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The irony of Straight Outta Compton is that it begins with Dr. Dre saying, “You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge,” because, truth be told, the album that follows is more focused on having a criminal mind than a conscious one. And while N.W.A’s official debut revolutionized the sound and look of music, it wasn’t until Ice Cube split from the California supergroup and dropped his first solo effort, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, that Dre’s words could really ring true.
Today marks the 25th anniversary of that 16 track release. And with things like racial strife, economic disproportion, and political unrest grabbing headlines in 2015, it is just as relevant now as it was a quarter of a century ago. AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted is articulated anger at its finest. In other words, Ice Cube combined Public Enemy’s aptitude for social analysis with N.W.A’s “f**k you” mentality and created a timeless call to arms unlike anything ever heard before.
The first three tracks speak volumes with just their titles (“Better Off Dead,” “The N***a Ya Love to Hate,” and “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted”) and set the tone for whole project. And while some may want to dismiss it as just ‘gangsta rap’ it is impossible to do so after hearing the lyrics. The day is coming that you’ll all hate / Just think if n****s decide to retaliate / They try to keep me from running up / I never tell you to get down, it’s all about coming up ... When I’m shooting, let’s see who drop / The police, the media, and suckers that went pop. The music itself is just as layered too, courtesy of The Bomb Squad. Whether it’s a Steve Arlington loop, a drum solo from Kool & the Gang, or a beat change, the way their instrumentals are constructed puts them in a class by themselves.
“You Can’t Fade Me” is a bit more personal than political and it breaks down the stress of a possible unplanned pregnancy. That serves as a smooth transition into “Once Upon a Time in the Projects” which is about how Ice Cube unknowingly goes to a crack house to pick up a girl and while’s he waiting for her, the cops bust in. It solidifies Cube’s knack for storytelling and holds up really well. Redman even borrowed elements of the song two presidential terms later for “Jersey Yo!”off of Doc’s Da Name 2000.
“Turn Off the Radio” is a twofold attack which doesn’t just criticize the airwaves for not playing Hip-Hop, but also takes aim at the artists who compromise themselves for mainstream appeal. The following song, “Endangered Species [Tales from the Darkside],” a collaboration with Chuck D, rivals the intensity of AmeriKKKa’s opening records and the distorted feedback (among many other things) in the beat bring a sense of urgency to it that complement the rhymes perfectly.
Cube then breaks up his all-out assault with dark comic relief on “A Gangsta’s Fairytale,” “I”m Only Out For One Thang” with Flavor Flav, and “Get off My D**k and Tell Yo B***h to Come Here.” The way that these songs are sequenced into a collection of music with much heavier themes is certainly a testament to Ice Cube’s talents as a writer and emcee, but also just as reflective of The Bomb Squad’s ability to put together albums that connect. Without question, they are a name that comes up in “the best Hip-Hop producers ever” discussion and this 49:36 of music is some of their most memorable work.
With the album being recorded in New York by East Coast producers, “The Drive-By” and “Rollin’ wit the Lench Mob” do a great job of injecting some California love by bringing in elements that are truly West Coast - a drive-by shooting and Cube’s crew, The Lench Mob. Diverse components like that are what solidified AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted’s rangeand gave Cube the space to establish himself on his own terms. He once said, “We wanted to give an identity to the new people I was with. People from my neighborhood, and not from Compton. Because I come from South Central and I was always with these dudes from Compton in N.W.A.”
“Who’s the Mack?” is the soundtrack to ‘Street Smarts 101.' And so atop horns, flutes, and a funky bassline Ice Cube educates listeners on the deceitful ways of pimps, panhandlers, and smooth-talking guys. For “It’s a Man’s World,” he and female emcee Yo-Yo battle and she is able to get back at him for comments made on records before that were hard on women. In the last verse, she refers to herself as “the brand-new intelligent Black lady” Cube’s response, “You’re kinda dope, but you still can’t fade me.” It’s a fair fight, and a better song than anything Jay and Foxy or Biggie and Lil’ Kim ever did together. Then, closing out the album, there’s “The Bomb.” After fifteen tracks of politics, concepts and stories, here is a top-tier rapper rhyming purely for the sport of it and proving why he is the best of the best.
All things considered, Ice Cube’s debut is a masterpiece. It elevated the bar that N.W.A had set and proved that an angry 20-year old African-American man had far more insight into the problems in America than anyone in the establishment would ever give him credit for. And to the people that didn’t like it, refer to his last words on the album’s intro: “F**k all y’all!”
It’s as unapologetic as it is undeniable, and that is why AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted is one of the greatest Hip-Hop albums of all-time.
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