Week Fulla 90s West Coast Hip Hop – First Listen #49: Ice Cube’s ‘Amerikkka’s Most Wanted’

So I’ve dedicated myself to doing a Week Fulla every month for the remainder of the year, so that means there will be 11 total weeks and 55 ALBUMS. At least! And the first one begins today! I did a Week Fulla 90s Hip Hop last year in my hopes of becoming a true hip hop head, but I didn’t make a dent at all in the “top hip hop albums from the 90s” lists that I’ve been consulting. So I decided to use the next 4 Week Fullas to dig into 90s hip hop albums by region. And we’re starting off with a Week Fulla 90s West Coast Hip Hop, beginning with Ice Cube’s Amerikkka’s Most Wanted (1990). Despite recent antics that found Mr. Cube getting played by the Trump Administration’s promise of a Platinum Plan supposedly dedicated to reinvigorating and empowering the Black community, Cube’s place in 90s West Coast royalty can’t be ignored. Solo and with N.W.A., Cube made a HUGE impact on the sound and representation of LA’s Black population through his music and film roles. His entire MO regarding his music was to be real, offering an unglamorized (but eventually fetishized) view of urban Blackness that Black communities all over the country could relate to, and he does that with Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, his first solo project.

Photo Credit: https://www.nme.com/en_au/film-interviews/ice-cube-interview-the-high-note-2682036

1990:Amerikkka’s Most Wanted

(via Genius)

I really didn’t expect to like this project as much as I did, but I really enjoyed it! One thing that I have to note off top is how SHORT this project is. When I was doing the first Week Fulla 90s Hip Hop, it took me hours to narrow down a list because a lot of the albums I was finding were over an hour long. And I just…don’t have time to listen to that lol. So I was very surprised to see that Cube’s project was so short – only about 50 minutes – and he gives us a lot with that time. This is definitely not an album you should listen to and expect bars or incredible wordplay, but it’s one that really proves how much you can do by just being a solid storyteller.

The stories on AMW run the gamut of “typical” – albeit stereotypical – life for Black folks living in urban areas. There are stories about police brutality and racism in the criminal justice system – Cube actually starts off the project with this – conflicts that Black folks have with each other, the media’s dressing up/down of Blackness, etc. And it’s super entertaining. There’s so much going on in the background of these songs, but the extra sounds really set the scenes and bring you into the story more.

I think back when I was robbin’ my own kind

The police didn’t pay it no mind

But when I start robbing the white folks

Now I’m in the pen with the soap-on-a-rope

I said it before and I’ll still taught it

Every motherfucker with a color is most wanted

Ice Cube, “Amerikkka’s Most Wanted”

Sir Jinx was the main producer on this project, and a lot of the production he gave us featured funk samples very heavily. And it worked! I kind of expected it to be a little bit more subtle – kind of similar to what Dre and Yella gave us on “Fuck Tha Police” – but you’re hit with it almost immediately when “The Nigga Ya Love to Hate” starts. Cube’s very distinct flow works very really well riding on top of it. It strikes the perfect balance of backing Cube very well but also being production that works well on its own. I kept thinking about it like a spoken word artist reciting poetry over a jazz band’s instrumentation. Your attention is obviously supposed to be on the poet (and they do a great job at keeping your attention), but remove the spoken word, and you have some really solid instrumentation going on in the background. Cube and Jinx do the same thing on here. Cube commands attention with the stories he’s telling – and with a voice like his, you really can’t ignore it – but Jinx gives us a lot on his end as well. I also was thinking about whether or not the funkiness in the production made the songs on here more palatable. Not that Cube necessarily made his music to be palatable, but I’m sure if the production wasn’t so easygoing, it would feel a little more out of reach.

There were a few songs on here that I liked a lot. “A Gangsta’s Fairytale” is my favorite track from the album. I love how Cube remixed the typical fairytale stories into something more on the vulgar side. I’m not sure if it was purposeful or not (edit: it is!! ‘This is in the vain of Slick Rick, we love Slick Rick, one of the best storytellers ever — if not the best’ – Cube), but it reminds me a lot of “Children’s Story” by Slick Rick that came out a couple of years earlier. It’s less of the subject matter directly (though that’s a part of it), and more the flow. Slick Rick is another one that has a very distinct rapping style and flow, and Cube seems to emulate that a little bit on here, deviating from his normal pace.

“Turn Off the Radio” was another really interesting one. I love when I’m able to pick out the samples in a song, and I was very happy to hear some of Vito’s dialogue from the the “racist stereotypes” scene in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989) and the “here’s what they think about you” that would eventually be on “No Vaseline” in 1991. The song sparked an interesting back and forth with myself (like this LOL), where I considered how the song is about how songs like his wouldn’t get played on the radio because rap wasn’t primped and polished enough to be mainstream, but now rap IS mainstream and white folks LOVE the hardcore deep cuts like his, so it’s popular now. But also the radio is still very much a curated space, where they only play a version of Black music that can be capitalized off of, as I touched on a little bit with Playboi Carti’s Whole Lotta Red (2020). So his criticism is still valid, but the current situation is a little more nuanced. “I’m Only Out for One Thing” was another song I enjoyed a lot. Flavor Flav’s verse was HORRIBLE, but the whole song is pretty funny, so it worked. Ooh and “The Drive By.” I’m not a fan of people overusing skits on albums, but I really liked this one. Apparently there were supposed to be a few more on the project, but they were cut; I think they would have made good additions to it – though the project would have been a little bloated – especially with “The Drive By” moved to the intro track position.

The only thing that kind of bugged me about the project was how heavy on the misogyny it was. There were few tracks and verses that were heavy on the “bitches” and “I love Black women with a passion / But when they gotta go and show their ass / I gotta clown the hoes” which, as a rap album – especially one from the 90s – it’s not uncommon, but it does get a little difficult to listen to when it’s so PRESENT. I will say, though, that this was redeemed a little bit (emphasis on A LITTLE BIT) on “It’s a Man’s World,” where Cube and Yo-Yo – who I’ve decided to stan off the strength of this song lol – go back and forth about men’s misguided perceptions of women, Yo-Yo offering lines like how the world wouldn’t be “a damn thing without a woman’s touch” and “without us your hand would be your best friend / so give us credit like you know you should / if I don’t look good, you don’t look good” as rebuttal to Cube’s claims of men being the boss.

So all in all, Amerikkka’s Most Wanted is really good project. I think that this project definitely earned it’s spot at the top of almost every “top 90s hip hop album” list I saw. Stripped of any expectations that I’d place on a more contemporary project (and knowing a little of what I’d get from Ice Cube), I had a good time listening to it. It’s the perfect one stop shop for the sounds and conversations that were happening in West Coast hip hop in the 90s. Cube is an amazing storyteller and Sir Jinx gave is A LOT with the production. I’m excited to see if some of these same themes and sounds pop up in the other 4 albums this week.

Until then✌🏾

Overall Project Rating

Featured Image via Pinterest

(listen to Amerikkka’s Most Wanted on Spotify by clicking the image below)

here’s something else you might like…

Week Fulla 90s Hip Hop – First Listen #31: The Pharcyde’s ‘Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde’

Out of the folks I’ve done First Listens for this week, the Pharcyde is the group I know the least about. Other than a few mentions of their music at various points in my life, I’ve never heard anything from them or heard anything more about them other than “they’re one of the best hip … Continue reading Week Fulla 90s Hip Hop – First Listen #31: The Pharcyde’s ‘Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde’

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