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

Tidal Catalog #5: Depeche Mode

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: I had loved Depeche Mode for years. I had heard all albums through 1997’s Ultra at which point I had a drastic shift in musical tastes and kind of lost track of them. But from ’89 to ’95 or so, Depeche Mode was my jam.

Not Included: Recording the Angel (43 live CDs from their 2005/2006 tour – I mean I have to draw the line somewhere), Recording the Universe (2010 tour just like the above), Remix, Remix 2.

All albums ranked on a 10 point scale.

  • Violator (10)

Violator was released in March 1990, which would have made me 14 at the time. I don’t remember everything about my musical experience that early on but I know that Depeche Mode’s sullen synth-pop was absolutely not my thing at that time. The closest I had probably gotten back then was The Cure’s Disintegration. But in my time walking to school (which was no more than 2 minutes from my house but I walked the long way to extend it to 10 minutes or so, to get more time with my disc player), I listened to Violator more times than I could count, however, in bits and pieces. Back in 1990 the technology obviously wasn’t the same as it is now and at 14 / 15 years old, I wasn’t listening to music to hear all the nuances in each track like I do today. Back then, “Enjoy the Silence” was actually the tune that got me to buy the CD and listen. I still sing “Personal Jesus” in the shower now and again but it was the second single and then follow up, “Policy of Truth” that got me into the band. And I loved every moment of this album from start to finish for years to come.

I’m very much into listening to albums as they were originally recorded and base my opinions off them. The original album would be a 10/10 anyway but do yourself a favor and get the 2006 remaster. This is where you get to hear all those aforementioned nuances come out in each song – all the atmosphere and the interesting bleeps and blips from the magnificent keyboard attack on this album.

Depeche Mode, “Enjoy the Silence”
  • Music for the Masses (9.5)

Not counting the live chronicle, 101, Music for the Masses was the release prior to Violator and marked the last record of what would be considered early Depeche Mode. The title was tongue-in-cheek as the record label wanted them to make more commercial sounding music but the band wasn’t having it. In reality, Music for the Masses is kind of the bridge record of the group. It blended the pure synth-pop of previous work (such as “Behind the Wheel”) with the newer, gloomier, atmospheric side (such as “The Things You Said”) with relative ease. “Never Let Me Down Again” is a great lead track on the record and one of their best singles (among many great ones) and non-single “Sacred” is one of their greatest tunes that didn’t get released. Overall, it’s the most consistent record of their early period and was the record that really started moving them into different musical territory.

Depeche Mode, “Sacred”
  • Songs of Faith and Devotion (9.5)

After spinning Violator until I thought the disc was going to catch on fire, I was all over the follow up, Songs of Faith and Devotion. So now it’s 1993, I’m 17 years old and very much in tune with my musical tastes and the previous album had opened my eyes to a whole new set of dark synth-driven electronic tunes. So Songs of Faith and Devotion was a day one purchase for me, especially after hearing “I Feel You” about a month before the release, which really didn’t sound like anything Depeche Mode had done at that point. There’s such a magnificent blend of keyboards, noise and subtle rock riffs on that song that it stood out at the time as something pretty unique on the radio.

The entire album was darker and had more of a rock edge and by that, I don’t mean that it was a Pearl Jam record. For Depeche Mode that meant bringing Martin Gore’s guitar-licks up front in the mix a little more and even though it was definitely a dark synth-pop record and often very mellow, it has a different feel overall than the previous album.

My favorite song in the Depeche Mode catalog is on this album. “Condemnation” is a piano ballad – piano, bass, percussion, handclaps. It’s an amazingly beautiful song that often sounds like a hymn. It looks like it was released as the third single from the album, which I had no idea about since I’ve never heard it on the radio, even once. But overall, it’s a gloriously well made album but at least for me, this would mark the last must listen in their arsenal.

Depeche Mode, “Condemnation”
  • Black Celebration (9)
  • 101 (9)
  • Ultra (8.5)
  • Some Great Reward (8.5)

With Depeche Mode, early on they seemed to be more of a singles group rather than an LP band. “New Life” “Just Can’t Get Enough” and “Everything Counts” were great songs on inconsistent albums. But their 4th record here is where it finally really started coming together. Rather than have three or four really good tunes and a bunch of mediocre ones this album has at least six really good tunes out of the nine total. The BDSM lyrics of “Master and Servant” weren’t the only time that sadomasochism would show up in their songs and “Blasphemous Rumors” was a stunning closer to the record. Earlier, I said that I sung “Personal Jesus” in the shower a lot but I sing “People Are People” more often than any other Depeche Mode song. It’s their most upbeat single for sure and easily the closest thing to a hit from that early period.

Depeche Mode, “People Are People”
  • Songs of Faith & Devotion Live (8)
  • Spirit (8)
  • Delta Machine (8)
  • Playing the Angel (8)
  • Sounds of the Universe (7.5)
  • Construction Time Again (7.5)
  • Exciter (7)
  • Speak & Spell (7)
  • A Broken Frame (6.5)

This was one of those catalogs that I very much enjoyed listening to but don’t have a whole lot to say about as we go down the list. Their first three records were hit or miss for me, maybe a bit too basic in the end. And then after Songs of Faith & Devotion, I feel like they have kind of stayed the course for the rest of their career, not taking a whole lot of chances and making album after album of really solid yet ultimately familiar tunes.

Summary: 16 albums, Average 8.2