When I was a kid, Ice Cube was the scariest nigga on the face of the earth. I mean, N.W.A was terrifying, but there was always something particularly dangerous about Cube; he never seemed like the one to fuck with. As the 25 year anniversary of Cube’s masterpiece Amerikkka’s Most Wanted passes I find myself feeling a bit nostalgic, if not down right old.
Being a 80’s baby and child of the 90’s, I had the great advantage of being born during a time period where music and American history were making serious transitions. MTV was the future of a now dead visual medium and punk & hip-hop were almost twins born from the same womb of youth in revolt. All this during the same era that crack-cocaine, inner city violence and AIDS had taken control of what led in the news coverage every night at 5 and 11pm. People were scared as hell, not so much where I lived because we were used to it, but the rest of the country was horrified as to what they thought was going on with niggas in the hood. Around then, one of the only ways people could get an accurate portrayal of what was happening in other parts of the country on a street level was through music; rap especially. Personally, I wouldn’t have had a clue as to what was going on in California if not for groups like N.W.A.
Way before Barbershop or the kid tested, mother approved Are We There Yet, young O’Shea Jackson was just a boy in the hood and deemed a menace to society (see what I did there?). By the time Cube left massa Heller’s plantation for greener pastures, I was 9 years old and already hooked on some of the hardest shit out. My mother blames my older cousins for making me learn the worlds to N.W.A’s “A Bitch Is A Bitch”; but I thank them, even till this day. Not saying I would ever subject a child to the outlandish shit I heard or even committed to memory at the time from AmeriKKK’s Most Wanted; I’m sure some would probably consider the practice abusive. But in 1991, children were looked at and treated much differently. The protective gloves for child rearing didn’t exist yet and table corners were still sharp as fuck. Going outside was still a thing but even then, crack vials had to be cleared before any activity could begin. So those kids HAD to be exposed to certain ills to know what awaits down the road ahead of them; a life of possible if not probable prison, drugs, and early death.
I remember like it was yesterday. I walked into my cousin’s room at my aunt’s home and looked for his Walkman (remember those?) per usual. Once I found it, I put the headphones on and pressed play, not paying attention to or even checking what tape was in it.
It came in like a wrecking ball.
Kicking shit called street knowledge
Why more niggas in the pen then in college
And ’cause of that line i might be a cell mate
This from the nigga you LOVE to hate
Rap music would forever be different to me. Political hip-hop wasn’t a new phenomenon at all, as groups like Public Enemy raised consciousness constantly. They were loud, in your face and didn’t care about what the main stream narrative created about black folk by outsiders stated. They told it for themselves and Cube did the exact same thing they did: he painted portraits about urban unrest. He even used the same canvas as Public Enemy by enlisting the services of The Bomb Squad, P.E’s in house production team. The music felt just as angry, proud and informative, but with a significant difference: where as Chuck D would mostly keep things clean, Cube was cursing his motherfucking ass off. That caused the music to be a bit more charged and radical. It felt that much closer to the street as opposed to being a bit preachy, which Chuck has been accused of being a time or two. Oddly enough, longtime friend, super producer, and nigga with an attitude Dr. Dre wanted to do Cube’s first solo release exclusively. I can’t imagine what that would have sounded like but it wouldn’t have been this. Funky as hell, definitely…but not this.
When I went solo, I wanted Dr. Dre to do AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, but Jerry Heller vetoed that…and I’m pretty sure Eazy didn’t want Dre to do it. But Dre did want to do it; we gotta put that on record. Dre wanted to do my record, but it was just too crazy with the break-up of [N.W.A].
— Ice Cube, “Ice Cube, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted Retrospective [20 Years Later]”, XXL
This was gangster rap with a brain. It was conscious, raw, and unapologetically black. He seemed to tackle everything that plagued young black men at the time and sadly, still seems to today. The entire album is laced with messages, coded and non-coded. Songs like “The Product” and “Endangered Species (Tales From The Darkside)” ambiguously addresses how society viewed and treated black lives, while “The Drive By” and “What They Hittin’ Foe” intricately describe the typical day for a young black man in South Central Los Angeles, a theme he continued years later with his most successful record to date “It Was A Good Day“.
Controversy sells records, so having “KKK”in the title of the album already let you know where Ice Cube stood before you listened to a single word. 25 years later, the shit still hits like a ton of bricks. If urban radio was any indication of what was going on with black people today, you’d swear we party everyday, do drugs in the afternoon, and fuck all night, leaving zero room to be sensible and productive members of society. Moreover, you wouldn’t know how bad things were and still are. AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted was just as necessary then as it is now. Society still grants permanent second hand citizenship and cops still kick our asses. It’s a damn shame the music doesn’t reflect the times anymore, but I adhere to a different mantra. It’s something that Cube said in 1991 that still rings true, if you apply it:
Turn off the radio, turn off that bullshit.
The Nigga You Love To Hate.