Friday, May 22, 2009

One Year.

Yup, it was May 22 of last year that I made my first post.

Since then, aside from a week that I took off in the summer, I've posted every day. Not bad. I'm glad I've stuck with it. And I'm only a quarter of the way through (alphabet-wise, though I bet it's much less than that).

Sadly (for my brother, mostly, because I think he's the only one who reads this), I'm going to use this opportunity to take a little break. This blog takes up a good portion of every evening for me, and lately, I feel like I've been neglecting other stuff that I need to be doing.

Not only do I have my own band to promote, but I'm getting married in two months, and shit's getting a little major with that. So, I'm not giving up on this blog, but I'll probably be posting a bit less frequently from now on.

I gots to handle mine. You understand.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Eminem - Relapse (2xLP, 2009)

I am still struggling to figure out what I think about this record. I initially loved it, then hated it, and now I'm somewhere in the middle. And this has all happened in the last week.

I think when I first listened to it, I was simply excited at the prospect of a new Eminem record. It has a been a while (not counting some spotty guest appearances and the underrated Re-Up compilation) since we've seen Slim Shady, and I know I wasn't the only one who was incredibly curious about what he was going to attempt to pull off in 2009. I heard "Crack a Bottle" when it leaked; tried to like it and didn't. I watched the video for "We Made You" when it came out; hated it hard and began to fear the worst. Watched the video for "3 a.m." after it premiered, then wondered if there wasn't going to be any middle ground between the sloppy pop numbers and the decapitation fantasies.

There isn't. And honestly, that's what I'm starting to appreciate about this record. Mr. I-Don't-Give-A-Fuck really seemed like he did give a fuck on Encore, pandering to fuckwads with unforgivably mouth-breathing tracks like "Ass Like That" and "Big Weenie," and it was depressing. Of course, part of this is my fault: I've always given Eminem more credit than he deserves, and been quick to look the other way when he phones in guest spots and dumbs down tracks looking for quick hits on his records. On Relapse, any signs of cutting corners for the benefit of the mainstream have already been exposed. The first two aforementioned tracks are it (with the exception of "Beautiful," but I don't see that being a single), and they stick out like sore thumbs in this collection of dark moroseness.

So, let's talk about what doesn't work on this record.

I thought "Just Lose It" was about as bad as Em's single-to-kick-off-the-album was going to get, but "We Made You" has taken things to a new low. Never has he sounded more out of touch, bored, and guilty of fucking up the formula that he created. This track is the antithesis of everything that made "The Real Slim Shady" and "Without Me" so effective. It's just embarrassing.

Dr. Dre's beats on this album are, with a few exceptions, conspicuously generic. They're minimalist, which I like, but after a while you begin to miss the layered grandeur of his usual process. Eminem can usually fill out any track on his own, but some of these feel a little hollow.

Eminem starts with a horrorcore-ish track (3 a.m.), and then beats the concept into the ground. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to hear that he's up, around, and killing again, but his hatchet fantasies become stale real quick. The rhymes are still there, but the subject matter is no longer shocking. It hasn't been for a while.

And the accent. Oh, the accent. I don't know what got him started on the kick (it was Encore-era, but apparently it wasn't drug-induced, because he's still at it). It's vaguely foreign, slightly irksome, and on almost every track on this album.

So, what does work on this record?

Sobriety has certainly sharpened the dude. His rhymes are filler-free, and even though some of them are gross-out-centric, you can't argue with the rhyme schemes. And overall, this doesn't sound like anything he's ever done before. People keep wanting this to be the return of The Slim Shady LP, but it's nothing like that. It's darker, a bit less varied, and should stand alone for what it is.

The lack of guest spots (no D12!) is a good move. Dre makes a couple of appearances, and 50 Cent is on "Crack a Bottle," but that's it. And the track that Dre and Em duet on ("Old Time's Sake") is a good one. But I'm a sucker for hearing Dre recite rhymes that Eminem clearly wrote.

It really does seem that, to the extent that this is possible, that Eminem is back to doing what he wants and not worrying about it. Yeah, there are the singles, but otherwise he seems fairly freed up here. And shit, I am just happy the dude's rapping again. It's weird: this is more or less the same shit he started out rapping about ("Scary Movies," etc.), but he does sound more grown up somehow. And that ain't bad.

"Underground," the final track on the record, is the best song he's done since "Soldier" from The Eminem Show. How he takes the awkward beat and fully destroys it is beyond me, but he does. And he uses his real voice. It's fantastic.

Overall, I'm still forming my opinion about this one, and I think only time will tell. I'm not listening to it as much as I hoped I would want to, and that's not a great sign. We'll see where it goes from here.

"3 a.m."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Inspectah Deck - Uncontrolled Substance (2xLP, 1999)

Deck was always the unsung lyrical hero of the Wu, the wordsmith who had the rough luck to be in the same group with a gaggle of dope MCs. With a voice that wasn't as distinct as Method Man, Ghostface, or Raekwon, it seemed he sometimes got lost in the shuffle for casual listeners. But attentive Wu-Tang fans knew that The Rebel INS was more than capable of holding his own, and we were all a little disappointed that his solo album wasn't included the "first wave" of the Wu solo records.

Of course, this also served to give us time to build up the prospects of his solo debut in our heads. By the time it came out, we had convinced ourselves that it was going to blow the rap game wide open. It didn't, and at the time I remember feeling a bit underwhelmed by the album (we had definitely expected too much), but it, like many turn-of-the-century Wu releases, has aged really well. I don't know if it's the benefit of looking back on it almost a decade later, but this record shines with a lot of the vibe that is often found in Classic Wu material. The beats aren't always as punchy (and a lot of them suffer a bit from being too repetitive), but Deck makes 'em work. I wanted him to barrel through and bowl everyone over with verses like his untouchable lines on "Hellz Wind Staff" from Wu-Tang Forever, but he keeps a lot of this record laid back.

But joints like "R.E.C. Room" and "The Grand Prix" move well. And Deck keeps his guest spots in check, calling on Masta Killa, U-God, Streetlife, and some of the other more peripheral Wu dudes. This makes "9th Chamber" one of the strongest songs on the set, featuring verses from some Wu-affiliates that aren't often seen all in one spot.

While the album does slow a bit in spots, Deck knows how to keep it movin', and his lyrics are, for the most part, top-notch here. A few things don't quite gel: the intro is long and pointless, and that cover has always rubbed me the wrong way. Dumb concept, terrible graphics, and a lame reveal on the back that shows that the cops are chasing him because he's got a copy of Wu-Tang Forever stashed in his pocket.

I don't have the other Inspectah Deck solo albums, but I'm working on it. And is he calling himself "Da Bill Collectah" now? Because that is idiocy.

"Word on the Street"

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Billy Idol - Vital Idol (LP, 1985)

So, on the same shopping trip during which I found the aforementioned original version of Billy's self-titled full-length debut, I also found, at a completely different record store mind you, this. It's the German version of the original 1985 release of Vital Idol. On the front (in that little red fist there) it says "DIE GEBALLTE LADUNG! Alle songs in extended MAXI-VERSIONS." And boy, are they.

Vital Idol is 90% of the reason I love Billy Idol. It is an album I got hooked on in the fifth grade, and I've never not owned a copy of it since then. If extended mixes of Billy Idol songs sound terrible to you, I understand your hesitation. But here's the thing: these aren't your traditional remixes. "White Wedding" is simply extended to contain both parts 1 and 2. "Dancing With Myself" is given an "Uptown Mix," but I think they may have just added an additional guitar track. If that. Same with the "Downtown Mix" of "Mony Mony." I can't really tell the difference from the original.

And while those songs are fine in their barely altered versions, it's the more random remixes here that really benefit. "Flesh for Fantasy" is chopped up a little bit, and it actually improves on the original. Same with "Catch My Fall," "Love Calling," and "Hot in the City." All better than their album versions.

This LP, sadly, does not contain the "Mothers of Mercy" mix of "To Be a Lover," which is included on the more common 1987 version. And it's a damn shame, because that song is as good as any of the other ones on here. But still, I'd rather have this weird version with the red German fist.

Seriously, if you think you don't like Billy Idol, buy this. You can find it for a few bucks anywhere. "Catch My Fall (Remix Fix)" will change your life. Well, maybe not. But it's an incredible track.

It's OK to love Billy Idol. I do. Though I apparently need to buy some of his other LPs...

"White Wedding Parts 1&2 (Shotgun Mix)"

Monday, May 18, 2009

Billy Idol - Billy Idol (LP, 1982)

So, while I've been doing this little project (writing about all my albums), I've grown accustomed to peeking ahead to see what I've got coming up, so I can either prepare myself by listening to certain albums, or purchase cheap records that I suddenly realize I don't own and want to include. Ice Cube took a while, but I knew Billy Idol was coming up. As of a few days ago, I only owned Don't Stop, the 12" single for "To Be A Lover," and a jacked up copy of Vital Idol on CD. When I went record shopping last weekend, I decided to keep my eye out for any Billy Idol stuff, just for kicks.

Little did I know I would come across not only an original promo version of his debut LP, but an AUTOGRAPHED one at that. That's right, I found a signed copy. For ten bucks, even! I still can't figure out who Billy made the autograph out to. It says To: LSD, or maybe it's LEO, or maybe it's ZED, I can't really tell. But then it says "from Billy Idol." Awesome. Now, as you can see, on this "original" version, the cover is different from the reissued (and much more common) pressing, AND, instead of including "Dancing With Myself" as the final track (as the reissued version does), it features the bizarre 48-second "Congo Man," which seems to be nothing more than Billy playing congos and chanting. Also awesome.

And you know, the record is pretty solid throughout. Aside from the big hits like "White Wedding (part 1)," and "Hot in the City," it also contains the more minor hit (but better song), "Love Calling." Billy was still sort of shaking off his new wave-ness on this album, and it makes for some dated sounding (duh) but cool tracks. "Shooting Stars" is sweet, and "It's So Cruel" is the patented Billy Idol relaxed track that seems like it's going to be nice until you realize it's all about fucking.

Bottom line: I'm damn excited to add this rare find to my collection.

"Hot in the City"

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Billy Idol - Don't Stop (LP, 1981)

Yeah, I like Billy Idol. Deal with it.

I have a slight recollection of purchasing this EP from a thrift store in Eugene, probably in or around 1995. I could be making that up. I do know that I've had this record for a really long time, and I've never even considered getting rid of it. This is a rare pre-debut-LP EP, and it contains only four songs. Only one of them ("Dancing With Myself") would end up on Idol's debut, but even that one is presented here in a "long version."

"Mony Mony" starts things off, and it's interesting to note that Idol released this as a single in 1981, though he must have re-released it in 1987 to coincide with the release of Vital Idol, which we will get to. "Mony Mony" was the first single I ever bought with my own money, but when I got the 7" it was the live version, and I was slightly disappointed. Obviously I did not know at the time that he already released it once, so putting it out in a live (or "video," as it were) context actually made sense. Anyway, it's the studio version here, and I've actually grown to favor the live version, as I find the studio recording a bit stiff.

"Baby Talk" fills out side one, and it's a bouncy, almost retro-ish number containing the lyric from which this EP takes its name. It has a weird a cappella ending that seems out of place and awkward, but Billy could often make that work. The track is a good transition between his Generation X semi-punk and his new radio-ready rock.

"Untouchables" is very new wave, and not your typical Billy Idol, but I bet it sounded pretty badass in '81. It actually sounds quite nice now. Nothing too notable, but a song that would make a great closing-credits-in-an-80's-movie cut. "Dancing With Myself" rounds out these four songs, and like I said, it's the "long version." It's still not very long (not even five minutes), and I think they just add some filler to the middle and end. A classic song that I've probably heard too many times, but it's still fun.

Don't worry: my Billy Idol collection is quite limited.

"Dancing With Myself"

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Icky Joey - Pooh (LP, 1991)

I'm fairly certain I was introduced to Icky Joey through the Teriyaki Asthma Vol I-V compilation that C/Z records put out in the early 90's. I consider it a terrible tragedy that the band didn't receive more widespread recognition, but maybe they were big in Seattle and I just never knew about it. I think they were more of a side project than anything, but these songs aren't throwaways. I've owned this album in one form or another (used to have the CD, re-purchased it on vinyl last year) for years, and I can still listen to it from front to back.

I can see why Icky Joey wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea, but once you settle into their sound, it's hard not to love it. There's a bitter current that runs through some of the songs on this record, a sarcasm (check out "You Are the World") that is both hilarious and mean. I love it. But, the majority of the tracks thrive on goofiness and in-jokes, blurting ridiculous lyrics over the crunchy guitars.

I'd like to single out some of the best songs on this album, but when I listen to this record, I usually listen to the whole thing. Both sides are equally strong, with the second getting a little bit more wacky than the first. Tracks like "Smokin' the Devil's Bud" and "Medusa Anus Eye" are completely ridiculous and incredibly fantastic. And "Fat" and "Dog Lady" work that funny/mean angle really well. You get the feeling that this band was fueled by a lot of beer. Or maybe just a great deal of immaturity. Either way, it works.

If you ever see this album in bargain bins (and you will), do yourself a favor and pick it up. It's more than worth a few bucks.

"I'm Liberace Now"

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ice-T - O.G. Original Gangster (LP, 1991)

I'm realizing this probably should have been ahead of Ice Cube alphabetically because of the dash in T's name, but whatever. Just know that I know it.

After listening to Death Certificate a bunch lately, and really taking in what Cube was doing in '91, it's put this album (the only Ice-T album I've ever owned) in perspective for me, and reminded me of why I could never fully get into the cassette copy I had in high school. Compared to Cube, Ice-T is a hacky lyricist, and while this is considered his best record by a lot of people, it hasn't aged particularly well. Still, it does bring back a few fond memories.

(I used to have this on cassette, as I said, in high school, hadn't listened to it in at least ten years, and then randomly came across a UK import version of it on vinyl a month or two ago. It was like ten bucks, so I figured what the hey. That's why I have it.)

The beats on this record are actually really strong, though they do sound quite dated when listening to them now. But like I said, I remembered immediately why I could never get into this album completely: Ice-T is not a good rapper. He does a fine job of going through the gangsta rap motions (don't let anyone tell you these lyrics were groundbreaking at this point), and his attempts at social commentary are actually where he succeeds the most, but solid tracks like "New Jack Hustler" quickly make way for snoozers like "Bitches 2" and the failed shock value of "Straight Up Nigga."

The title track has a rumbling beat and flows well enough, but listening to T establish his street cred gets boring pretty quick. "Fly By" is aided by a fast-ass beat, but T's rhyme scheme is straight out of '85. "Lifestyles of the Rich and Infamous" is another track with a dope beat, but the lyrics are basic.

Strangely (or maybe not), the song I listened to the most on this record 15 years ago was "Body Count," T's introduction to his band of the same name. It's still a pretty sweet song, and though I'm not the angry youth I once was, I have no trouble remembering why I dug it. It's unintentionally hilarious, but that's part of the charm.

The album wraps up with T dropping some more street knowledge, and actually, the songs aren't too bad. The problem always was (and still is), if I want to listen to somebody do straight up hardcore gangsta rap, there's a bunch of records that I usually reach for before I grab this one. Still, nice to have around.

"New Jack Hustler"

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ice Cube - Raw Footage (CD, 2008)

I just bought this CD a few weeks ago, so my commentary may be a little limited. That may also be due to the fact that after three listens to this album, I was having a hard time finding anything to like about it. I'm going to try again, but Cube's really testing my limits here.

Featuring Young Jeezy on the first track soured the deal for me from the get-go. "I Got My Locs On" is a terrible, terrible song, and Young Jeezy is a terrible, terrible rapper. Ugh. "It Takes a Nation" presents itself next, and should have, by any logical stretch, been the opener. So, it picks things up a little, and Cube drops some nice lyrics. "Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It" is some self-serving filler, and "Hood Mentality" isn't quite as generic as it sounds, but Cube struggles to pull off his ear-to-the-streets persona this far into his post-Are We There Yet? career.

"Why Me?" features Musiq Soulchild sucking up a chorus, and Cube trying to hit an emotional note. "Cold Places" and Jack N the Box" are both nondescript, and "Do Ya Thang" is embarrassingly phoned-in. "Thank God" has Cube declaring that "The gangsta's back," but again, he barely seems to believe it anymore. "Here He Come" is a terrible song, but is made a bit more tolerable by the guest verse by Cube's son, Doughboy.

"Get Money, Spend Money, No Money" isn't quite as dumb as it sounds, but almost. "Get Use to It" is a lazy posse cut featuring WC and The Game, and "Tomorrow" tries to invigorate the proceedings and almost does. "Stand Tall" is saptastic, and "Take Me Away" closes things out on a sparsely weak beat. And really, that's most of the problem with this whole album: the beats are bunk as fuck. None of them stand out, and it doesn't leave Cube much to work with.

Maybe I'm judging this one too harshly too quick, so I'm going to try and give it another go, but right now that seems like work. I just hope this isn't Cube's last album, because it would be a sad one to go out on.

Young Jeezy? Really?

"Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It"

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ice Cube - In the Movies (CD, 2007)

Somewhat surprisingly, there is a lot I like about this compilation, and I think it's a nice addition to his discography. I'll explain why in a bit, but first let me explain my only major beef with this collection: it's not in chronological order, let alone any discernible order at all.

When are record companies going to pull their heads out of their asses and realize how much sense it makes to sequence albums like this from earliest to newest? Ugh. Thankfully, with patented iTunes technology, I can make my own mix. Don't think I won't.

So, yeah, that part is ridiculous. Here's why this album is a must-have for Cube fans: it contains a generous amount of non-album tracks. Let's be honest: I was never going to buy the Player's Club soundtrack. And while the two songs from that movie represented here are pretty bad ("We Be Clubbin'" and "You Know (I'm a Ho)"), I'm happy to have them. Same with "Anybody Seen the PoPos?" from xXx: State of the Union and "$100 Dollar Bill Y'all" from All About the Benjamins. Again, not great songs, but I can put up with a lot from Cube, and I'm happy to have them.

The gems here, of course, are the earlier tracks. "How to Survive in South Central" from Boyz n the Hood is vintage Cube (literally), and fucking rules. "Trespass," from the movie of the same name, features Ice-T stepping his game up to match verses with Cube, and it's sweet. "Higher," from Higher Learning, is rare '95-era Cube, and finds him in a good spot, though it's very clearly written for the movie.

"Natural Born Killaz," Cube's '94 team-up with Dr. Dre for the Murder Was the Case soundtrack is here, and so is the goofy-fun title track from Friday. There are some album tracks here: "The Wrong Nigga to Fuck Wit," "Ghetto Vet," and "You Can Do It" are included, but if that's all you're re-buying, it's a decent ratio.

My only recommendation regarding this disc: the last track, "Right Here, Right Now," from Blade II, must be avoided at all costs. Cube inexplicably teams up with Paul Oakenfold, and it ain't pretty. You've been warned.

Otherwise, it's perfect for the Cube completist who wants to save himself some money.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ice Cube - Laugh Now, Cry Later (CD, 2006)

The hardest thing about being a fan of someone like Ice Cube, someone who was so great at one point in his career but has since become disappointing, is holding onto that little gleam of hope, the thought that maybe he'll pull it all back together and drop just one more brilliant record. It's been hard for me to let that go with Cube, though I've done it sporadically over the years. Then I get back listening to Death Certificate and get the urge to check out his new shit. Maybe this new one'll be it, I think to myself.

It's a frustrating line of thinking that constantly leaves me disappointed. I should probably get over it. But there I was a few years ago, picking up Laugh Now, Cry Later. The "featuring Lil Jon" on the back didn't give me much hope, but the "featuring Kokane" gave me a little. Turns out I was right to be hesitant, but this actually ended up being, in the whole scheme of things, a fairly solid entry into the Ice Cube lexicon.

"Why We Thugs" has a stupid name, a typical-but-good Scott Storch beat, and a dope chorus. It's not full-on West Coast, but just enough to let you know Cube's still reppin'. In fact, that seems to be the goal of the whole song. Once again, Cube is reestablishing himself, and this time around, he seems more convincing than he had been in previous attempts. "Smoke Some Weed" follows suit with the stupid name, but I actually like this song a lot, mostly because the beat is a banger. And Cube's random naming of dope-friendly celebs in the beginning is weird enough to totally work.

"Child Support" is Cube calling out his clones again, and he's got the right to do it. The concept of the song is actually pretty sharp, and though the beat lags a little, the song works. "Doin' What it 'Pose 2 Do" and the title track make a nice punchy combo, and also ease the pain of the bandwagon-hoppin' "Stop Snitchin'," if only a little. "Go to Church" doesn't make things any better, with Snoop Dogg once again proving he's one of the most overrated MCs in rap, and Lil Jon fucking things up like only he can.

"The Nigga Trapp" is convincingly dark, and "Growin' Up" picks up where Death Certificate's "Doin' Dumb Shit" left off. It's a smooth one, and Cube lays it out nicely. "Click, Clack – Get Back!" is another lame title and decent song, and "The Game Lord" is robotic, odd, and actually cool in its own way. "Chrome & Paint" features a fairly un-shitty verse from WC, and the song overall is dope.

"Steal the Show" is an uneventful deep cut, and the borderline-terrible "You Gotta Lotta That" again features Snoop barely trying. "Spittin' Pollaseeds" brings Kokane back from the dead for some soul singing over a lounge beat, and WC manages a decent verse. The album ends with "Holla @ Cha Boy," which features a dumb chorus and an assy beat from Lil Jon, but Cube drops some knowledge.

If you can't tell, I think this record would have gone from good to great if Lil Jon would have not been allowed near it. All the tracks he has a hand in are the worst ones on the album, and it's a shame, because the rest of it is quite good. Cube's incapable of reliving his past glories, but I've got to hand it to him: he came back strong on this one.

"Spittin' Pollaseeds"

Monday, May 11, 2009

Ice Cube - War & Peace Vol. 2 (The Peace Disc) (CD, 2000)

While it looks like it took Cube two full years to roll out the second part of the War & Peace saga, it was really more like a year and a half. Little bit less. Still, it took a while. In keeping with the loose theme he was working with, this album does seem to be a little less pissed off, and a leans a bit harder on the club tracks. That's not always a good thing, but if you count "You Can Do It" as one of your guilty pleasures (which I almost do), then it's fine.

Does anyone have a count on how many songs Ice Cube has used the lines "I started this gangsta shit/ And this is the muthafuckin' thanks I get?" in? It's at least three, but I bet it's more. Either way, that's the basis for "Hello," the opening track here that features Cube's old N.W.A. cohorts Dr. Dre and MC Ren. Thankfully there's no Snoop, but where the fuck is Yella? I like this track, but that's mostly because I'm an undying N.W.A. fanboy who gets giddy when these three dudes are in the same area code. The track is pretty good though, I guess.

While The War Disc was 18 tracks deep with one skit, this one houses 17 tracks, four of them being skits. So, there's not as many songs, but it doesn't feel short. However, the skits (or, excuse me, "inserts")are rehashed versions of shit done elsewhere, and completely unnecessary. So, they're better off skipped, but that's the case with most skits in the last decade.

I'm not trying to get negative on this one though. There are some cool songs here. "You Ain't Gotta Lie (Ta Kick It)" brings back Cube's sense of humor (finally) and is vaguely reminiscent of some of his early stuff. Vaguely. "24 Mo' Hours" is a basic one, but it doesn't make for a bad three minutes. "Gotta Be Insanity" is one of the better tracks here, featuring a bouncy beat that doesn't sound as generic as some of the others. "Roll All Day" is borderline bullshit, but it's too egregious.

While Cube is obviously still capable of kicking real rhymes (his verses on "Hello" are diggy dope), there are some songs on this one that feel really dumbed down, often in his verses, and always in the hooks. "The Gutter Shit," "Supreme Hustle," "Until We Rich," and "Can You Bounce?" are disappointing, featuring Cube phoning in lyrics that should be coming from the mouths of rappers that couldn't hold Cube's loc's. Hearing him say "Make it jiggle, wiggle wiggle" is just embarrassing. I will never understand why he felt the need to resort to this pandering-to-the-lowest-common-denominator bullshit. It's not like he needed the money. Dude was a full-on film star by this point. But I digress.

Luckily, the album wraps up on comparably strong note. "Record Company Pimpin'" rides a smooth beat and features Cube laying into the major labels, asking "Do I take it in the rectum just to rock The Spectrum?" Finally, some of the old Cube shines through. "Waitin' Ta Hate" contains one of the better beats on the record, and Cube getting nice and pissed at–who else?–the haters. Yeah, it's been done, but he does it well. "Nigga of the Century" doesn't quite live up to its hyperbolic title, but the idea is a great one, and Cube brings some solid lyrics to close out the album.

I probably don't like this one quite as much as Vol. 1, but it makes a nice Cube-comeback companion. Who knew that after this one he would have to come back again?


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ice Cube - War & Peace Vol. 1 (The War Disc) (CD, 1998)

Other than the frustrating missed opportunity that was the Featuring...Ice Cube album, this was Cube's first release since 1994, and his first album of new material since 1993. Cube wanted to come back big, and one album wasn't going to cut it. So, he set out to put together what seemed like a Death Certificate-type project, though this time, instead of being two separate sides (Life and Death), it would be two separate albums (War and Peace).

It certainly sounded ambitious, but considering that Cube hadn't put out a record in five years, you had to figure he had some shit built up. When this disc dropped and contained 18 tracks, 17 of which were actual songs, it became clear he wasn't fucking around. This is a long album, and it's actually pretty damn good.

But, I should qualify that. There's the first wave of Cube (AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted - Lethal Injection), and there's the second wave of Cube (this album-present). Standards for the quality of his music may have dropped a bit when you're talking second wave, because it's a completely different Ice Cube. Though this album and the one that followed it seem to have a concept surrounding them, it's not nearly as cohesive as the one that engulfed Death Certificate, and even that one was pretty loose. Cube's got some angles here, but don't get it twisted: it's more a collection of singles than a rap opera. Having said that, this album was definitely a nice surprise, because I think we all expected it to suck. And it doesn't.

"Ask About Me" is a nice welcome-back to Cube from himself, and you learn that he's apparently calling himself the "Don Dada" or "Don Mega" now, and also talking about hustling. Get used to it, it's the new Cube. If you can look past this bullshit, you can learn to like this record. This is made even more clear by "Pushin' Weight," which I think is a great song, though it does introduce us to Cube's apparent new prodigy, Mr Short Khop, who is spotty at best. Khop shows up on a bunch of songs on this disc, though is nowhere to be seen on Vol. 2. Huh.

"Fuck Dying," though it unfortunately features Korn, also leads with one of Cube's funniest skits, in which he threatens to fist fight the devil (or maybe it's the grim reaper?). And the song doesn't end up being too bad. And honestly, that's what I have to say about a lot of the tracks on this album. They're good. Not great, mind you, but they could be a lot worse. "Once Upon a Time in the Projects 2" is blasphemy and should never be listened to, but if you avoid that you'll be in good shape.

You also have to sort of look past song titles like "Ghetto Vet," "Cash Over Ass," and "If I Was Fuckin' You." Yep, that shit's stupid as all get-out. But it's Cube's attempt at remaining relevant, and he should be afforded that. In between those generic missteps, he still raps his ass off. You just have to adjust your expectations. If you go into this one not expecting a whole lot, you'll be pleasantly surprised.

"Pushin' Weight"

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Ice Cube - Bootlegs & B-Sides (2xLP, 1994)

While this record has since been rendered somewhat superfluous by the re-released versions of Cube's first four albums, which contain most of these tracks, it's still nice to have all these cuts in one place. I would consider this album primarily a hardcore fans-only collection, because it's an uneven batch of songs, and certainly doesn't stack up well next to Ice Cube's actual albums. But, there's some cool shit here.

The title is a bit misleading, because there aren't any actual bootlegs here; in fact it's all b-sides (some of which are remixes) and a few random cuts. "Robbin' Hood (Cause It Ain't All Good)" starts it off strong, though if Lethal Injection left a bad taste in your mouth, this beat won't help wash it out. Still, it's a better song than some that made it onto that album. The "What Can I Do?" remix brings a more bumpy G-Funk than the original version, though it doesn't really improve it.

"24 Wit an L" is a Predator-era b-side, if memory serves me correctly, and it's the best song on this album. Not sure why it wasn't deemed album-worthy. I should note that, annoyingly, this album isn't chronological, so the vibe shifts around quite a bit. But the G-Funk still pervades most of it. The "You Know How We Do It" remix is actually a bit better than the original, but "2 N the Morning" goes to the "Atomic Dog" well and doesn't do much.

The video version of "Check Yo Self" is here, followed by "You Don't Wanna Fuck Wit These (Unreleased '93 Shit)," a bouncer that knocks pretty hard. Another one of the better tracks here. The "Lil Ass Gee" remix isn't too notable, and "My Skin is My Sin" is another Lethal Injection-era G-Funker, featuring the spotty WC. Cube's lyrics are pretty dope on that one, though. It's followed by the "It Was A Good Day" remix, which I inexplicably like quite a bit.

"U Ain't Gonna Take My Life" is a Predator-era b-side, and though you can feel the funk creeping in, it's still a decent little song. The "When I Get to Heaven" remix is completely unnecessary, and the song that follows it, "D'Voidofpopniggafiedmegamix," is a weird but somewhat fun mash-up of a bunch of Ice Cube songs. A nice one to end on, but again, it's really for the completist or the harder-core of fan. Of course, I include myself in that group, so here I am.

Sadly, this would be the last Ice Cube record for a while. And there's not even really any new material on it. Yep, Cube was becoming an actor.

"What Can I Do? (remix)"

Friday, May 8, 2009

Ice Cube - Lethal Injection (CD, 1993)

In his January 27, 1994 review of Lethal Injection, Rolling Stone writer Touré said "The most interesting question surrounding Lethal Injection is, has any rapper ever fallen off as hard as Cube?" Not a promising way to start an assessment of an album, and indeed, Cube didn't win over any critics with this one. He didn't win his hardcore fans over, either. I remember not even buying this one because a friend who I had shared an intense love of The Predator with told me not to bother. When I saw the video for "You Know How We Do It," it certainly didn't entice me to go against his advice.

The funny thing is, Lethal Injection has actually aged pretty well. While upon its release it seemed like Cube was jumping on the G-Funk bandwagon (and he was), it's now easier to look back on that time with some fondness and ingest the music for what it is, not what it was desperately trying to be. I think the biggest problem most Ice Cube fans had with this record was watching the guy who had prided himself on not following trends, instead opting to blaze his own trail, all of a sudden doing what sounded like a half-baked imitation of The Chronic. Not all of the songs here are so blatant with the mimicry, but some of 'em are egregious with it, and it tarnishes the overall sound.

In Cube's defense, dude had been churning out brilliant new music every year for about five years at this point; he was due to slip a little. And really, looking back on it, that's all he did. He slipped a bit. It was just the first time we had seem him do it, and it was hard to admit he was human. And really, it was just kind of disappointing.

"Really Doe" is noticeably less fierce than any other song that had opened an Ice Cube album, and it also ended his "payback" theme that had started up the previous three. Both not great signs. It's not a bad song, though. "Ghetto Bird" takes a slang term that Cube would have muttered in passing in the past and devotes an entire track to it. The droning synths make their first appearance, and the results are mixed. "You Know How We Do It" is really where you can pinpoint Cube's fall from grace. Its attempts to recreate the vibe of "It Was A Good Day" are thinly veiled, not to mention unsuccessful. Blah.

"Cave Bitch" tries to reinvigorate some of the rage from Death Certificate, complete with the Farrakhan speech at the beginning. It misses the mark, which is unfortunate, because the next track doesn't bring the flow back. Why Cube decided to do an eleven-minute version of "Bop Gun" is anyone's guess. But one thing's for sure: it's way too long, and it just seems like Cube wants to out-Parliament Dr. Dre or something. Instead, it throws a huge wrench in the middle of the record.

Things pick up after this, with the solid "What Can I Do?" and "Lil Ass Gee." "Make It Ruff, Make It Smooth" is confusing in its intentions, and just ends up being another phoned-in slow jams. Guest MC K-Dee's wack-as-fuck rhymes don't help. "Down for Whatever" has gained after-the-fact fame from its inclusion in Office Space, but it's always been one of the better tracks on this record. Slow as shit, but the lyrics are there.

"Enemy" keeps it going, sounding like a leftover from The Predator. It's a damn fine song. The same can't be said for the pandering of "When I Get to Heaven," which is almost every bit as bad as its name, but not quite. It's another slow one, and there's a few good lyrics here and there, but for the most part it's not great. Thankfully it's at the end.

So, yeah, not Cube's best effort. But like I said, it's a lot easier to listen to this album now than it was 15 years ago. It's still '93-era Cube, and there's some shit to get with. Just wish there was a little bit more.

"Really Doe"

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Ice Cube - The Predator (CD, 1992)

"Ain't nobody talkin' when I'm talkin' fellas, so shut the fuck up."

So begins what would sadly be Ice Cube's last great album. Don't get me wrong, he's done some great music since '92; he just can't seem to get it all onto one album. The Predator represents the end of the old Ice Cube, the last time he really seemed charged and angry, showing minimal pandering towards radio play. (Yes, "It Was A Good Day" was a hit, but I don't think anyone saw that coming.) It's hard to say what happened, but we'll get to that. For now we can talk about how rock-solid this record is. It's not quite as sharp as Death Certificate, but it stands up against any of his other work. Cube's still pissed, still focused, and still lyrically on point.

Released in 1992, this album came at a perfect time. Cube was able to take credit for predicting the L.A. Riots, and his I-told-you-so attitude played nicely. It was an aggressive time for music in general, and his style seemed to gel easily with the brooding rock that was infiltrating the mainstream. It worked on me, I know that. Between this album and the The Chronic, '92-'93 was a damn fine era to be a hip hop fan. This tape was never far from my reach during that time.

"When Will They Shoot?," the first proper track after the American Me-sampling intro, "The First Day of School," is one of my favorite Cube songs. Maybe my favorite Cube song. I've listened to it thousands of times, and it still gets me juiced. While the sampling of Queen's "We Will Rock You" was certainly nothing new in hip hop, Cube took it and made something completely fresh, a chaotic stomper that busted things wide open from the beginning, making his mission clear. In keeping with his previous albums, he started it off with his standard thematic: "God damn, another fuckin' payback with a twist." Yeah, Cube.

There are a few "inserts" placed throughout the album (samples of people on talk shows talking about racism, etc.), and while they're well done, I never understood why he put one right after the first song. Whatever. "Wicked" follows that, and it picks up the stomp where the previous track left off. A great song, and the video that featured Flea and Anthony from the Chili Peppers furthered Cube's rock solidarity, which was a smart move. "Now I Gotta Wet 'Cha" is a solid little Cube's-gonna-kill-ya" cut that is witty enough to not be too generic. It helps that it's got a great beat.

The title track addresses a little feud that Cube had with Billboard, over some disparaging remarks that one of their head honchos made. I can't remember the details of it now, but the gist of the song is that Ice Cube doesn't give a fuck. Sounds about right. I've always wondered if he didn't just need to dis some "editor" because it rhymed with "predator." He works some sweet Predator 2-Gary Busey samples in there too, which is pretty sweet.

We all know "It Was A Good Day," for better or for worse. I'm so sick of this song that I don't think I can even think about it objectively anymore, but I remember it not being my favorite track when I first heard the record. Cube's got some good lyrics on it, of course, but it's a bit slow for my liking. But that's my problem. And I still find the edited version hilarious.

While Cube, DJ Pooh, and Sir Jinx handled most of the production, Muggs from Cypress Hill helps out on this record as well. In addition to "Now I Gotta Wet 'Cha," he provides the beat for "We Had to Tear This Mothafucka Up," which is a great, great song. Concentrating on post-riot anger and assessment, Cube tears into everyone, riding a stand-up bass beat that straight up rules. Make it rough, indeed. "Dirty Mack" deals with those not interested in upholding the sacred code of the streets, and as usual Cube delivers hilarious lines with a straight face that makes them even more funny. "There's a new girl on my street/ And I'm-a introduce her to my meat" still remains as one of the best opening lines on a rap song ever.

"Don't Trust 'Em" hasn't aged quite as well as the rest of this album, but we have to remember that sampling Scarface wasn't completely played out when this album dropped. And Cube can string together a story as well as anyone who ever picked up a microphone. This song is also funny as shit. "Gangsta's Fairytale, Pt. 2" is completely unnecessary, but he somehow makes it work (he wouldn't fare so well on later sequels to some of his classics). The little kid yelling and cussing makes it that much better.

Now we get to one of the huge reasons why this album is so great: it ends strong. "Check Yo Self" has been compromised because of the "Message"-jacking version that accompanied the video, and I've always felt the album version was stronger. Either way you slice it, Cube drops some gems on this one, and flexes all kinds of tough. It's solid. "Who Got the Camera" is pure dopeness, one of the best commentaries on police brutality in the post-Rodney King era. Cube's lyrics here are fucking perfect, from his ruminations on his choice of women ("your fat ass got my six-deuce leanin'") to his astute assessment of the ignorance of the cops ("the pigs wouldn't believe that my slave name was Jackson"). Who the fuck got my nine...?

"Say Hi to the Bad Guy" points again at Cube's Scarface obsession (which had carried over from Death Certificate), but mostly just focuses on his general bad-assness, which we all know is his strong suit. Example: "Bitch, I got so much game I need a referee." These high-tempo declarations are interspersed with a skit depicting Cube and his boys being pulled over by the most stereotypical cop ever, and it's funny stuff. A fine end to a fine record.

I don't want to say this was the beginning of the end for Ice Cube, because that's way too harsh. What it ended up being was a palpable direction switch–or rather his next record was. We'll talk about that.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ice Cube - Death Certificate (CD, 1991)

Well, here it is folks: the best hip hop album ever.

Yep, I said it. There's a handful of others that I consider serious contenders (Outkast's Aquemini, De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising, Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., Dr. Dre's The Chronic), but when it comes down to it, this one wins. Ice Cube's evolution and execution on this record are unparalleled; it's like he cut his Jheri curl off and became the most brilliant rapper in history. There's not a weak moment on Death Certificate. Through 20 perfect tracks, he goads anyone who dares step up, and knocks 'em each down, one by one. And the best part is that he does it (aside from one incredible posse cut) all by himself.

Cube's growth as an artist is impressive for a few reasons. First, he was only 22 years old, and already possessed an understanding of the music (not to mention the world) that most rappers never achieve. Second, his entire persona shape-shifted so much in the span of a year and a half that he almost seemed to be a completely different artist. Not only had his skills on the mic somehow surpassed the already top-notch chops he showed on his first two solo outings, but he went from a kid on the corner who didn't give a fuck to a guy who was fed up with what he saw when he looked past that corner. Gone were the songs about playing dice. Instead, he ushered in an (what would end up being a short lived) era of angered obsession over the intricacies of what made him (and those around him) fuck around in that crap game in the first place.

This could have backfired enormously. Instead, it only further proved that Cube was exactly what he believed himself to be: N.W.A. and Public Enemy rolled into one, with the combined power of both. And while these tracks all have themes and messages of one sort of another (I should mention that they're not all "political"), they're also just incredibly great songs, which ends up being the reason that this album is better than all the rest. Cube dropped the Bomb Squad (another bold move) and teamed up with his homies, Sir Jinx and the Boogie Men (which featured DJ Pooh), producers who apparently were capable of making some insanely complex, yet ultra-catchy beats. I still can't believe they pulled all this together a mere 10 or 11 months after Kill at Will. It sounds like they worked on it for five years.

The album is divided up into two sides (remember when albums used to have those?), The Life Side and The Death Side. The Death Side comes first, with a really well-done funeral skit starting the proceedings after Cube states his thesis and briefly describes his mission. When, mid-eulogy, "The Wrong Nigga to Fuck Wit" kicks in, you know it's on. Cube had a habit of working the word "payback" into the first line of his solo records for a while, and this one constitutes the second appearance of that theme. "God damn it's a brand new payback" starts this one off, and then it's a flurry of verbal jabs, with Cube declaring that he "went to the shelf and dusted off the AK." It doesn't get much more awesome than that.

"My Summer Vacation" is a smart-as-shit narrative about gangs infiltrating middle America, with a huge bass beat that rumbles throughout. It makes a sensible prequel to "Steady Mobbin'" Cube's ode to starting trouble with his boys in the Lench Mob. It's probably the most "West Coast"-sounding song Cube had ever performed up to this point in his career, and the beat has a nice party vibe to it. After the hilarious "Robin Lench," Cube shows up at a nice young girl's front door for "Givin' Up the Nappy Dug Out," which contains such lyrical gems as "she keeps nuts in her mouth like the bitch was a squirrel." I can't tell you how much that riled me when I was a teenager. Eh, I'm not going to lie–I still think it's great.

"Look Who's Burnin'" logically follows that tale of indiscreet trysts, with its frank and cringe-inducing lyrics about STD's. I know, it sounds awkward. But the chorus is fucking sweet, and Cube nails the verses. "A Bird in the Hand" is the first track that nudges toward the darker songs that follow, a hyper-critical assessment of the then-current Bush administration and their failure to aid the inner cities. Again, the beat is just unbelievably awesome. "Man's Best Friend" equates Glocks with Lassie, offering that theory that guns are more reliable than pit bulls. Again, who the hell else was going to come up with this shit other than Ice Cube?

"Alive on Arrival" is maybe my favorite song from The Death Side, a first-person tale of a shooting victim and the shabby treatment he receives from the local ER. It ends with his death ("So at 10pm, I was Audi 5000"), and some words from Khalid Abdul Muhammad (Cube had recently joined the Nation of Islam).

"The Birth" opens The Life Side, and while things seem initially brighter, Cube doesn't waste any time in selecting a new target: the military. "I Wanna Kill Sam" is an incendiary criticism of military recruitment tactics and just a fucking sweet song in general. Cube saves the best line for last: "I wanna kill Sam 'cause he ain't my motherfuckin' uncle." Yeah, Cube. "Horny Lil' Devil" lets the white fellas know that the sistas are off limits (did I mention Cube had joined the Nation of Islam?), and though I should probably be offended, I really can't find any reason not to love this song.

"Black Korea," for being less than a minute long, sure seemed to cause Cube some problems. His attack on Korean store owners in the hood made a lot more sense a year or two later (after the L.A. riots), but I can see why people think it's harsh. Whatever. "True to the Game" calls out the "Oreos," or those blacks that dare hang out with white people (Cube joined the shit out of the Nation of Islam). My least favorite song on the record, but that's mostly because it's a bit slow for my taste.

"Color Blind" is one of the all-time great posse cuts, an anti-gang (yeah, I know–call Cube anything but consistent) team-up that features members of the Lench Mob, as well as WC and the Maad Circle. And you know who was in the Maad Circle? Coolio. Yep, Coolio's on this track. And you know what? He's pretty badass on it, so step back. I used to rewind "Color Blind" over and over when I had this tape in my car in high school. The song is arranged so the rappers overlap slightly with each other, and it's sweet.

"Doin' Dumb Shit" is a back-in-the-day track that is probably the most light-hearted of the bunch here, and just shows one more side of Cube that we may not have known was there. And of course, he pulls it off with ease. "Us" is another one of my favorite songs here, and another one that no one could have seen coming. If it seemed like Cube was laying into everything and everyone except his own, this is the track that squashes that argument. I can't think of any other track in hip hop that has so brashly held a mirror to its core audience. Again, Cube nails it.

I'm not going to get into the whole Ice Cube/N.W.A. feud that was reaching a fever pitch around the time of this album's release, but just know that Cube was due for a response to his former bandmates. "No Vaseline" not only settled the issue, it proved Cube the undisputed champion, and nothing was ever heard about it again. "No Vaseline" is the dis track to end all dis tracks, a meticulous disassembling of each individual member of N.W.A. in a fashion that only a former friend could pull off. It is incredible.

Wow, this has gone on way too long. As usual, I could go on forever. I won't. If you don't own this, you should. I'm over 15 years into listening to it, and I still love it. Yeah, Cube.

"Steady Mobbin'"

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Ice Cube - Kill At Will (CD, 1990)

Kill At Will is everything that a well-made EP should be.

Released in the same year as AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, this seven-track quickie was just enough to keep Cube's momentum going, and worked to tide fans over until his next release. His song choices were smart as shit: a remix of one of the best songs from his debut; a full-length reworking of one of the shorter songs on his debut; an addendum to a previous skit; three new tracks (none of which sound anything like the other); and what I consider the best shout-out song in rap history. It's all packed into just over twenty minutes, and it's fantastic.

The "Endangered Species (Tales from the Darkside)" remix is a little strange. The beat's different (duh), but while the lyrics remain the same as the original version, it seems to be a different recording of both Cube and Chuck D's performances. Whatever; it's still great. "Jackin' for Beats" is a fun little jab at sampling, with Cube dropping some sweet lyrics over other people's tracks. I'm glad it's not longer than it is, but it's a good one. "Get Off My Dick and Tell Yo Bitch to Come Here" was less than a minute long on Cube's previous record; here it's expanded with some hilarious verses and a brand new beat.

"The Product" is a definite precursor to Cube's next record, Death Certificate. His lyrics are sharper than ever, and the narrative tale is smart as hell. It's probably my favorite song on this album. "Dead Homiez" was a bold move at the time this record was released. Cube had never been anything but hard as fuck, and I can't believe he didn't worry about dropping his guard too early. But, he pulled it off. The song's a little slow for me, but the lyrics are incredible:
I remember we painted our names on the wall for fun
Now it's "Rest in Peace" after every one
Except me, but I ain't the one to front
Seems like I'm viewin' a body after every month
Yeah, Cube.

After the short "JD's Gaffilin' (Part 2)," Cube wraps things up with the shout-out track to beat all shout-out tracks, "I Gotta Say What Up." Proof that he could even make a tired and self-aggrandizing hip hop exercise dope as fuck. My favorite part? When he says "Don't laugh ho's/ I'm down with The Afros."

Yep, this is right up there with NWA's 100 Miles and Runnin' as one of the best hip hop EP's ever. But still, no one could have imagined what Cube had up his sleeve for his next release.

"Jackin' for Beats"

Monday, May 4, 2009

Ice Cube - AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted (CD, 1990)

Settle in, folks. There's going to be a whole lotta Cube comin' at you for the next week or so.

It is crazy to consider that Ice Cube is still in his 30's. When O'Shea Jackson hits the big 4-0 next month, he should be able to rest easy, knowing he's done as much for hip hop as anyone who's ever picked up a mic. But you know he's going to keep doing shit. Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that when Cube dropped his first solo record (after knocking out a few with N.W.A.), he wasn't even of legal drinking age. When I was 20, I was pumping kegs and half-assedly attending community college. This dude was already at the point where he could get Public Enemy to do guest spots on his record.

You can talk all the shit you want about Ice Cube's questionable forays into the world of film (I'm right there with you), but you'll always have a harder time poking holes in his approach to the music. Yeah, he's made a few clunkers (don't worry–I'll be breaking those down), but I've never gotten the sense that he was phoning shit in. Maybe I'm just such a Cube fanboy that I allow him to pull the wool over my eyes, but I'm always willing to give his records a shot. And you want to know why? Because at one point, he was the best rapper on the planet.

Which brings us to where it all began for Cube on the solo creep, the infamous AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted. I've been listening to this record off and on for almost two decades now (oh, I'm old), and I still get a charge out of it when it finds its way into my car stereo or iPod. It's that good. N.W.A. may have pioneered Gangsta Rap, but Cube managed to jettison the genre five years ahead in the span of one year and one album. It's hard to explain how mind-blowing this record was when it came out, but really: it sounded like nothing the rap world had ever heard before.

Of course, props on that front must be given up to The Bomb Squad, the East Coast team that oversaw the production of this much-anticipated album. The beats on this record are virtually flawless, all characterizing a mood that seems to fit the lyrical content of the tracks perfectly. Ostensibly, the beats aren't to fancy, but strap the headphones on and give this one a solid listen–there's lots of little asides and blips that add texture without crowding the main portion of the track. Cube's never been one for a lot of trickery with the vocal approach, so the music aligns with his method snugly.

Gangsta Rap wasn't on the list of acceptable music for my 14-year-old ears, so when I managed to purchase a copy of this on cassette without my mom knowing, I had to keep it stowed away, only breaking it out to discretely slide the tape into my Walkman. Of course, this only made me like it more. The first time I heard "Better off Dead," the dead-man-walking skit that opens the album, I didn't know what the fuck was going on. And then, OH, they're putting Ice Cube in the electric chair. Of course they were. But before he died, he had to get one last jab in: "Fuck all y'all."

Then "The Nigga Ya Love to Hate" kicked in, and all hell broke loose. It made his verse on the title track to N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton seem like the words of a precocious youth. Cube had clearly spent the last year compiling a mental list of people he planned to pick off. Among them: "The police, the media, and suckers that went pop." This song also contains what is one my favorite Ice Cube couplets: "Soul Train done lost they soul/ Just call it Train 'cause the bitches look like ho's." You got that right, Cube.

The title track continues to set the pace for the rest of the record, slowing the tempo a bit but remaining rough with the lyrics. "What They Hittin' Foe" is a brilliant minute and a half, a little tale about Cube "fucking around in a crap game." "You Can't Fade Me" and "Once Upon A Time in the Projects" make for a classic one-two punch, both telling tales of Cube's imagined life on the streets. Both are patently offensive, and it makes them all the better. If you get your undies in a bunch when you hear Ice Cube talking about how he needs to "kick the bitch in the tummy," you're missing the point completely.

"Turn off the Radio" and "Endangered Species" take on different issues, but they're both frantic in their approach. Great songs, and if you listen close at the end of "Radio" you can hear a young Del tha Funkee Homosapien. And of course, Chuck D's verse on "Endangered Species" is mighty tight. The next three tracks are more fun. "Gangsta's Fairytale" features Cube thugging out some nursery rhymes; "I'm Only Out for One Thang" gets sloshy with Flavor Flav; and "Get off My Dick and Tell Yo Bitch to Come Here" sets the male groupies straight while having some fun at their expense.

If this record has one minor flaw, it's that it doesn't end as strong as it begins. "Rollin' Wit the Lench Mob" is fantastic, but "Who's the Mack" almost slows things down a bit too much. It's a great song, but it's hard to know where to put it. "It's a Man's World" features Yo-Yo, who I love, but at close to six minutes, it drags towards the end. Luckily, "The Bomb" wraps things up nicely, barreling through some crazy verses and coming as close to a dance beat as Cube gets on this record.

I knew I was going to end up writing too much about this record. But fuck it: it's AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, for cryin' out loud.

"Who's the Mack?"

Ice Cube in Rotterdam, 1991
Part One
Part Two

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Hurricane - The Hurra (LP, 1995)

My copy of this disc is in fairly bad shape, so I'm assuming I bought this for a bargain price. I know I've had it for a few years, but I haven't listened to it much.

For a mid-90's side project from the Beastie Boys' DJ, this isn't too bad. The Beasties appear on two tracks ("Four Fly Guys" and "Stick 'Em Up," though only Adrock raps on that one), and the tracks they rap on have that Ill Communication feel to 'em. In fact, all the beats here work that same vibe, as a result of the Hurricane/Mario C. production.

Hurricane's not the best rapper in the world, but dude's got some shit to say. Unfortunately, his flow can sound lazy and uninterested in parts, and any attempt to flex hard seem stifled by the loose funk of the beats.

Clearly, the highlights for me are the Beastie Boys appearances, as Adrock was still a great rapper back then. He does his usual boisterous squealing, and while it works really well in the songs, it makes Hurricane seem even more monotone. The beats here are decent across the board, but at times they feel like Beastie throwaways.

I dunno. Maybe I should give it a closer listen. But if I haven't done it yet, I don't really see it happening. Still, nice to have around.

"Stick 'Em Up"

Saturday, May 2, 2009

House of Pain - Truth Crushed to Earth Shall Rise Again (CD, 1996)

While House of Pain tweaked their sound considerably on their sophomore effort, their third (and final) release finds them sticking with the dark and rugged sounds that suited them so well on Same As It Ever Was. I have to admit, I never really gave this album a fair shake–a lot of the tracks seemed rushed to me, and though I've listened to it quite a bit over the years, this is definitely the HOP record I'm the least familiar with.

I've been rocking it pretty steady for the last few days, getting to know it again, and while it's not their strongest effort, I have to say: I've really been getting into it. Everlast is in full-on dark mode on these songs, and though it seemed impossible, his voice is even more gravelly and gritty on this one than it was on their second album.

"Fed Up" is a great single, a no-tricks track that finds Everlast getting serious but still kicking out some witty lyrics. The same can be said for a lot of the other cuts that Everlast handles on his own. "Earthquake" and "Shut the Door" are both dusky but infected with a little bounce, and they're solid. "Choose Your Poison" is a modified party jam, a track that features a slightly restrained beat and some of the best rhymes on the whole set.

Everlast is never short on the hooks, and he pulls off some great ones here, even working some singing into the mix (foreshadowing, anyone?). The chorus on "Fed Up" is up front and harsh, and certifiably catchy. "X-Files" features a doubled-up Everlast getting philosophical, which is a far cry from the House of a few years prior. "No Doubt" is a nice little track, proving that even a phoned-in chorus can work well enough.

My only real beef with this album: not enough Danny Boy. He's only on two songs, and that's just unacceptable. He kicks a solid verse on the opening "The Have Nots," but then doesn't show up again until he spits some lackluster bars on "Choose Your Poison." It's frustrating, but I get the feeling that he might have been going through some rough shit at the time. Speaking of good ol' Danny Boy, if you want to see one of the most mismanaged Wikipedia pages ever, check his out.

So, that ends the House of Pain trilogy. A few closing things: La Coka Nostra looks terrible. But, House of Pain is slotted to play this year's Rock the Bells, so that's something. I'd see the shit out of a House of Pain reunion if they came through town.

"Fed Up"

Friday, May 1, 2009

House of Pain - Same as it Ever Was (CD, 1994)

This album has a lot of things. It just doesn't have a single that matches the hook of "Jump Around." That, coupled with the fact that it's generally a lot darker than their debut, might explain why no one gave a shit about it when it came out. I was a huge House of Pain fan after the first record dropped, and I barely even remember this thing being released.

Maybe the rest of the country was like me. '94 was a weird year, and I guess this one just slipped through the cracks. It's too bad, because over the years, I've grown to really like this record. I guess "over the years" may be the key phrase there. It didn't hook me at first.

First off, Everlast sounds like he'd been doing some hard livin'. While his voice was scratchy on their first record, here it sounds utterly wrecked, like he's been chain-smoking for days. So, that's a bit jarring at first. He's also preoccupied with everyone thinking he was dead, which I don't remember. Either way, dude sounds fucking angry, and it's pretty sweet.

In keeping with the usual House of Pain formula, these songs all have hooks, but they're rarely about anything in the lyrics. Again, one of my favorite things about the House. Everlast just raps. That's fine by me. Tracks like "I'm a Swing It" and "Over There Shit" are absolutely great, and the title track is a fine one, too. In fact, I've really learned to like all the songs on this album. Muggs and Lethal team up again on the beats, and they're solid. Like I said, everything's a lot darker than their first record, so maybe that was a turn-off to some. Eh.

If you didn't like HOP's first record, you'll hate this one. But if you liked the first one and have never heard this bad boy, I'd give it a shot. It's actually aged really well.

"On Point"