The four albums that unleashed the solo career of Ice Cube onto the world are a treasure in the history of hip hop.
Whereas stereotypes have largely perpetrated rap in certain ways over the past couple decades, the initial era of the former backbone of N.W.A. is worthy of revisiting as he’s helped legitimize social concerns for an entire group of people.
Once you get past the menacing attitude of the production and equally intimidating delivery of the emcee, there’s lots of depth to peel back within each album. Ice Cube in the early 1990s comes complete with commentary matching the times, which can be tough to digest upon first sitting if hesitant to soak it all in.
There’s scathing tracks about corruption of law enforcement and the prison system, and government degradation and racial tension, and tales of street life and sexual relations. It’s all packaged with punk rock bravado from a ghetto-American point of view.
AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (1990) features production from Public Enemy’s The Bomb Squad and Ice Cube associate Sir Jinx, with appearances by Chuck D, Flava Flav, Da Lench Mob, and Son of Beserk. It’s to be noted that Ice Cube’s cousin Del Tha Funky Homosapien, listed as a member of “The Lynch Mob” for the one and only time, is credited with writing “Jackin’ For Beats” off of the follow-up Kill at Will EP.
Cube, Sir Jinx, and The Boogie Men (featuring DJ Pooh) handled production duties on Death Certificate (1991) in what was a return to their roots. Appearances are made by Deadly Threat, KAM, The Maad Circle, King Tee and J Dee on the track “Color Blind”, which is an answer to “My Summer Vacation” on an album split between The Death Side and The Life Side.
Then yet another direction is taken on The Predator (1992) as Cube, Sir Jinx, DJ Pooh and DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill take the soundscape to new levels. In what mirrors the ever-growing frustration in the black community, even today, the liner notes read “Ice Cube wishes to acknowledge America’s cops for their systematic and brutal killings of brothers all over the country (Most of their stories never made it to the camera). Those actions committed by the police have provided me with some of the material for this album.”
On Lethal Injection (1993) there’s the feeling of an all-out return to the West coast in ways only briefly experienced over the course of the last three albums. Produced by QD III (son of Quincy Jones), 88 X Unit, Madness 4 Real, Laylaw & Derrick McDowell, and Brian G., there’s also an appearance here by K-Dee. This album fits right in with what became the mainstream rap sound of the times.
Two tracks from Bootlegs & B-Sides (1994) made the playlist below, from a compilation that signals the end of an era which ultimately birthed a new direction for an artist branching out beyond music and into movies.
To sum it all up, in four short years Ice Cube went from a ripe 19-year old recording his debut solo album across the country in New York City to returning to Los Angeles a seasoned veteran of a burgeoning movement.
And that was after splitting ways with the most popular rap group of the time.