1990, Music

AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (1990) by Ice Cube

What the hell do I do with this? Well, here goes…

So this is the second “classic” hip hop record I’ve ever given my requisite 3 listens. However, unlike the one Public Enemy record I’ve now heard, I can’t just accept it for what it is. Because, unlike that record, and like so much of hip hop (far as I know), this is something that is utterly full of contradictions. And I’m not sure what I think of those. I know that’s deliberate – it is, I suppose, one of the things that makes Hip Hop so appealing to so many people – but that doesn’t mean I necessarily like it, as I listen to music for the music, not for the theatre… well, most of the time. Certainly that’s one of the barriers that still exists for me when I try to review these things.

I was going to write something long about trying to reconcile the various characters or personalities I think Ice Cube inhabits on this record, and try to reconcile my appreciation of the Bomb Squad’s participation – they make everything better, clearly – and Ice Cube’s moments of social comment with the ridiculous, over the top misogyny and the braggadocio that I will never, ever, ever understand. But instead, I guess I’ll just go through the tracks and try to assess them, and see what happens.

The opening skit is ridiculous. I understand that growing up where he grew up necessitates thick skin and acting as if you’re tough, but pretending you know how you’re going to be when you’re faced with execution – from The Man, no less – is stupid and phony. I get it, you’re a scary motherfucker.
On the other hand, I can’t even imagine the balls it takes to have a hook that says “Fuck You Ice Cube.” And whatever I may think of the lyrics, the production is great.

The title track is also a typically dense Bomb Squad production. But this braggadocio does nothing for me. I guess it should give me a portrait into a life I’ve never known (and will never know) but I’m not sure I give a shit. But there’s a little social comment to it, so that’s something.

“What They Hittin’ Foe?” is apparently about a dice game gone wrong. Again, though I might appreciate the Bomb Squad’s production, and I might respect Ice Cube’s rapping ability – I really have no idea how he compares to anyone else, but he sounds good – I listen to music for music, not for sociology.

“You Can’t Fade Me” might be the most misogynist thing I’ve ever listened to. And this raises the thing that sort of hovers in my mind throughout the album: is he being genuine here, or is this a character? I would say he’s not playing a character, as he refers to himself by his stage name, but maybe it’s just a side of his personality? I was just watching a (not very good) documentary about Mike Tyson and Tupac and someone was arguing that Tupac was both misogynist and relatively feminist at the same time. When you compare this track to “It’s a Man’s World,” you want to think the same thing about Ice Cube. But who knows? I certainly would not choose to listen to something like this on my own. As I always say in defense of Game of Thrones scenes, depicting isn’t condoning. But I’m honestly not sure what he’s doing here.

I guess the “Gafflin'” thing is making fun of us white people. Is the laughter supposed to make me want to find it funny? (Skits on music albums will never make sense to me.)

At least I feel like “Once Upon a Time in the Projects” is a little more social comment-ish.

I like “Turn Off the Radio”! Amen man.

“Endangered Species” is one of the powerful tracks on the record, and it’s something I can respect, even if doesn’t do much for me musically – beyond respect for the production.

I find “A Gangsta’s Fairytale” to be rather hilarious. I get what he’s trying to say, but exaggerating – which I assume he’s doing, but maybe I’m wrong – doesn’t convince me. A little subtlety might have served him here. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it is good social comment and I’m just thoroughly ignorant of what it was like in Compton in the 1980s. It’s probably the latter, honestly.

I could do without “I’m Only Out for One Thang.”

The next track appears to be Hip Hop’s answer to songs about groupies. It’s a lot more complicated than the old rock songs about groupies, so that’s good.

Then there’s another skit about how dangerous things are, or whatever. And it didn’t make much of an impression on me until the Brokaw quote.

“Rollin’ wit the Lench Mob” prompts me to realize that there is a lot going on in the lyrics, and maybe they deserve more thought than I give them. I mean this is braggadocio, but it seems to be some purpose – whatever that is. And that’s probably true of the all that stuff on here. Though some of it just comes off as “holy shit I’m so tough, watch out” which is the kind of thing which makes me not care at all about hip hop.

I had to look up Mack on urban dictionary. Yes, I’m that white. But it’s interesting in that his contradictions re: women seem fully on display here.
“It’s a Man’s World” almost redeems “You Can’t Fade Me.” It would have completely if they had picked a different song for the hook. It’s incredible that the two tracks are on the same album and I will spend ages trying to figure out how. I’m someone who’s obsessed with intellectual consistency, and so stuff like this drives me crazy. But good for him for promoting a woman rapper.

“The Bomb” is on the stronger side as well.

Listen, this is art. It’s obviously art. It’s just art designed for a particular set of people, or so I would have thought. I get the popularity of Public Enemy. I have a harder time getting the popularity – among suburban white kids – of something like this. And just because it’s art doesn’t mean I have to like it. (Though I respect it, at least some of it.)


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