Everyone knows Ice Cube. Whether you’re almost 40 and learned proper etiquette from his unfiltered early albums or age 18 and grew up watching the West Coast icon in his second coming as a movie star, O’Shea Jackson has rightfully earned his celebrity in the eyes of millions of reasons. However, of all the realms Cube has conquered, Hip-Hop is where this South Central refugee left his real carbon footprint.
As a founding member of N.W.A and solo artist capable of starting a revolution with his tunes, the self-proclaimed Don Mega of rap has run the genre’s gamut more than almost any artist to date, providing copious amounts of rousing records for the masses over nearly 30 years in the spotlight.
To help preserve what we deem the most vital aspect of Cube’s long standing career, we’ve compiled ten of his most decisive tracks to help bring out your inner-G and remind everyone how much of a beast the Are We There Yet star can be on the mic. Yay yay!
1. “Nigga Ya Love To Hate”
After contract disputes led to Cube’s departure from The World’s Most Dangerous Group, the angst-filled South Central rapper partnered with production group The Bomb Squad for his groundbreaking 1990 debut album, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. Fueled by commentary on economic inequality, mass corruption and numerous other relevant themes, the socially-charged project held no punches and kicked off with this name-calling retaliation to resistance.
2. “Gangsta’s Fairytale”
Originally meant to be an N.W.A song, this mesh of raunchy fairy tales provided “something for the kids” and a humorous break on AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, amidst all the fiery content. A second installment of this Andrew Dice Clay-approved series was later released on The Predator, Cube’s third album.
3. “How To Survive In South Central”
Having taken a polarizing role in John Singleton’s Boyz In The Hood film as the Jheri-curled street OG Doughboy, it was only right I-C-E laced the soundtrack. Flipping Zapp’s “So Ruff, So Tuff” into an audible handbook on surviving in his Los Angeles neighborhood, this single was both bouncy and poignant, showing early signs of the versatility that would eventually allow Cube to crossover.
From a glance, the brazen ideology and blunt-force vocabulary on Ice Cube’s early albums would offend almost anyone. However, what offended Ice Cube was everyone else acting awry. So, on this funky joint from his sophomore album Death Certificate, Cube put his own race to task – citing envy and greed among the many issues holding Blacks back, in hopes of refocusing the priorities of those listening.
5. “No Vaseline”
After getting slighted by N.W.A on both albums upon parting ways, the Lench Mob leader laid out their dirt for everyone to hear on this scathing track. Produced by Sir Jinx and Cube himself, this historic diss ended Death Certificate with a bang and salted his former group’s reputation to the point that they would end up dissolving within a year of the song’s release.
6. “Today Was A Good Day”
Despite Ice Cube’s third album The Predator lacking the substance of his previous efforts, the 1992 project featured maybe his most popular song ever in “Today Was A Good Day.” Built around a well-picked Isley Brothers sample from producer DJ Pooh and a surprisingly positive theme, this warm-weather-friendly track showed a new Cube by capturing his easygoing side and, as a result, has been tearing up the radio ever since.
7. “Ghetto Bird”
Whether he intended to crossover or not, Ice Cube had become a mainstream media staple in both music and movies by 1993, which created an opportunity to capitalize on the spotlight by tweaking his tunes a little bit. On Lethal Injection, Cube moved away from his early East Coast sound, into more West Coast-centric jams like “Bop Gun” and “You Know How We Do It,” which were well-received mainstream winners. However, of all the songs with refocused production, “Ghetto Bird” stood out amidst the hits.
Bolstered by a slamming QDIII beat and dedicated to the unwanted police choppers hovering around a neighborhood near you, this track carried the malcontent of Cube’s earlier work, but still benefited from the enhanced production that made his fourth album so radio-friendly.
Another movie role, another O’Shea staple. This title track from his famed Friday series honorably carried on the second, more mainstream-friendly generation of Ice Cube’s music to much success. Nearly twenty years later and after a long week’s work, this knocking neck-breaker will still blow the roof off any house party following a long days work.
9. “Ghetto Vet”
After taking a solo hiatus to propel the Westside Connect gang with longtime collaborators WC and Mack 10, the Don Mega of rap returned in 1998 to release his long-awaited 5th album, War & Peace Vol. 1. While the content kept pace with the advanced aggression he had cultivated in his off time, the watered-down album’s highlight was this fictional story track that found the Cali kingpin speaking through the persona of a washed-up OG, who saw his once-vital street-cred land him in a wheelchair and pissing through tubes. Hey Cube, good thing music worked out, huh?
With Chronic 2000 still killing airwaves in early 2000 and a Westside resurgence in full swing, Cube reconnected with his former N.W.A homies for this reintroduction to the world. Featuring Dre’s minimal menace on the beat, this immediate winner outwardly questioned whether or not Cube and his crew get their due props with one potent line, “We started this gangsta’ sh*t and this motherf*cking thanks we get?” Considering Cube’s currently doing Coors commercials and the socially-charged Hip-Hop he helped popularize has almost completely faded away, it’s safe to say the answer is yes.