Ice Cube ~ AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (1990)

Posted on November 4, 2012


AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, the debut solo album from rap legend Ice Cube, is a masterwork borne from manifest destiny. Were it not for greed and shady business dealings, this album may not have been made, and one of the West Coast’s brightest suns might not have shined on his own.

The story of Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson) and his rise to fame is well known to many longtime rap fans. Raised in the Athens area of South Central Los Angeles, Cube’s rap career began officially in 1985, when he and friends Kid Disaster (a.k.a. K-Dee) and Sir Jinx formed a trio called Cru in Action; or CIA for short. In the summer of ‘85, an introduction to Jinx’s cousin Dr. Dre led to C.I.A. joining the roster of Kru Cut Records, an L.A. label Dre’s group World Class Wreckin’ Cru also recorded for. In 1986, Compton, California impresario Eazy-E, the owner of an imprint called Ruthless Records, raided Kru Cut’s stable for talent, and took both Cube and Dr. Dre with him to form the core of Ruthless’ franchise act, the gangsta super group Niggaz with Attitude (NWA).

Over the next three years, both Eazy-E and NWA became multi-platinum acts generating huge sums of revenue. But by late 1989, Ice Cube, who had prominent writer’s credits on both Eazy’s Eazy-Duz-It album and the NWA release Straight Outta Compton, realized he’d barely cleared $30,000 for himself, from both albums combined. After seeking the advice of his friend Chuck D (of Public Enemy), Cube called a group-only meeting to discuss his issues with N.W.A. manager Jerry Heller, whom he accused of theft and impropriety. When the rest of NWA spurned the meeting and stood him up, Ice Cube drafted his endgame; incorporating his firm Street Knowledge Productions that November, and officially leaving the group in December. Upon his exit from N.W.A., Cube caught a flight to New York, and in January of 1990, he and Sir Jinx – now Cube’s production partner – began pre-production on Cube’s full-length debut with Chuck D and Public Enemy’s beat team The Bomb Squad; and over five marathon weeks from late January through February, Cube completed his first solo set with The Bomb Squad. In mid-May of ’90, Ice Cube, Sir Jinx, and The Bomb Squad shook Hip Hop to its core, with Cube’s magnificent debut AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted.

From start to finish, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted has the same starkness and symmetry that became The Bomb Squad’s calling card. The album is produced entirely by Ice Cube and Sir Jinx, in tandem with the quartet behind the Public Enemy sound: Chuck D, Hank Shocklee, Keith Shocklee, and Eric “Vietnam” Sadler. The album opens with “Better Off Dead”, a cinematic interlude conceived by Jinx, Vietnam, and Keith Shocklee, where Cube is cast as a Death Row inmate, taking the long walk to eternity on his day of execution. “Better Off Dead” then gives way to a pair of outlaw classics, starting with “The Nigga Ya Love To Hate”, the ultimate anti-hero song, and the cut that cemented Cube’s villainous mystique. In the span of barely three minutes, Cube stomps through a shock-inducing track that filters George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” and Slave’s “Weak At The Knees”, and eggs on the peanut gallery screaming “Fuck You, Ice Cube” on the hook. The title cut “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted” begins with a soundbite from the reality show America’s Most Wanted, and then morphs into a smooth criminal anthem, where Cube plays a bandit that robs people blind in his own hood with indifference from the law, but gets popped when he takes his crime spree to the suburbs. On the next few selections, Cube merges storytelling with sucka-free philosophy. On “What They Hittin’ Foe”, Cube houses a dice game in a minute and twenty seconds; taking everyone’s money, and keeping jackers at bay with his semi-automatic. The funky “You Can’t Fade Me” finds Cube dodging a pregnancy scare, when a neighborhood jump-off falsely claims him as her baby’s father. And listeners learn from Cube’s misfortune on “Once Upon A Time In The Projects”, a cautionary tale set to a sample of Betty Davis’ “Shoo-B-Doop And Cop Him”, where Cube makes time with a girl from the PJ’s, not knowing she lives in a crack den, and he ends up catching a case for his trouble. “Turn Off The Radio” uses a robust Kool & The Gang loop to put milquetoast radio programmers on blast, for playing mindless drivel 24/7, and refusing to give airtime to progressive artists. And “Endangered Species” unites Cube and the great Chuck D, for a power piece spotlighting America’s eternal prey: young Blacks, and it paints an unsettling picture of Blacks hunted and killed for sport at song’s end.

The remainder of AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted is light mood-wise, at least compared to the set’s first half. “A Gangsta’s Fairytale” is a creative take on child story time, with Ice Cube spinning an inventive fable where Jack catches an STD from Jill, the Three Little Pigs pull a drive-by on Humpty Dumpty, Mr. Rogers and the Big Bad Wolf plot to take out the Pigs, and Red Riding Hood and Little Boy Blue go to war over colors. Public Enemy sideman Flavor Flav guests on “I’m Only Out For One Thang”, and delivers his trademark lovable nonsense alongside Cube over a shuffling funk-soul track from Sir Jinx. The gangsta boogie thumper “Rollin’ Wit The Lench Mob” salutes the lifestyle and principles of Cube’s then-new musical family, which includes vocal appearances from J-Dee and T-Bone, two-thirds of the fam’s offshoot group Da Lench Mob. The Bomb Squad and Sir Jinx co-produce
“Who’s The Mack?”, an ode to slick talkers propelled by a silky Marvin Gaye sample, where in each of three verses, Ice Cube peers at those that use charm and persuasive powers to get what they want. “It’s A Man World” is a Lench Mob in-house affair, with Sir Jinx and Ice Cube teaming on the gumbo funk instrumental, and the crew’s lone female member (Yo-Yo) having a spirited battle of the sexes with Cube, and more than holding her own with her gifted sponsor. And on the album’s closer “The Bomb”, Cube channels his inner battler; flaunting a heart-stopping rhyme flow and throwing nimble cipher darts, over a panicky soul clap track from Sir Jinx.

AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted succeeds by leaps and bounds, thanks to the simpatico achieved by its principal performers. At the top of the list is Ice Cube, whose combination of intelligence, charisma, star power, and lyrical formidability illustrate why he achieved solo stardom after NWA. The Bomb Squad and Sir Jinx, this album’s primary producers, are just as important to its continuity as Cube is. The Squad – Hank and Keith Shocklee, Chuck D and Eric Sadler – bring the same sonic devastation that they used on Public Enemy’s records, but they tailor their sound to Cube with funkier, sleeker backdrops. And Sir Jinx, whose signature funk density would power Cube’s next two albums, moves in such seamless lock step with The Bomb Squad, if you didn’t have the album credits in front of you, you’d have difficulty discerning which productions are his, and which belong to the Squad.

As it was with the Eazy-E and NWA releases, Ice Cube received little support from radio and video outlets when AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted dropped. But, also as it was with Eazy-Duz-It and Straight Outta Compton, this didn’t seem to matter. In mere weeks, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted would move half a million units, and before 1990 drew to a close, the album had sailed well past the platinum certification mark. This album marked the beginning of an extremely successful solo career for Ice Cube, who’d log seven platinum releases during the 1990’s, introduce several satellite acts through his companies Street Knowledge Productions and Lench Mob Records, and become a millionaire many times over through his music as well as a lucrative filmmaking career. Though he has grown and evolved from the 20-year-old that made this album, the genesis of the Ice Cube we came to know can be traced to this release. After more than two decades, this release is as brilliant and impactful now as it’s ever been. It appears Jerry Heller’s shadiness was a good thing. Just look at the monster it created.

To listen to AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, click here.