VIBE spotlights music’s most essential timepieces for Gen Y. You gon’ learn today
AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (1990)
Elevator Pitch: Ice Cube’s scorched-earth solo debut, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, evinces an infinitely scalable appetite for transgression. This is an album so violent it’ll likely leave you prostrate with awe. One takes it as an article of faith that Cube would not pause to collect himself before holding up the nearest Vaseline processing plant, if so compelled.
Peak Moment: Cube had never aired on the side of sentimentality; for years he was N.W.A.’s in-house gallinipper, biting motherfuckers even when they were past the point of plausible resuscitation. But “A Gangsta’s Fairytale” is unprecedentedly morbid (and much funnier than we care to admit). Backed by a potentiating, royally raucous drum break, Cube jeers the misfortunes bequeathed to locals on Compton’s hard-luck 111th Street. “He wasn’t that nimble, wasn’t that quick/Jumped over the candlestick and burned his dick,” Cube raps of a neighborhood patsy who got bilked out of his good health by a chicken and human gonorrhea dispensary from around the way.
Most Sobering iReport: The Peabody-worthy “Once Upon a Time in the Projects” casts Cube as the black CNN’s most intrepid field correspondent. He rides with us in a rusted paddy wagon, past flotilla after flotilla of dope fiends with a “bad case of the runny nose.”
Hottest Collab: Even ’70s madman George Clinton would be begging to disembark from the funhouse safari “Endangered Species (Tales from the Dark Side).” (We mention Clinton because “Endangered Species” samples the guitar line from Funkadelic’s “Standing on the Verse of Getting It In.”) This is some trippy shit, but not in any sort of pleasant way. Cube and Public Enemy emissary Chuck D scream themselves into a mydriatic conniption fit, disgusted with the lay of the land in heavily incarcerated black America. There’s no hemming and hawing here. Cube even rewords the flagship credo of LAPD dogma to more accurately reflect the department’s malfeasant practices. The 5-0 is there, Cube says, “to serve, protect and break a nigga’s break.”
Best Deep Cut: “Raining Blood” is a goddamn birdbath compared to the sludgy, distorted, partisanly anti-commercial “Turn off the Radio.” Cube offers few analgesic counteractions to the homogenization of pop music. He just rages against Clear Channel execs for “running away from reality” and into the Grammy-clutching arms of Michael Bolton or Billy Joel or Heart.
Bet You Didn’t Know: UGK’s Bun B—himself a gravel-voiced, barrel-chested harbinger of truth—has described AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted as catalytic. The album’s hacksawing fury spoke to Bun, who was 17 then and moving dope in the smoggy freight hub of Port Arthur, Texas. Only after falling under the spell of the radioactively charged “Rollin’ wit’ the Lench Mob” did he decide to pursue a rap career.
Texas boys more generally seem to love Cube like one of their own. The Houstonian’s champ, Scarface, recruited Mr. Jackson for his album The Diary, a schizophrenic’s lament that made gangsta rap safe for debilitating neurosis. Cube’s “Hand of the Dead Body” verse is hella raw (“Sucking on the devil’s dick, scared of revolution/You need to start douching”).
Synopsis: Muleteers must have shat themselves at the sight of O’Shea as he existed in 1990, a steroidal racehorse who could not and would not be housebroken. Cube’s voice, long a tool of incendiary provocation, amplifies tenfold on AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. (Scarily enough, Straight Outta Compton represented the prodromal stage of his unhinging.) Such is the state of dude’s emotional being that he makes his friend, rapper and vampiric human trafficking impresario Too $hort, look like a monastery-bound floriculture student.
At that point Cube’s dramatic, almost Noachian excommunication from N.W.A. was still fresh in public memory. Who better than the Bomb Squad to consummate the second act of Cube’s life? Their beats on AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted are thrilling: feedback-binging funk hot enough to shut down the power grid in a nation of millions. The tragicomic gender study “It’s a Man’s World,” featuring elapid female MC Yo-Yo, is about as hard as West Coast rap ever got, caning us within a quarter inch of immobility.
Now and then Cube will scare up the necessary creative currency to spit a truly good verse (Killer Mike’s “Pressure,” 8Ball & MJG’s “Lay It Down”), but he mostly he raps in the dog-tired cadence of an old jailhouse barber. He hasn’t had the stamina to carry a full album since 1992’s The Predator.
But rather than affix an asterisk to his career, we prefer to remember him as the powder keg from 25 years ago. Lots of fugitives find God on the lam; if AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted is anything to go by, the God of Cube’s understanding is not merciful. Son worships at the Church of Mossberg, a chrome fortress subsidized by the fruits of his shakedown artistry. However dilemmatic Cube’s worldview—he seems assured that Jews and East Asian immigrants are miscegenated mongrels—there is no massaging the facts. AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted slays.
Rap journo M.T. Richards has contributed to Spin, Billboard, Entertainment Weekly, XXL, Complex, the Onion/A.V. Club and more. He did all y’all styles when he was a small, small child.
Cop Ice Cube’s ‘AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted’ on iTunes here.