Ice Cube – I Am The West | Album Review

Ice Cube is one of the forefathers of Gangsta rap and one of the rawest MCs to ever rip a beat. Not unlike Chuck D, it wasn’t about style, lyricism or flow, but charisma, presence and often powerful statements that made him so unique and special.

Once upon a time, he was the illustrious ghost writer for all of the N.W.A. members with a heart on sleeve approach, characterised by statements spat with intensity and aggression rather than focusing on cadence or word choice. This made him a sort of a weapon, capable of thrilling, intimidating and shocking, making him in a way, perfectly tailored for the Gangsta Rap birth era.

His first three albums Amerikkas Most Wanted (1990), Death Certificate (1991) and Predator (1992) further solidified his status and volcanic rhyme approach.

Up until here it was a beautiful Hip Hop affair and that’s where it should have ended: in glory, no mistakes and no regrets, an immaculate career, especially in light of Cube finding a new outlet in Hollywood juggling directing, producing and acting.

While it’s not my place to evaluate his performance on the film industry, I doubt anyone would say his impact in it, was remotely close to what he achieved as an MC, still, he found longevity and substantial financial success going Hollywood, arguably as one of the most successful rapper turned actor, which leads me to asking what does a 40 year old accomplished Hollywood star want to achieve, by releasing an independently produced album?

He claims it’s to restore the West Coast sound, to revive the West aesthetic who has fallen snake like, under the enchantment of the South’s flute, so like Moses, Cube’s role, or so he says, is to guide the West Coast back to it’s origins.

Although the album is filled with Geographical references to California and it’s charms, it’s ironic that Cube spends most of his energy sending shots at Dr. Dre, Eminem, Lil’ Wayne and Kanye even in his singles, like they would even acknowledge or find it relevant from an indie 40 year old man who does family movies, who is clearly not on the same radar as those he attacks, or the same age or generation, this desperate call for attention and insipid controversy tactic is actually quite sad.

Another contradiction is Cube’s criticism of how Rappers today mostly focus on illusions and materialism because “People don’t want to hear the real shit, people want escapism with music,” but his role and behaviour as an older MC isn’t that much different from those he criticises and ultimately, although the beats are mostly reminiscent of a vintage West coast sound, Cube’s Bangladesh-produced single “She Couldn’t Make It On Her Own” is a gimmick of everything that is formatted and couldn’t be more South; he even stereotypes in the pronunciation of the Rs and material things he owns.

Cube’s motivations don’t come from a place of altruism or selfless need to rekindle the West’s light, it comes from a feeling of self-pity for not having the same respect as Dr. Dre who he worked with, wrote for and fell off with two decades ago. That’s the only justification for still taking wack shots at him still, 20 years after one of the seminal diss records of the early ’90s, “No Vaseline”. It doesn’t come from unconditional love for the West, if it did he wouldn’t have stereotypical south wannabe anthems and rhyme patterns.

Cube is no Moses for the West, his Fred Flintstone flow is unfit for the Jetsons age we’re presently at, his lyricism and forced rhymes clearly expired, and honestly if he wants to help the West, why doesn’t he help the incredible talent that California has growing right now like the purest of Western kush?

Why doesn’t he do what Statik Selektah did with Showoff Records? Green Lantern is doing with indie talented MCs? Like Dre did with Aftermath? Why doesn’t he help Evidence, Crooked I, Blu or Nipsey Hussle with the status he achieved? That’s what he would do if he still loved Hip Hop. He doesn’t need Rap money at this stage, rendering I Am The West to a futile glory affair, that will do him more harm than good at this stage.

Hip Hop has a difficulty with growing up it’s like Neverland, obsessed with youth, innocence and fantasy. Cube was never meant to outlive Gangsta Rap, because despite his heart while spitting, he was never a diverse, evolving Artistic MC, unlike Krs-One, who can still outshine any rapper on a good day today. No rapper stands a chance of being relevant today with a 1989 approach or style.

By the mid-’90s when he shifted to movies, Ras Kass, Tupac, Dre and Snoop had already taken over the West and in the East lyricism and Boom Bap rap were about to reach their Golden Days, which meant you either had to have, one of the three: Flow, Lyricism or Creative Genius. 

Cube has none; in fact his tank was always essentially fuelled with bravado, making him already obsolete back in ’95. He almost always managed to go gold and platinum but lost more credibility and relevance as time passed by, especially while in comparison to his peers.

This album is a mistake. Icons like him and Flava Flav were never meant to age like this. Cube is not the West, but was one day and we love him for it, but if he continues to pursue this we might forget. He should look up Ice T for elderly Hip Hop conduct.

I don’t believe that rappers are meant to put out more then 5/6 solo albums, genius Rappers like Eminem or Nas have a hard time doing it, so I fear for the rest. What saves this from total disgrace is the gift that the N.W.A generation has always had for a good beat and how to make a hit record with simple tactics and effective approaches to communication and emotion, cube is no exception, most of his albums are at least gold because of his good ear and a solid beat selection which make this the sole purpose of a listenable ride.

I Am The West is out now via Lench Mob Records.

Purchase links: Amazon UKUS; iTunes US.

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