Ice Cube: AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted Album Review

June 9, 2024 - Music

But at the same time, “You Can’t Fade Me” offers insight into Cube’s greatest gift: storytelling. It’s a macabre view into the mind of a young man with fucked-up priorities, but Cube lays it out with the condensed detail of Slick Rick or Ice-T. Cube’s preternatural skill at evoking the Black suburban experience that served as the mundane background to his gangsta fantasies is still somehow underappreciated, and “Once Upon a Time In the Projects” displays the youthful, creative demeanor that would produce Friday five years later. As the story opens, Cube’s in the family living room of a young woman he’s hoping to hook up with—naturally, the suburban chaos reminds him of Good Times and Robin Harris’ standup routine “Bebe’s kids.” But like an amateur version of a Richard Pryor bit, the scene quickly grows bizarre when, at the end of the first verse, Cube realizes he’s sitting in the front room of a crackhouse. When the cops show up, they misinterpret the word “dope” on his t-shirt and toss him and the girl into a police cruiser. Of course, there’s a moral: “Now the story you heard has one little object/Don’t fuck with a bitch from the projects.”

On the surface, Cube’s politics on AmeriKKKa would appear to be a simple reactivation of the Panthers’ media-savvy push for Black liberation in the shadow of Reaganism, but clues to a deeper conservatism are everywhere. Not just in his consistently articulated belief that women were nothing more than sex objects to be used and discarded, but also in “Who’s the Mack?” when he instantly assumes that Black people asking for spare change are up to something sinister, or in “Projects,” when he says the woman’s gang-affiliated younger brother “needs to pull his pants up.”

It wasn’t a Bill Cosby-style integrationist conservatism that Cube aspired toward, but, as a 1990 Rolling Stone interview revealed, the worldview articulated by Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam—whom the reporter observed Cube watching with interest on an episode of The Phil Donahue Show. Over the prior decade, Farrakhan had dragged the Nation of Islam from near-irrelevance onto television and into hip-hop lyrics, selling out Madison Square Garden with an ideology rooted in economic and social separatism. The “projects,” for Cube and Farrakhan, weren’t the symbolic origin of future Black success like they’d soon be for Nas and Jay-Z, but an embarrassment to the Black community that, importantly, it was up to the Black community itself to fix.

Cube would explore his unique approach to Farrakhanism in depth on the double album Death Certificate, but that was still a year away. In 1990, Cube and AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted served as a bombastic introduction to what would later be dubbed “the tabloid decade,” a merger of Reaganist law and order and TV’s shift to lurid infotainment drawn from the supermarket checkout line—otherwise known as the first wave of “reality” entertainment. Specific to hip-hop, it was AmeriKKKa as much as Nation of Millions and Straight Outta Compton that laid the groundwork for hip-hop’s brief and dramatic evolution into an expansive truth-telling media spectacle.

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