Quitting N.W.A following a management dispute, South Central superstar Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson) — a music veteran at 21 — went solo, temporarily suspending his coastal allegiance to hook up with Public Enemy and the Bomb Squad (keeping his own extended family, the hometown Lench Mob, in the mix as well) for AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. The producers’ hyperactive energy provides a springy canvas for the surly chaos of the commanding rapper’s explosive persona. Declaring himself “The Nigga Ya Love to Hate” and leading the trademark “Fuck you, Ice Cube!” cheer from the first bell, Cube keeps hammering away, swinging wildly with his eyes closed; anger provides the only directional cues for this rebel with many causes. Too wound up to consider any issues carefully and say something responsible about them, Cube gets little but a high-tension power charge from “Endangered Species (Tales from the Darkside),” his duet with Chuck D. He finds a better adversary in “It’s a Man’s World,” a sexist tract in which newcomer Yo Yo cleans his clock but good. The album is indefensible in its galling violence and misogyny: “What I need to do is kick the bitch in the tummy,” Cube’s remedy for an unwanted pregnancy in “You Can’t Fade Me,” can be taken as immature peer pressure stupidity or pathological sexism, either of which is cold comfort. If in no way a cogent political manifesto, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted is nonetheless a hip-hop landmark, a dynamic and riveting bridge between the scattered spray of N.W.A’s group grope and the machined barrel of ’90s gangsta rap.
Kill at Will consists of two AmeriKKKa remixes and five new tracks. One continues the album’s trivial blurt from the Lench Mob’s J-Dee and another is just shoutouts, but a couple do count for something: the lighthearted “Jackin’ for Beats” (which bites EPMD, PE, Digital Underground, LL Cool J and others) and the devastating “Dead Homiez,” in which he solemnly contemplates the murder of a friend over an evocative mix of horn, guitar and piano.
With its spoken-word dialogue introductions, Death Certificate demonstrates Cube’s increasingly cinematic sense of drama (good) — as well as his fondness for taking pains to stir up senseless controversy (not so good). At the sprawling album’s best, “A Bird in the Hand” presents the deadly working-vs.-hustling paradox in down-to- earth terms that make it real and powerful. But whether Cube means what he says or not, the unabashedly racist “Black Korea” fuels anti-Asian hostility, and the notorious “No Vaseline,” a harsh, threatening attack on former bandmates Dr. Dre, MC Ren and Eazy-E, litters anti- Semitism (“you let a Jew break up my crew…get rid of that devil real simple / Put a bullet in his temple…’cause you can’t be a nigga-for-life crew / With a white Jew telling you what to do”) amid other name-calling.
That same year, Ice Cube got his film career going with a starring role in Boyz n the Hood (its title taken from an N.W.A rap he wrote). He makes reference to his media move in “When Will They Shoot?,” the song that opens The Predator. Peppering the album with spoken-word collages about fear, racism and riots, Cube drifts further into pulp fiction, providing a sequel to AmeriKKKa’s “A Gangsta’s Fairytale,” making unnerving light of random murder in “Now I Gotta Wet ‘Cha” and effectively describing an uncommonly calm ‘hood in the slowly rolling “It Was a Good Day.” Mostly laying off the gratuitous crudeness and cruelty, Cube pops the top and shows the strength of his intelligence in low-riding songs that, like “Check Yo Self,” a collaboration with Das EFX, make excellent use of old soul records. (Credit producer DJ Pooh of King Tee fame, DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill and others.) The subsequent EP, which gives Das EFX cover billing, contains two non-LP mixes each of “Check Yo Self” and “It Was a Good Day,” plus “24 With a L.”
Kicking Lethal Injection off with another creepy fatal pun vignette, Cube’s self-production recalculates his trajectory all over the place. He stretches his stylings to swing lazy G-funk grooves for the father-loving rhymes of “Down for Whatever” (a prelude to his 1995 family reminiscence comedy, Friday), uses Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” to set a restrained mood for the Nation of Islam preaching of “When I Get to Heaven” and firms up the beats for “Really Doe.” Reverting to his old shit-stirring, Cube whips up a particularly nasty cocktail of racism and misogyny in “Cave Bitch” and then attempts to counteract it with the warm party funk of “Bop Gun” (an “interpolation” of P-Funk’s “One Nation Under a Groove”). Nice try; no dice.
Bootlegs & B-Sides is a quizzical anthology that heaps together remixes (four tracks from Lethal Injection, two from The Predator), rarities, outtakes and the efficient “D’Voidofpopniggafiedmegamix,” which stitches snatches of fourteen Cubisms into a seamless five-minute retrospective. Although a solid enough representation of the rhymer’s peerless skills, the album’s choice of songs is off; the non-LP items are scarcely essential (“2 n the Morning,” for instance, is totally routine sexplay). Most of the remixes are equally mundane, but the remake of “Check Yo Self” substitutes the beats from “The Message” for what was on The Predator, and “It Was a Good Day” replaces the original track with the Staple Singers’ light, upbeat “Let’s Do It Again,” completely chasing away the hit’s somber feel. Doing it again, at least in these few cases, was worth the effort.
In ’92, three Lench Mobsters declared themselves Da Lench Mob and made a tough, angry album which Cube produced, co-wrote and makes a substantial vocal appearance on. Although none can shine Cube’s skills, T-Bone, J-Dee and Shorty are all strong and effective rappers, and the violent racial wrath of Guerillas in tha Mist outweighs any flaws in their vocal presence. The group repeatedly refers to white people as “tha devil,” slagging off Madonna (“you motherfuckin’ slut”), the Beatles, Elvis Presley (“never been caught for the songs he stole”), Marilyn Monroe and George Washington (“…maggot / He wore a wig like a faggot”) in “You & Your Heroes,” a track which tacitly acknowledges its debt to Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” by biting a bit off it. J-Dee narrates a rugged tale of criminal injustice (“Lost in tha System”) and the crew revels in genial animosity (“All on My Nut Sac”), but Ice Cube gets the last word (as it were) with “Inside tha Head of a Black Man,” a collage of gruesome sound effects. Chilling — and not like Bob Dylan.
Old-school-styling Maulkie (formerly of the duo Yomo & Maulkie, who had a Yella-produced album on Ruthless/Atlantic in ’91) replaced J-Dee for the second Lench Mob album, shifting the sound’s orbit further from planet Ice Cube, who executive-produced but let others do most of the actual track work. His “Cut Throats” and the trio’s “Trapped” are as malevolently ferocious as anything on Guerillas, but Maulkie takes a lead role in bringing the P-funk and softening the debut’s rage on “Chocolate City” and “Mellow Madness.” Stripping the gears with too much arbitrary tone shifting, Planet of da Apes is no match for its predecessor’s focused fury. In early 1995, T-Bone (Terry Gray) was acquitted of murder charges stemming from a fatal shooting in a Los Angeles bowling alley.