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Ice Cube brings harsh realities of the street to life


Ice Cube.

Priority Records.


ON HIS NEW ALBUM, Death Certificate, Ice Cube once again talks about the harsh realities of street life in Los Angeles and every other big city in "AmeriKKKa" -- ghettos, gang violence, police brutality and drug trafficking. In a hardcore rap style not meant for sensitive ears, Ice Cube displays more consciousness than ever before about the problems facing the black community today and what should be done about them.

The 22-track album is separated into two sides, Death and Life. Before the first song, Ice Cube explains why he titled the sides what he did: "Niggaz are in a state of emergency. The Death Side. A mirror image of where we are today. The Life Side. A vision of where we need to go. So sign your death certificate."

After that statement, Ice Cube plays the soundtrack of pallbearers carrying a coffin into a church. Cameras click in the background, and people talk about their dead homie. The sounds of a funeral begin: a preacher crooning, women wailing and an organ playing. The first song on the album starts as the preacher stutters: "This brother didn't get into too much trouble. But it's one thing, just one thing . . . he was the wrong nigga to fuck with!"

"The Wrong Nigga to Fuck With" is a gritty song in which Ice Cube raps about how tough he and the rest of his crew are. He boasts about how well he can rhyme, how much the public likes him and how he is better than other rappers. The song has a decent beat but meaningless lyrics. What makes Death Certificate strong are the other songs and their focus on the common theme of death and life.

In "My Summer Vacation," one of the best songs on the Death Side, Ice Cube tells a realistic (but fictional) story about how and why gangs spread to other cities. Rapping in the first person, he tells how when things got tough in Los Angeles, he and a few of his boyz flew to St. Louis. There they took over the most lucrative drug corner, moving gang violence to Missouri: "Now clearing them out meant casualties / Still had the LA mentality/

Bust a cap and outta there in a hurry/

Wouldn't you know, a drive-by in Missouri."

The end of the song shows a black man being arrested by police. The policeman threatens, "We're going to do you like King." "What goddamned King?" replies the man. "Rodney King, Martin Luther King and all of the goddamned kings from Africa."

In "A Bird In The Hand," Ice Cube makes another political statement. Here he is a high school father who did well in school but has to work to support his child. He tries to get a job at AT&T, but he ends up working at McDonald's instead: "Always thought I'd be clocking G's / But, welcome to McDonald's, can I

take your order, please." When he doesn't make enough money to support his child, what is he supposed to do? The only option he has, besides being poor, is to sell "birds," better known as kilos of drugs. "We don't want to drug push / But a bird in the hand is worth more than a Bush."

The Death Side ends with the words of Khallid Muhammad, a minute-long soliloquy concluding: "You've heard the Death Side. Now open your black eyes to the rebirth, the resurrection and the pride."

The Life Side begins with the sounds of a mother giving birth. Muhammad explains that Africa is the cradle of civilization and the birth place of art, science and medicine, adding that there is no birth, only a continuation of life.

Following Muhammad's statement is the most striking lyrical composition on the entire album, "I Wanna Kill Sam." The song begins with a voice saying that the army is the best way out for a black teenager, providing a house, an education and food.

With a dope beat and suave music in the background, Ice Cube raps that he's setting up the ultimate drive-by and wants to kill Sam. After one verse of death threats, Ice Cube begins to explain why. The lyrics that follow are so smooth and flow so well that they need repeated listening to understand all of the symbolism.

The story that he tells is simultaneously a part of the present and the past. A white man knocks on Ice Cube's door saying that he heard someone just turned 18 in the house. After letting the man in "under false pretenses," Ice Cube says: "I knew it was a caper / I said please don't kill my mother, so he raped her. Tied me up, and took me outside / I was thrown in a big truck / And it was packed like sardines/ Full of Niggaz who fell for the same scheme."

With these lines, Ice Cube refers to the history of slavery. He vocalizes a similarity that he sees between slavery and the army. For Ice Cube, the situation has not changed much in 200 years. He finishes, "I wanna kill Sam cuz he's not my mutha fuckin' Uncle."

The last four songs speak directly to blacks. Ice Cube criticizes successful blacks for not helping the rest of the community in "True To The Game." "Color Blind" says that young teenagers should ignore the gang affiliations and see the brother behind the colors. "US" is a song about how Black people should stop blaming the government and take initiative to uplift the community.

Death Certificate is definitely not for everyone. People who do not like profanity will find it vulgar and distasteful. Ice Cube is quite explicit in his language and his descriptions. He pulls no punches when he speaks his mind, but he does work to promote a sense of self-awareness for blacks.

You won't hear many of Ice Cube's songs on the radio, not only because of the language he uses, but also because of the issues he addresses. He is a controversial rapper, but like he says in "True To The Game," he is not "Giving [black] music away to the mainstream."