Label: Priority Records
"Bystander Dies in L.A. Gunfight." "Californians: 30 Million and Counting." "Ailing Woman Drowns in Pool." "Acting on Bad Experiences: Seven Latinos Will Take to the Stage to Vent the Pain And Struggles of Trying to Live in Southern California." "D.A.'s Office Finds Shooting by City Police Officer Justified." These were just a handful of headlines that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on May 16, 1990—the day Ice Cube released AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, and put the rap game in a choke hold. Affirming the album's 23-track, brass-knuckled tone, Cube begins on "Better Off Dead": "Fuck all y'all." Outlaw. Misogynist. Prophet. Thug. Homie. Motherfucker. Even at 20, Cube's legend was already larger than life, fashioned partly by his affiliation with Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, DJ Yella, and MC Ren, affectionately known as the Niggaz Wit Attitudes.
This is Cube translating rage into art, however sexist and disgusting it is at times.
With undercurrents of pulsating funk, courtesy of New York production camp The Bomb Squad, and fueled by Cube's politically trenchant missives, AmeriKKKa becomes something bigger than itself by album's end: an account not just of racism ("AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted"), a morally bankrupt LAPD ("Endangered Species"), and living hard in '90s L.A. ("Dead Homiez"), but a record about the function of rage for black men like O'Shea Jackson who grew up in under-served inner-city neighborhoods where money was always in short supply and liquor stores populated every corner.
It's an angry album, sure, but how could it not be? This is Cube translating rage into art, however sexist and disgusting it is at times ("It's A Man's World"). But maybe that's what it's ultimately about, how when you've been pushed and kicked and beaten, denied basic civil rights, presumed for some kind of "thug nigga," and marginalized to the point of nonexistence, you forget how to love. And not just love, but how to pass that love on to the mother who raised you and fed you, to your boys from around the way who've always had your back, to your girl who's held you down since forever, to, worst of all, yourself.
Maybe AmeriKKKa is about grappling with love, and how rage arises from the absence of that. Whatever it is, this is Cube, bold and brave and fire-eyed, standing out on his own without N.W.A. for the first time, middle finger to the law, no longer accepting the police boot that for so long had been on the neck of South Central. As one of rap's most defiant debuts, AmeriKKKa has been able to exist as few albums can: profoundly uncompromising. —Jason Parham