Ice Cube – “The Wrong Nigga to Fuck Wit”

Ice Cube. All around bad motherfucker. I mean, that is if you forget everything he’s done after 1998 (okay, Barbershop 1 and 3 get a pass, but Ride Along? No dice). Coming onto the scene as a member of the all-around rabble-rousing group N.W.A. Cube soon embarked onto a legendary solo career issuing some of the strongest–and most controversial–work hip-hop has ever seen, and it’s safe to say that he is one of my all-time favorite rappers.

Originally brought into the group N.W.A. by Eazy-E, Cube became the group’s premier lyricist, helping establish N.W.A. in the late ‘80s as the group for notorious, socially-conscious street rhymes. Thanks to the controversy of Straight Outta Compton and the fact that it was, you know, a freaking great record, it soon went platinum and rap was changed forever.

But things weren’t all sunshine and lollipops. Eazy, who saw himself as the group’s leader, cozied up to manager Jerry Heller, and there were issues of payment in the group (money, always screwing things up in the rap world). Cube was noticing that even though the group made serious bank, he was still riding the bus and eating cold fish sticks. At odds with Eazy and Heller, he departed N.W.A. in 1989, at the height of the group’s success. It was a shock to the rap world, and many were expecting him not to go far.

That is, until he teamed up with Public Enemythe other biggest and most controversial group in hip-hop, and who helped him put out his massive 1990 debut, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. The debut was an instant smash on release, cementing Cube as a star and gaining praise and scorn from all corners for his hedonistic tales of the ghetto of South Central Los Angeles. It’s a terrific debut, but this follow up would make it look like child’s play.

Death Certificate is an immensely polarizing record. People either tend to love it or recoil in disgust. Released just days before Halloween, 1991, Death Certificate had Cube taking things to a new level, both in production and lyricism, as he paints a vivid picture of South Central in the early ’90s. The situation was particularly dire in Cube’s hood: Poverty, neglect, drugs, racism, bloody gang violence, and militaristic surveillance and policing by the Los Angeles Police Department were just some of the things he was noticing on the daily, and while America had a spotlight on Los Angeles’s gangs and crack epidemic, no help was coming, and a rage was simmering in the neighborhood.

Death Certificate was a gigantic fuck you to everyone: White people, black people, Asian people in the hood, cops, gangbangers, drug dealers, music critics, the censors, the American government, bougie women, N.W.A….the list goes on and on. Cube railed on everyone and everything; a master orator excoriating the players and powers that be on things like racism, police brutality, the neglect and complicitness of the American government in a broken system, the failures and disconnections in the Black community, and much more. It blows my mind how effectively and brutally he tackles these subjects, with an urgency and potent rage that very, very few other rappers could articulate, before and since. Cube was diving into the soul of a battered black neighborhood in America during the crack epidemic further than any reporter. The album brought a new level of notoriety and outcry to Cube, and while what he had to say was ugly, much of it was needed. He pretty much foretold the L.A. Riots months before they happened.

“The Wrong Nigga to Fuck Wit” is the opener from the album, sounding like a bomb blast. Over a fearsome and funky aural hellscape hooked up by producer Sir Jinx, Cube furiously unloads, singling out naysayers and calling out opponents like Darryl Gates, chief of the LAPD, whose force had become notorious for their hit-and-run tactics and brutality. It’s a hell of an introduction to a fiery record, and hip-hop would never be as furious or as political since.

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