Tidal Catalog #6: Ice Cube

Introduction: For those of you that have stumbled across this website and are interested in reading about my trek through the universe of the Tidal streaming service, let me tell you a bit about what I did. Back in 2016 I thought it would be kind of cool to listen to artist’s catalog from start to finish and rank them from best to worst. After all, who doesn’t like a good list? I thought I might do a few of them and see what happened, hoping it would introduce me to records that were foreign to me in the arsenal of an artist I was familiar with. I also though that it would be pretty cool to get out of the “one off” mode of listening to a new record, years after the previous one, in order to get a true sense of how the artist matured over time. Flash forward to June of 2019 and 250 catalogs later, I have ended the trek. I posted these all on Facebook over the years as they were completed but I’m going to move them all over here, starting with #1, in order to expand them out a bit more.

As with all my catalogs, to be considered in the ranking, an album has to meet certain criteria:

  • The artist must actually perform on 80% of the tracks (soundtrack and rap provision)
  • No compilations of previous released material will be included.
  • The album must have been released officially and within the realm of the label that the artist would have been on at the time or official releases posthumously (normally applies to a slew of live records)
  • Any EPs must contain new new music and be relevant to the catalog, not be more like a single with a b-side or two.
  • Compilations of previously recorded material will be included if they are remixes, bonus tracks, outtakes… mostly music that hasn’t been part of a main release before)
  • DVD releases are not considered.

Entrance Point: “Straight outta Compton / Crazy muthafucka named Ice Cube” – I had heard N.W.A records and all of his solo records through Lethal Injection.

Included:

  • The C.I.A. EP, which was Cube, K-Dee and Sir Jinx and produced by Dr. Dre.
  • Westside Connection albums, which were Cube, Mack 10 and WC.
  • Straight Outta Compton, remembering that Cube left N.W.A. after that record.

Not Included:

  • Solo compilation Featuring…Ice Cube which really isn’t that. It’s a mix of songs on this records and songs he guested on.
  • N.W.A.’s second album after Cube left.
  • N.W.A. & the Posse album, credited to N.W.A. while Cube was in the band but really was mostly posse cuts.
  • Da Lench Mob albums. While kind of credited to Cube, he was the producer and guested on many songs but he wasn’t in the group.

All albums ranked on a 10 point scale.

Of note: This catalog was originally just Cube’s solo records. For this remixed edition, I added in N.W.A. and Westside Connection to make this as complete as other catalogs I’ve done.

  • N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton (10)
  • Amerikkka’s Most Wanted (10)

Sure, I usually start the commentary off with some words on the top record but in this case, Straight Outta Compton has been talked about to death, especially with the retrospective movie coming out a few years ago. Stone cold classic for sure but I’ll start the dialog off with Amerikkka’s Most Wanted instead.

This was Ice Cube’s first solo record after he split with N.W.A. and if you watched the movie, you’d know that the split wasn’t exactly friendly. Even so, Cube wanted Dr. Dre to produce this record and Dre showed interest but the label and Jerry Heller said no to that since there were beefs between Cube and Eazy-E. So instead, Cube reached out to the Bomb Squad to do the record. The Bomb Squad were the producers for Public Enemy, working on Fear of a Black Planet at the time and thus, there’s certainly a bit of PE heard in this record (and guest spots from Chuck D and Flavor Flav)

Cube is one of the great hip-hop storytellers of our time. He took Gangsta rap to the next level with well written stories right from the streets of Compton. He supposedly showed up to the recording sessions with novels worth of lyrics to lay down and was able to make a brilliant, hard hitting, political West Coast Hip-Hop record. If you’ve only listened to the singles from Cube, you’d be surprise to not hear his regular sound quite yet on this one. But instead you get a very PE sounding, “Endangered Species (Tales from the Darkside)” and “Once Upon a Time in the Projects.” That said, there are some tracks with a style that you’d hear again on the next three records, like “A Gangsta’s Fairytale” which takes pieces of fairytales and adjusts them to be ghetto versions, pretty brilliantly.

This album was a hit without any real singles being released from it, proving how influential Ice Cube was and showed signs of the superstardom to come.

Ice Cube, “Endangered Species (Tales from the Darkside)”
  • Laugh Now, Cry Later (10)

Putting Laugh Now, Cry Later above the classic records really drew the ire of some people when I first posted this a few years ago on Facebook but hear me out for a minute.

With his movie career in full force and the War & Peace discs considered a failure (they aren’t bad but the singles were poor choices to represent), there wasn’t as much intrigue around this 2006 release than there would have been a decade earlier. And because of that, I think people really slept on this one.

While this is still unmistakably West Coast Hip-Hop and a political album skewering George Bush in particular, the beats are more upbeat than the early records. At this point in Cube’s career he was interested in getting asses up and movin’ with the beats but still opening your eyes to what’s going on in the world. I think it’s hard for a lot of people to accept anything but those gritty, p-funk sampled beats and angry lyrics from his classic period but many of his more upbeat songs are fantastic too. And I like both sides, after all, my favorite Ice Cube song is “We Be Clubbin’,” so a brilliant head-bobber is really what Cube needed at this point in his career.

Scott Storch lays down a kick ass beat for lead single “Why We Thugs.” Then that’s followed by producer Bud’da providing one of Cube’s most interesting tunes with “Smoke Some Weed.” There’s also a fantastic trio of songs in the middle of the disc (the title track produced by Puffy, “Stop Snitchin'” produced by Swizz Beats and “Go To Church” with Snoop and Lil’ John.

Released on his own Lench Mob label, Cube blended known producers with some newer, younger and unknown ones to ultimately create the best album of his later period.

Ice Cube, “Go To Church”
  • Death Certificate (10)

Going back to 1991 where he was ripping the other George Bush, Death Certificate is an unmistakable classic in West Coast Hip-Hop. Produced by Sir Jinx and the Boogiemen, this is the sound that Cube would become known for. When I first started listening to this catalog, I marked this off as a 10 right up front as I had heard this a good hundred times if not more. But the most surprising part of this entire catalog was that this was not my #1 Cube solo record. Frankly, it likely could be depending on the day of the week and it’s a perfect record but so are the ones above it too.

I suppose I would have been starting high-school around the time this album came out and while I loved it from the start, if I’m being totally honest, my little dorky suburban white ass most likely didn’t have a clue about 99% of the topics Cube speaks about. I’m sure I was singing along to “Givin’ Up the Nappy Dug Out” as if I had any experience with a standard dug out let alone a nappy one. I can’t imagine walking down the street singing “Your daughter was a nice girl, now she’s a slut..” and then rapping the verse from the perspective of the condoms. Funny shit when I think back to it now. I also probably said “why is my thing-thing burning like this?” (“Look Who’s Burnin’) more than I should have. This might explain exactly why the nappy dug out was never really offered back in high-school.

Although it’s a great album straight through, I think the reason I put this after Laugh Now, Cry Later is that the backside of the record just doesn’t have that song or two that immediately catches you – that is until the final track, “No Vaseline” which is one of the greatest diss tracks of all time, tearing Eazy-E and the rest of N.W.A. up in the tune.

My innocent 15-year old self probably should have never listened to this record but thank heavens my local CD shop at the time simply wanted my money every Tuesday morning and didn’t care about selling explicit music to minors. Haha.

Ice Cube, “Givin’ Up the Nappy Dugout”
  • War & Peace, Vol. 2 (9.5)
  • Kill at Will (9)
  • The Predator (9)

The Predator was released a little over a year after Death Certificate capitalizing on Cube’s growing popularity at the time. While the album isn’t quite as immediate as the previous record, it did contain three singles that really defined him as an artist. “Wicked” was the first single and featured that addicting sample from “Can’t Truss It” by PE. But the second single was his biggest hit and the tune he’s most known for at this point. “It Was A Good Day” was unusual in two ways; the first being that it’s Cube’s first really mellow tune and the second that the lyrics were mostly positive rather than his normal gritty look into the hood. And then finally, there was “Check Yo Self” with Das Efx. The album version is great but the single was a remixed version that can be found on Ice Cube’s greatest hits or Das Efx’s record at the time.

Ice Cube, “Check Yo Self (Cube version)”
  • Lethal Injection (9)
  • Westside Connection – Bow Down (8.5)
  • Westside Connection – Terrorist Threats (8.5)
  • In the Movies (8)
  • War & Peace, Vol. 1 (8)
  • Raw Footage (8)
  • I Am the West (7.5)
  • Bootlegs & B-Sides (7)
  • C.I.A. – Cru’ in Action EP (6)
  • Everythangs Corrupt (3)

So I’ve done 250 of these fucking catalogs and if I’m ever going to get them all over here to my website and “remix” them, I simply can’t write up every single record. I really should talk about his last classic period record (Lethal Injection), a little bit about Westside Connection and likely why the War & Peace discs aren’t quite a bad as people think they are. But, I’m jumping right to the bottom and his long awaited comeback record, Everythangs Corrupt. (grammatical incorrectness and all).

Cube released I Am the West back in 2010 and then put a heavy focus on his movie career. I’m honestly surprised he even released another record, so I was really excited when I saw this was coming out in 2018. If this is the best he can do, then he should just make more movies with Kevin Hart and not bother anymore.

A bunch of no name producers gave Cube beats that don’t hold up to anything in this catalog but even so, what he always had going for him were the fantastic stories he was able to put to rhyme. But they are mostly gone here.

“Arrest the President” was released before the album dropped and is easily the worst song he’s made. This is not a political statement from me at all, as I’m no Trump fan but lyrics like “Arrest the president, you got the evidence / that n*gga is Russian intelligence / When it rains it pours / Did you know the new white was orange? /Boy, you’re showing your horns / They’re tryin’ to replace my halo with thorns / You so basic with your vape stick / Let’s go apeshit in the matrix” are pretty weak for Cube.

The only really solid tracks on the album are “Ain’t Got No Haters” with Too $hort (produced by DJ Pooh) and possibly “Good Cop, Bad Cop” which was released a year earlier and tacked on to the very end of the disk.

I will certainly look forward to any new Ice Cube records from this point forward, but holy hell, they best be way better than Everythangs Corrupt.

Ice Cube, “Arrest the President”

Summary: 17 albums, Average: 8.2

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