We all have our personal opinions when it comes to hip hop albums. An album I might term “classic”, the next man might think is garbage. You can have some heated discussions when it comes to discussing hip hop in general, as my man J-Zone says, three things you don’t discuss in public: religion, politics and hip hop. But to me, that is the beauty of it all, discussing hip hop and being a pseudo know it all. After all, is that what we are all here for? Isn’t that why a lot of you have listened to me rant for the past two and a half years?
Believe it or not, I’m a fairly opinionated person. There are certain aspects of hip hop or just life in general, that I will argue until I’m blue in the face. Certain albums, I just believe are better than others. Now, I have my weird tastes and the such. I pump Son Of Bazerk albums more than your average person and my favorite hip hop album of all time is “Slaughtahouse”, not necessarily your average taste in the general hip hop fan. But I love discussing the music. I love hearing people’s opinions. I realize that not everyone thinks like me. I think you all should think like me, but the reality is that not everyone does. It’s fun to hear people make an educated argument about why they believe something should be so. It’s also just as much fun to hear some moron make an ass of themselves by just saying stupid shit.
For that simple reason, I thought it would be fun to start a new weekly feature on WYDU entitled “This or That”. I’ll take two albums, both which are somewhat similar to each other and I’ll discuss my thoughts and views on them then we’ll let everyone vote on which one they think is better. As I said, I’d like to keep them similar in style and era. For me, it’s impossible to compare Ice T’s “Rhyme Pays” to Mos Def’s “Black On Both Sides”. It’s like comparing apples and oranges and pretty much irrelevant. But comparing two albums by the same artist makes more than enough sense. That’s exactly what we’ll do for the most part, asking questions like: “Low End Theory” or “Midnight Marauders”? The debates that are basically age old debates anyway with no right or wrong answer (at least not in the general consensuses). What better way to start of the series in the right way than asking which album people prefer the most; “Ammerikkka’s Most Wanted” or “Death Certificate”, by our man, Ice Cube.
**Vote in the poll provided in the left hand column or feel free to drop a comment stating your reasoning, or both**
ICE CUBE: “AMERIKKKA’S MOST WANTED” or “DEATH CERTIFICATE”??
Ammerikkka’s Most Wanted dropped in a time when hip hop was starting to undergo yet another metamorphosis. A lot of people list the original “golden age” as happening in 86-88. In 1986, artists such as KRS-One, Eric B. & Rakim, Big Daddy Kane and others, over took Run DMC’s throne on top and ushered in a new age. After 1988 though, rap was faced with another transitional period. A lot of us old fogies will admit that ’89 and ’90 were both ho-hum years in the grand scheme of things. Gangsta rap had already seen a rise in popularity with Ice-T and N.W.A. lighting the fuse in the late 80′s, but it would be Ice Cube’s Amerikkka’s Most Wanted that would be the leader in the “next generation” of hip hop realists. We’ll skip over the details on how Ice Cube separated from N.W.A., in all it’s stickiness and drama. What would happen after Cube broke north was his meeting with one of the greatest production crews of all-times, The Bomb Squad. After realizing he couldn’t work with Dre, he wanted, what he perceived as the best producers on the east coast, and that would be Hank Shocklee, Keith Shocklee, Eric Sadler and Chuck D. The combination led to what is possibly the best “West meets East” collaboration the hip hop nation has ever seen. The Bomb Squad brought out that anger perfectly. They were known for their dense and complicated music that was a perfect sonic backdrop for Cube to vent his anger. The sound was one that sounded west coast in origin, but still had the trademark Bomb Squad sound. They even did the west coast gangsta stroll music better than most of the west coast cats on “Who’s The Mack”, I dare you to say anyone could have executed the sound for that track any better.
Cube was known for the member with the lyrics in N.W.A. On the solo creep, Cube had even stepped up his lyrical prowess as he unleashed an all out assault on many topics that plagued South Central Los Angeles. Ice Cube was down right angry on AMW. There is no better way to say it, he was straight up pissed off. The lead off track, “The N—a Ya Love To Hate”, sets up the mood as Cube doesn’t waste anytime letting the world know that he is a brother that has been scorn:
I heard payback’s a motherfucking nigga
That’s why I’m sick of gettin treated like a goddamn stepchild
Fuck a punk cause 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
Cause 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 motherfuckers that say they too black
Put em overseas they be begging to come back
They say keep em on gangs and drugs
Yyou 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 cause of that line I might be your cellmate
That’s from the nigga ya love to h
It would only get worse on the title track “Amerikkka’s Most Wanted”, Cube dropped lyrics of fury over a James Brown sample. These two tracks would set up the whole mood for AMW. Whatever topic Cube might want to touch on, from a craps game gone bad (“What They Hittin’ Foe”) to an X-Rated ghetto fairytale (“Gangsta’s Fairytale”) to knocking up the neighborhood hussy (“You Can’t Fade Me”), the Bomb Squad had Cube’s back with a menacing track that fit the mood perfectly.
In his next full length feature, Death Certificate, all hell broke loose, literally, before it’s release in November of ’91. Cube had all kinds of groups in an uproar over questionable lyrics. Many people were branding him as a racist as the white media sat up and took notice due to some of his lyrics. I can recall news shows such as “Nightline”, “ABC Tonight” and several of the conservative cable news talk shows taking shots at Cube and this album. I’m sure a lot of the heat was left over from the whole Ice-T/Cop Killer controversy with Time Warner. Ethnic groups such as Korean store owners, were fired up about Cube’s bluntness when dealing with the racial tension, but really it was just a predecessor of what was to come with the riots the coming spring. In all, it was the perfect firestorm Cube needed to sell units when it dropped.
Gone was the Bomb Squad and in stepped in several of my personal favorites as well as some of the most underrated beat makers on the left side. Sir Jinx and The Boogiemen (DJ Pooh, Bobcat, & Rashad) handled the majority of the the production duties found on Death Certificate. While I wouldn’t say the contained a more “west coast flavor”, it did build off of the foundation the Bomb Squad laid previously. Filled with familiar chunky funk samples such as “Hip Hugger”, “Funky Worm” and other P-Funk staples, Death Certificate to me represented Ice Cubes anger that was more focused at it’s target. Once again, Cube lead off the album with two excellent bangers, full of venom and anger over true gangster funk. “The Wrong N—a Fuck Wit” might as well be part two to either “The N—a Ya Love To Hate” or “Amerikkka’s Most Wanted”, as Cube unleashes the same fury and anger as expressed on those two songs.
On Death Certificate though, it’s not nearly about the beats as it was on Amerikkka’s Most Wanted. I’m not sure if it was the fact that it wasn’t the Bomb Squad or the fact that Cube stepped up his game on Death Certificate. Cube wove ghetto tails like no one else could or still can. “My Summer Vacation” and “Steady Mobbin’” come off like a hood novel, especially the later track, which details Cube’s trek through South Central LA:
Bustin caps in the mix
Rather be judged by twelve than carried by six
Cause I’m gettin major
Fuck Pac Tel, move to Sky Pager
Told all my friends Don’t drink 8 Ball, cause St. Ide’s is givin ends
Fools get drunk and wanna compete
Slapboxin in the street
Niggaz get mad, tempers are flarin cause they got a few bitches starin
Just for the nappy heads
But scandalous bitches, make for happy Feds
I’m making my duty to cuss em out, cause I just don’t trust em
And if you tell on me I’m bombin on Betty
Bitch shoulda known I was steady mobbin
“Steady Mobbin’” is quite possibly one of the greatest west coast songs ever. Cube doesn’t stop there, as he tells tales of despair and helplessness on what ultimately ends up to be a two sided concept album (back when albums were formatted to the cassette media). On the “Death Side”, Cube paints a picture of what really goes down in the hood. From sheisty bitches that give you the clap in “Look Who’s Burnin”, to the tales of slangin’ ‘caine on the corner in the hard edged “A Bird In The Hand”. It’s the “Death Side”, that Cube lays down all the dark shit that happens in any ghetto U.S.A. It would be the “Birth Side” that would ruffle a few feathers of America, further cementing the thought that conservative America is fine when a black artists is speaking about the fucked things going on in his hood, but when it comes out to the suburbs, shits not kosher. Tracks like “Black Korea”, in which Cube fires lyrical bullets at the Korean shop keepers found throughout the black neighborhoods in LA, are filled with anger which might be justified, but still fueled the controversy that surrounded this albums release. It would also cement Cube as more than just a gangster rapper, he would be seen as a black leader and on the same level as the X-Clan, Public Enemy and other Afrocentric leaders in the black community.
Trav’s Final Verdict
While Amerikkka’s Most Wanted is nearly perfect, a couple tracks don’t seem to fit, namely “The Bomb”, the albums last track. Don’t get me wrong, the energy and some of the lines Cube drops are tops, but the song just doesn’t seem to fit in the overall scheme of things. It probably would have fit better on the Kill At Will EP that dropped later in the year. Other weaker tracks tend to distract from the overall finish of the product as well. “It’s A Man’s World” is one of the weaker tracks as well. I’ve long felt that Death Certificate was a more polished version of AMW, in terms of beats and Cube’s skills writing songs and in his lyrics. One could knock the overuse of several well worn samples in the Boogiemen’s and Sir Jinx’s repertoire, but as I mentioned before, Death Certificate isn’t supposed to be about beats. The beats more than adequately provided the proper canvas for Cube to paint his picture of what kind of shit went down in the Los Angeles ghettos. Everything is just crisper and more focused on Death Certificate. It even spawned possibly the
most vile and venomous dis track ever in “No Vaseline”. Cube’s fury is more focused and that lead to album that made more of an impact on society as a whole.
Winner: Death Certificate