After Ice Cube broke ties with N.W.A., and leaped out on his own, rap fans wondered whether he’d be able to deliver as a solo artist. Would Cube able to channel the same fury that he added to his group’s seminal 1988 album, Straight Outta Compton?
The Jheri-curl rocking rapping activist would find refuge on the east coast when he linked up with Public Enemy’s production team, the Bomb Squad. He released his solo debut, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, in 1990 with help from the production squad. The album silenced any concerns of Cube’s staying power as a solo artist.
Capitalizing on the fanfare created by AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, Ice Cube released an EP, Kill At Will, at the tail-end of 1990, but would follow it up with what would go down as arguably his most impactful LP, Death Certificate. Arriving in October of 1991, the album was highly anticipated — with over 1,000,000 copies in pre-orders — and ended up becoming certified platinum before the end of the year.
The Bomb Squad’s gritty New York influenced sounds were replaced by Sir Jinx and the Boogiemen on Death Certificate, but the album would sacrifice nothing in terms of sonic quality. AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted was socio-politically charged in its own right, but Death Certificate saw Ice Cube get increasingly combative and abrasive. He called spades on law enforcement, the government, Korean business owners, drug dealers, and others — including those he felt were exploiting the black community. Due to the subject matter being racially divisive, and the inclusion of racial and homophobic slurs, Death Certificate came under much scrutiny upon its release, but was still a massive success, earning Ice Cube another platinum plaque and the status as one of the preeminent voices in rap.
These days, Ice Cube’s reputation is a far departure from the menacing figure he once represented during the early days in his career. After reaching incredible Hollywood success with a string celebrated films, the Cali veteran is recognized as an accomplished businessman and mogul — with a cache of family-friendly movies to his name. Endorsed by many of the same mainstream brands he would’ve been more likely to diss 25 years ago, Ice Cube has evolved from being “The nigga you love to hate” into an American darling. But for fans who have kept up with his recent musical releases like Raw Footage and >I Am The West, they know he is still very militant at heart and remains cognizant of the issues and struggles affecting the black community.
To celebrate its 25th anniversary, we compiled 18 socio-political lyrics from Death Certificate that still resonate today.