Dr. Dre & Ice Cube ~ “Natural Born Killaz” (1994)

Posted on August 8, 2012

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You don’t have to be a gangsta rap fan to know of Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, two of the Hip Hop subgenre’s greatest talents and most respected names. Years before their legendary solo careers began in the early 1990’s, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube were linchpins of the “World’s Most Dangerous Group” NWA; forming a creative nexus within the team similar to Magic Johnson (Dre) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Cube) of the Showtime Era Los Angeles Lakers. In 1985, before the convening of NWA, Dre and Cube met by happenstance, when the 20-year-old Dre left his native Compton to stay with his cousin Sir Jinx in South Los Angeles, and met the 16-year-old Cube, who lived on the same street as Jinx, and performed with him in a group called Cru in Action (CIA).

From 1985 through the end of the decade, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube performed together in some capacity or another; at skating rinks around L.A., where they experimented with the profane styles they’d become famous for; as labelmates with Kru-Cut Records, where Dre produced CIA’s 1986 EP My Posse, in addition to his daily duties as one-fourth of the Kru Cut quartet World Class Wreckin’ Cru; and as two-fifths of the Niggaz with Attitude (NWA), the gangsta squad that pulled shock-and-awe maneuvers on the rap world. Even after their respective departures from NWA in 1989 (Cube) and 1991 (Dre), the two future Hall-of-Famers broke bread with one another; announcing a collaboration project entitled Helter Skelter, recording a handful of songs for the much-anticipated release, and planning to drop the album in 1995. Though Helter Skelter never materialized in full, Dre and Cube’s momentary reunion did produce an epic song in the fall of 1994; a manic masterwork called “Natural Born Killaz”.

Recorded for the Snoop Dogg mini-film Murder Was the Case, “Natural Born Killaz” is unquestionably one of the most spellbinding rap songs ever made. This track took different forms before becoming the song presented here. “Natural Born Killaz” began as a lyrical and production collab between Dr. Dre and Sam Sneed, a Death Row Records emcee-producer who worked on several of Dre’s productions. The original version of this song features one verse from Dre (the first verse of this song), two verses from Sam Sneed, and a mere cameo from Ice Cube, who ad-libs throughout the song. In the end, it seems the chemistry Dre and Cube cultivated in their Kru Cut days, won out; as they reworked the rhyme schematic and performed this song together, and had Sneed’s verses deleted. The ’94 release of “Natural Born Killaz” coincided with the rise of Horrorcore, a style of rap that incorporated macabre, horror film imagery; and while many of Horrorcore’s practitioners weren’t skilled enough to use this style effectively, this certainly isn’t the case with Dre and Cube.

With “Natural Born Killaz”, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube deliver one of the most deranged rap songs ever made; playing kindred psychopaths on an endless homicidal binge. Dr. Dre is as cool as a coroner’s slab; playing a man that’s born to kill, who peels caps back with his .44 Magnum, and is completely ambivalent about the terror he brings. Ice Cube is a midnight stalker; reveling in every murder he commits, rhyming as if he’s walking a tightrope between sanity and insanity, and sounding as though a killing spree is in his immediate future. The deletion of Sam Sneed’s verses bode well for this song, as Dre and Cube give this song a level of believability and ruthlessness the original version didn’t possess. But Sam Sneed still makes his presence felt, in the form of the instrumental he produces along with Dre. Sneed allows Dre and Cube to set their psychotic episodes to a blistering mass hysteria track; with punishing drum kicks, eerie synthesizers and keys, and a martial law bounce that can discombobulate listeners. As the song builds to its climax, Cube roars, and Dre urges Cube to carry out his murderous master plan; and when the song ends, with the sound of an echoing gun shot, you’re left mystified by what you’ve just heard: five minutes of madness, from two of rap’s most brilliant artists.

“Natural Born Killaz” is a textbook example of how street music should be made. The lyrics are vivid and unsettling; the production is chilling and incredible; and the finished product is sublime and historic. Both together and apart, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube have a list of banner performances to their credit, and this song is among their best. It’s lamentable that Dre and Cube were unable to complete Helter Skelter, but if “Natural Born Killaz” is the only recording we’ll get from them, it will suffice. This song may bang for centuries; trust.

To listen to “Natural Born Killaz”, click here.

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