throughout “Who’s the Mack”; and that “Jungle Boogie” sample seamlessly integrated in the middle of a verse during “The Bomb.”
Why does “What They Hittin’ Foe?” have a question mark at the end and not “Who’s The Mack”? It’s a rhetorical question. Ice Cube is the mack.
The eccentric characters that appear throughout the various breaks and hooks are what makes this album so fun. There’s the black man getting “sweated” by the police officer for breaking into a hamburger stand in “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted” (“Do I look hungry to you motherfucker?”); the racist radio show host on “Turn Off The Radio”; the kid in “Gangsta’s Fairytale,” and the hoodrat yelling in the choruses of “Rollin’ With The Lench Mob.”
Provided with all that character and immersion, the features also play an important part in revealing more aspects of Cube’s personality. Chuck acts as the preacher; Flav, the clown, and Yo-Yo, the female equivalent. The Yo-Yo feature gets to an interesting point on the album. The portrayal of Cube’s character up to that point is undeniably misogynistic. There’s the wonderful “Then I thought deep about giving up the money / What I need to do is kick this bitch in the tummy” on “You Can’t Fade Me”; or on the aptly titled “I’m Out For One Thang” (“She said ‘Will you call me?’ / Yeah I’ll call you a bitch or a ho after I ball ya”). However, when Ice Cube brings Yo-Yo on to trade verses (in what may have been the first time there was verse trading between a guy and girl in rap) the whole misogynistic portrayal feels a lot more like a portrayal than anything. He essentially lets a woman share some of the spotlight and speak her mind, which is just something you wouldn’t expect considering the climate of the album. It doesn’t excuse his earlier lines, but it certainly desensitizes it to an extent. The fact that “It’s A Man’s World” is an excellent track doesn’t hurt either.
Overall, there was a lot that went right for this album. Ice Cube’s voice and character fit perfectly with the fusion of both coasts. The Bomb Squad did a wonderful job adapting a little West Coast flare to the familiar East Coast boom bap they had mastered. Considering his limited amount of mic time on Straight Outta Compton, it was absolutely wonderful to hear fifty minutes of Ice Cube absolutely killing it. AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted is a classic and without a doubt, a definite landmark West Coast record.