Thursday, October 14, 2010

Music Review: Ice Cube - I Am The West

And to complete the Hip-Hop reprint 1-2...

Article first published on BlogCritics as Music Review: Ice Cube - I Am The West

I Am The West seems an awfully cocky...hell, outright arrogant title from the same guy that starred in “Are We There Yet”. It would be effortless to think that Cube went soft since his NWA (and first few solo album) days. War and Peace damn near put the nail in that coffin, and Laugh Now, Cry Later and Raw Footage didn’t do a whole lot to disparage that.

Quietly, however, Cube has stood by and stuck to the business savvy that caused him to realize that something was rotten in the NWA camp to begin with. Laugh at all the kiddie movies you want, but Cube (along with a handful of other OGs like Ice-T) have used their talent and street smarts to escape the abyss of the ghetto - and its stereotypical mentality - and built his own small empire.

In a musical sense, Cube has done it without modern Urban FM Radio, which has passed by all but the newest acts. I Am The West shows that Cube may be a dinosaur to some, but he still has a lot of roar left in him.

The best way to explain Ice Cube’s mentality going in to I Am The West is to let him do it himself:

For 7 or 8 years now the West Coast has been trying to do music that appeals to the South and Mid-West. The words, "too West Coast" would be heard throughout the industry whenever our music was played. Even by our own dj's. Left coast MC's were now trying to change their sound to cater to all the followers. We lost our way. Thank God for b-boys like Snoop, The Game & WC for keeping the West alive, but we were all guilty of over reaching. No more. At least not from me. I do it how I feel it; not how I think it should be done. Radio fucked us up. I hate the politics at radio. I don't know who to pay to get my shit played. Having a hot song is not enough. Ridiculous.

The record takes a minute or two to really get in to the groove. The intro “A Boy Was Conceived” gives way to the proper opening track “Soul On Ice”, which is more call-and-response hooks than actual content. The latter track is Cube warming up, for “Life In California” is where he really digs in to the current state of the art:

If Jay-Z can rap about the NYC
Why can’t I talk about the shit I see?
Without Alicia Keys, without going R&B
This ain’t Mowtown, this is R-A-P
...California swagger - fuck record sales
Industry outlaw like Josey Wales

As stated above, Cube is no position to even want to cater to the industry modus operandi. Having acquired the wealth he has (yes, even starring in family fare), he’s also in a position that he doesn’t even have to. Having that kind of freedom allows Cube to do it how he feels it.

Oddly enough, the beats Cube feels sound a lot like the Southern type. Some of the classic Funk of the West Coast sound (pioneered by Dr. Dre, who almost appeared on the album) is present. “Drink The Kool Aid” could have come from The Chronic if Dre and Cube were on speaking terms back then. However, a lot of the jerkier rhythms of the South style stand out like a sore thumb as well.

No matter the beat, Ice Cube is in form. “No Country For Young Men” is four-and-a-quarter minutes of old-school Cube at his finest. When Cube is on, focused, and alone, this is one of his best efforts in years. However, it takes eight tracks in to hit that momentum, as much of what comes before (like “Soul On Ice”) is rather sparse in content save for soundbites and tired tricks.

Part of the issue is that Cube, admirably, lets others have the spotlight on his record at times to mixed effect. OMG and Doughboy, his two sons, take turns on “You Know Who I Am”. WC and Maylay are also on the track and stick around for “Too West Coast”. Cube’s sons are dismissed in a move that almost suggests that it’s time for the adults to get serious, as “Too West Coast” rails against the dismissal of the West Coast sound and attitude by the mainstream.

Were it more focused and free of some of the guest stars, I Am The West could have been THE comeback for Ice Cube. Even though there is quite a bit of the worn-out, eye-rolling same-as-it-ever-was that pollutes Hip-Hop today, Cube shows he’s able to rise above that and deliver some of the best songs in the genre to this day. If only he could commit to something like that over an entire record, he’d be back to being unstoppable in music.

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