O’Shea Jackson is a west coast rap legend who goes by the stage name Ice Cube. Ice Cube is a known rapper and filmmaker, but in this article, we will be focusing just on the music side of Ice Cube’s career.
When we talk about west coast hip hop, Cube’s name must get brought up because of his solo work and the work he did as part of the legendary group N.W.A. Ice Cube might have the best three-album solo start in the history of hip-hop music (AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, Death Certificate, Predator). His music career expands 30+ years, and his voice became one of the most important voices of his generation.
It was with N.W.A when first Ice Cube made his name known on Straight Outta Compton, with some of the most critical verses in hip hop being put on that album. Not only was Ice Cube an essential piece to the group N.W.A., but he was the group’s main co-writer (along with MC Ren).
The most famous song being the classic “Boyz-n-the-hood” for Eazy-E’s debut album Eazy-Duz-It. Even though Cube wouldn’t stay in the group long because he would find himself in a feud with his former group members over not being paid fairly when it came to all he was doing for the group, Ice Cube was clearly the breakout star of the group, and his presence was felt from the opening bar of “Straight Outta Compton,” With that opening verse, Cube showed he was not to be played with.
Leaving N.W.A. was the best decision Ice Cube could have made for his career. Hip hop fans would not have received one of the best three album runs to have ever happened. All of Cube’s early albums showed him using the same angry political, social message with a level of urgency as the N.W.A album did. The only difference is Cube didn’t have to share a track with other rappers, and he was allowed to go deeper when it came to topics such as racism, corrupt hospitals, crooked cops, to regular days living in the inner city. Some of the Cube’s legendary tracks include songs such as “I Wanna Kill Sam”, “True To The Game”‘, “When Will They Shoot?,” and “Us”
Cube’s pen game is underrated and elite at the same time. All you need to do is check the writing credits especially from his NWA days. For example there are, “F*** the Police” that features Cube’s iconic opening line on his verse, “Gangsta Gangsta” and “8 Ball remix”, where Eazy-E proudly declares on the track “Ice Cube writes the rhymes that I say”.
When it comes to originality and impact, he is the master of those two things. On his debut album, Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, Cube decided to do something unheard of for a west coast artist at the time. He enlisted Public Enemy’s production team, The Bomb Squad for his album. A.M.W. album was the perfect marriage of East and West that helped show that Cube could rap on other styles of beats besides those from Dr. Dre.
A.M.W. proved that not only could he create an album by himself, but he also confirmed that the version of him in N.W.A was only half of what he could do. For example, one of the standout tracks is “Endangered Species (Tales From The Darkside”). On this track, we got to see Cube and Chuck D (front man of Public Enemy) discuss the life of young Black people who deal with police brutality and crime in their own neighborhoods.
“Every cop killer goes ignored
They just send another n**** to the morgue
A point scored. They could give a fuck about us
They rather catch us with guns and white powder
If I was old, they’d probably be a friend of me
Since I’m young, they consider me the enemy
They kill ten of me to get the job correct
To serve, protect, and break a n****’s neck”
This is the perfect example of a timeless album, and the music will forever speak to the times we are in. A.M.W. is one of the greatest debut albums of all time, but what Cube would do I his next two albums would take him to the next level when it came to his place in hip hop history.
The urgency in Cube’s music was even more felt when he released 1991’s “Death Certificate,” which was released only a couple of months after Rodney King was beaten by the L.A.P.D. Certificate verbalized how most Black man felt at the time but didn’t want to say because of how it might make people think. Cube didn’t really care how people would react to the album that sounded even more, angrier, more politically charged than his debut album.
The album’s content was much more controversial and taboo with songs like “Black Korea” where Cube discussed the uncomfortable topic of how Black people are treated in Korean owned convenience stores in the hood. The album also contained the most vicious diss song of all time, “No Vaseline”. The song would get much attention for its homophobia and anti-Semitism lyrics. Certificate was a concept album that was broken into two parts: “The Death Side: a mirror image of where we are today” and the “Life side: a vision of where we need to go”.
The song that sticks out the most to me is “Bird In The Hand”. Cube portrayed how he felt about America towards African Americans. When it comes to being a Black male in America, many of our options get taken away, so you have to make it with what you got because no one else can help you but you.
“Gotta serve ya food that might give you cancer
’cause my son doesn’t take no for an answer
Now I pay taxes that you never give me back
What about diapers, bottles, and Similac?
Do I have to sell me a whole lotta crack?
For decent shelter and clothes on my back?
Or should I just wait for help from Bush?
Or Jesse Jackson and Operation PUSH?”
The first three projects alone can be made as to the reasons why Cube should be considered the one of the greatest west coast rappers if not the greatest. Everything Cube did after Death Certificate was a victory lap that was well deserved. On 1992’s “The Predator,” the album was buoyed by the classic song “It Was a Good Day, ” which many people think of when they think of his music.
Ice Cube catalog still sounds fresh in 2021 and can easily come across as something you could hear being played now because of the times we are living in. The same issues Cube was talking about in the late 80s, and early 90s are the same issues we are facing now in America. When you add go back and listen to all of Ice Cube’s solo albums, it equals nothing short of being the greatest.
Ice Cube is a pioneer in Hip-Hop music who can be heard in today’s artists such as J Cole, Kendrick, and even Atlanta Trap rapper Lil Baby whose protest song “The Bigger Picture” became his biggest song to date. When rappers speak on real-life issues that we face in the Black community, it will always connect with people even if you’re not familiar with the artist’s music. The person who can take credit for that is Ice Cube because he was one of the first to tell us about what was going on in the inner cities while still coming off as the gangster rapper we grew to love.