For a particular generation, Ice Cube isn’t Mr. N.W.A. Nor is he AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. And he isn’t seen as the South Central spark plug that wowed audiences–and the PMRC–with his socially conscious brashness. No, for this current young generation of music listeners, Ice Cube is a movie star; a Hollywood super mogul. And it’s not ignorance to his past achievements—some just identify him quicker as the bumbling stepdaddy from Are We There Yet? than one of the founding members of West Coast Hip-Hop. So it’s with trepidation that most will approach “rapping” Cube’s latest release, I Am The West. Because, let’s face it: Ice Cube is a family man now. Not to say that his hood pass has been revoked, but, well, he’s left it between the leather sofa cushions for a while.
But let’s not blame the man for trying to rekindle that fervent energy he brought to the gangsta rap table from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s. On a strictly sonic level, this album bumps. Every song, from top to bottom, should be played with the bass turned to a masochistic 11, preferably with your intoxicant of choice in hand. “Soul On Ice,” with its rattling 808s and eerie “ooo-ooo’s,” features an impassioned Cube spitting, “old money, new money, no money/Don’t try to con the Godfather in Sunny/Don’t try to turn your four fathers into money,” kick-starting the enthusiastic LP. A pair of tracks that feature WC—“Life In California” and “Too West Coast”—include malevolent beats and features from his longtime partners-in-crime, including Sir Jinx as well. And “Hood Robbin’” shows that Cube hasn’t gone too Hollywood, detailing South Central’s continually impoverished conditions during this latest economic downturn: “This adjustable rate—it choked me out/ They gave me a loan and I had no clout/They gave me a house, for me and my spouse/Called my mama and my aunt, ya’ll should refinance.”
However, these are the few highlights from an otherwise lackluster album, one that sees its beats—its best quality—eventually sounding redundant over a superfluous 16-track listing (18 with iTunes bonus tracks). And, unfortunately, the lyrical ingenuity that Cube displayed in his heyday is sorely lacking with some almost pitiful verses (“to suritos to soul food and buritos/I’m down with angelinos”). Coupled with verses that make Waka sound like Biggie, his illogical jabs at Wayne and Jay on tracks like “I Rep That West” and “Life In California” make for uncomfortable senior moments. “Niggas around the world that think they wanna bang/Don’t get your ass caught up like Lil Wayne.” It’s one thing to disagree with today’s industry mainstays, but to use lines like, “and Jay-Z can rap about NYC/Why can’t I talk about the shit I see/Without Alicia Keys going R&B/This ain’t no Motown, this is R-A-P,” is just irresponsible and unwarranted.
Be warned: Ice Cube’s glory days are long gone. As the living legend’s 9th opus proves, the rap industry—and Ice Cube’s vitriolic former demeanor—has passed him while he has become the Hollywood super mogul that he is today. With almost ironic foreshadowing, Cube laments, “if you sick of this, take a Tylenol.” So pour out a 40 oz. for Cube’s rapping career because I Am The West makes you want to down the entire bottle.