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Ice Cube “I Am The West” Review

i am the west

There’s an interesting parallel between the lives of Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg which has become more apparent in recent years, but in terms of their musical careers, the similarities are far more interesting. While both have focused much of their time to non-musical projects over the course of the past decade, neither has ever left music behind. In 2008 both Cube and Snoop released new albums, Raw Footage and Ego Trippin’ respectively, and each resulted in genuinely solid sales figures (Cube selling 300k copies and Snoop, 400k). With last year’s Malice in Wonderland, Snoop released his tenth solo album, and with I Am The West Cube is releasing his ninth; both are also technically now working as “independent artists” now as each is now recording under their own imprint. The two also hold each other in high regard, so it’s no surprise that a shout out to Snoop pops up on West (“Snoop Dogg is down with us,” in “Your Money or Your Life”), but what is surprising is a statement Cube made to Hip Hop DX regarding the shift from a major to releasing under his own Lench Mob label and the freedom it gives him. “Being independent is beautiful because we can do things ‘out the box’ that record companies would usually frown at.” He continued, “Going on Regis & Kelly is not going to sell you hip-hop records! Wrong crowd.”

His pal Snoop clearly sees things differently; apparently just because he’s doing things his own way doesn’t mean that he’s afraid of making the daytime rounds. While shaking hands and kissing babies, Snoop’s Malice went on to sell the same 400k albums that Ego Trippin’ did, and in doing so there may be a lesson that Cube is overlooking. Soccer moms might not be the right crowd, but they’re the ones who are either going to be buying music for their kids, or are going to be on top of them regarding what music is blaring from their rooms. So at this critical point in time where the two seem to be ideologically veering off on their own directions, where does that leave Cube? He’s not heading to Candyland to mug it up with Katy Perry—that’s for sure—rather, he’s going back to Cali.

I Am The West is Cube’s gangsta-rap-in-2010 record which finds him both lyrically and musically attempting to re-immerse himself in the sub-genre he once helped define. Following an introduction featuring the unforgettable voice of Keith David (who also appeared on Raw Footage) and Cube’s longtime tag-along Mike Epps (both of whom appear later in the record as well) the initial synthetic horns and beat of “Soul on Ice” quickly sets precedent for what is to come. Production-wise Tha Bizness prepares Cube to succeed but, as he does throughout the record, he keeps stumbling through off-putting, forgettable, and oftentimes nonsensical, lyrics, “Cool as the fridge and you shakin’ like Jell-o/Mad ’cause my life is like a marshmallow.”

“Life in California” continues by stepping up and calling out Jay-Z for his widely beloved “Empire State of Mind” collaboration with Alicia Keys, “If Jay-Z can rap about the NYC why can’t I talk about the shit I see/Without Alicia Keys, without goin’ R&B/This ain’t Motown, this is R-A-P.” Again, though: nonsensical as Cube believes R&B to apparently be miles away from the curiously soulful vocals that introduce the song; not to mention “Nothing Like L.A.” which finds Butch Cassidy crooning his way through Cube’s ode to his wife later in the record. “California” has a great beat though—so he’s got that goin’ for him—but unfortunately the album isn’t even consistent on that front.

“She Couldn’t Make It,” for all its electronic sizzle, comes off about as fresh as the bulk of Common’s embarrassingly poor Universal Mind Control did in 2008. The album’s final tracks might be West‘s most awkward however, “All Day, Every Day” utilizing something of a children’s toy xylophone throughout while “Fat Cat” ends up sounding like a towel-waving Cash Money left-over. But the album’s best example of awkward lyrics meets questionable production comes in the form of “Urbania”: the song’s beat is laced with the electronic equivalent of waterboarding while Cube marches through, chanting “Google me, bitch.”

The album’s focus—if its title didn’t give it away—is Cube’s return to West Coast rap however, and the album succeeds through the tracks where he concerns himself as such. WC seamlessly lights it up amongst a cast of young players on “Y’all Know How I Am” and “Too West Coast,” the latter of which boasts the most furious beat on the record. Even West‘s lead single, “I Rep That West,” does well in creating an aggressive us vs. them feeling that nods to a time gone by, with Cube rolling through bars before taunting, “Who gives a fuck if they play it in Virginia.” “Drink the Kool-Aid” takes another shot at the East Coast (“This ain’t Sinatra, this Ain’t the Carter”) and weaves together an alluring minimal-funk beat while “No Country For Young Men” rolls crisply and succinctly. “Hood Robbin’” is where the album finds its peak however, musically bouncing along as if we were all still deep in the mid-’90s while Cube lyrically wraps his mind around the perils of the times and how the common person is affected. Slyly tossing in “This adjustable rate: it choked me out,” Cube touches on the most obvious issues that have created overwhelming burdens in this time of economic crisis, all the while sentimentally bouncing as he tries to relate to those who have had their lives devastated, “And everything is lost without Blue Cross.” And that’s where the biggest question arises with West: Who exactly is Cube trying to prove himself to here?

Snoop, as time has proven, has shifted away from being viewed as a dangerous rapper caught up in a murder trial to someone who fits in nicely with the likes of the Cube-snubbed Regis and Kelly. He’s a business man, and part of his business is selling whatever project it might be that he’s working on at the time. Sure, he’s popping up in some potentially embarrassing rolls occasionally (be it musically or elsewhere), but it all serves its purpose; certainly rolling with the Pussycat Dolls is no less damning than rolling with Korn, as Ice Cube did in the late-’90s. But Ice Cube has this back and forth about him and his career which leaves this vague ambiguity as to who exactly he is and what he’s trying to do. Musically, I Am The West is an inconsistent, yet generally passable listen. The cast behind Cube throughout the record including WC, Jayo Felony and Young Maylay do well in supporting Cube and overall, despite his faulty flows, Cube does well enough in representing himself along the way; like many of Ice Cube’s albums it has its highs and its lows. But the guy saying he’s “too West Coast for the West Coast” is also the guy making Are We There Yet? (as well as creating and producing the TBS show of the same name). This isn’t to say that he can’t have it both ways—such a duality would be amazing if it seemed legitimate—but it just comes off as though Cube is trying to be too much to too many people; more importantly, too much to himself. In the process, be it burning bridges with soccer moms or snubbing the East Coast, he just comes off as a guy who’s trying to bring cards to a game that no one else wants to play.


6 Comments

    Nice review, just one gripe…. Now I love big Snoop Dogg, but comparing collaborations with Korn and PCD is just epic fail.

  • Overall a good review

    “He just comes off as a guy who’s trying to bring cards to a game that no one else wants to play”….. well, let me say; I wanna play!!

    Let him be too much too himself, I like the seemingly inconsistent Ice Cube. It’s human! Besides that, he is playing a role without being too correct, he is not like KRS ONE. On the music tip he is far less poppy than Snoop so credit on that one! Further; big up to Cube. Don’t playerhate, congratulate!!!

    el Jefito PapaTio

  • I’ve listened to most of Ice Cube’s work except for his stuff with CIA. I’ve always been immersed into music that describes the experiences of people, be it Greek Folk Music or Gangsta Rap. In my opinion, Raw Footage was a real return to West Coast Gangsta Rap because it talked about the struggle of people and wasn’t afraid to stick it to the man outright (“The only Rapper wanna fistfight the President.”).

    While there is some socio-political commentary in this album if you listen closely, the majority of it reminds me of the “Bitches, Cars and Money” music of last few years where most rappers have just got either bored or lazy. The only “googling” of Ice Cube I did right now was to find out what others thought of this lazy effort.

    I’m glad Dre didn’t appear or produce for this album. In my opinion, more than one or two producers on an album creates an inconsistent sound and makes and album sound just bad (50 Cent’s Curtis comes to mind, but I won’t go into that any further).

    I just hope his tenth is more along the line of Raw Footage.

    - JettaFlair

  • I agree with the entire review and understand points that are being made but when I banged the album for the first time, I was flabbergasted by the earth-shattering beats and rhymes.
    When the album starts, I forget about the ‘Are we there yet’ and remember the good old days where the radio used to bang Cube and his and other westcoast artists’ videos were on TV.
    Cube can still rock it like no other.

  • whenever reviews disect an ice cube album,i then listen to it and its still better than these new age rappers of today!!!!! do yo thang cube,i got yo back……”yae!!! yae!!!”

  • Though I agree with the author about some of his assessment, I must say that tracks like No Country For Young Men or Do Ya Thang alone make this album a great release. Ice Cube is on fire! Sure, some tracks are a bit weak but WC and Maylay are great and so is Cube. And I love his movies, I´m proud that one of my favorite rappers has made it and is now a movie star and producer. As long as his rap skills are there, I don´t mind the kind of movies he makes…and I even like most of them.

    His concert in Hamburg, Germany last summer was one of the best rap shows I´ve ever been to. He´s still got tons of passions and energy when he´s on stage or in the studio. Big up to Ice Cube, yeay yeay !

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