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Arts and Entertainment

Classic LA Albums Vol. 2: Ice Cube - "Death Certificate"

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This is the second piece in a series celebrating some of the most classic albums to ever come out of Los Angeles.Part two is all about the west coast hip-hop classic Death Certificate, a true masterpiece from one of the OG architects of LA hip-hop.

I wanna kill Sam,
'cause he ain't my muthafuckin' uncle.

I Wanna Kill Sam

This is going to be a controversial choice amongst hip-hop heads and music critics alike, but it is the right choice to best represent hip-hop from the Best coast. Here is why.

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Just like a beast,
but I'm the first nigga to holla out,
"Peace black man."

NWA & the Posse is the foundation of modern hip-hop and pop music as of 2007. Try to imagine a world without the beats of Dr. Dre and MCs talking about selling drugs, pimping, and getting money in Los Angeles. So called 'gangster rap', a term I hate, is so ubiquitous now that it is hard for some people to imagine a time without it. Until NWA & the Posse, it didn't exist. Tracks like Boyz-n-the Hood, Dopeman, and 8 Ball set the world on fire, but as an album, NWA & the Posse does not hold up as well as some of its followers.

So back off genius.
I don't need you to correct my broken English.
Be True to the Game

Dr. Dre's The Chronic and Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle are both excellent albums. These are the albums that sent producers around the world scrambling for their MPCs in an attempt to copy the refined and bulletproof style of a still young Dr. Dre. These albums also introduced one of, if not the most, distinctive voices the world of hip-hop has seen before or since, Snoop Dogg. Essentially bite-proof because of his unique flow and wicked drawl, Snoop was so fresh that his brief guest spots on The Chronic left the public literally begging for more. Doggy Style, Snoop's own debut, delivered on every level, and made Snoop an international superstar of the highest level. So why didn't I choose either of these two classics? I don't ever find myself listening to either. Both of these albums crossed over to the pop side so heavily that I have had them forcefed to me since their respective releases. These albums are extraordinarily influential, an I like certain tracks on both, but these albums were so accessible that they became Top 40 radio, and that, in my opinion, is not the essence of hip-hop.

Comin' up short of the green guys,
and I might start slangin' bean pies.

Steady Mobbin'
Now, I know that the following might cause some real hip-hop heads to throw their hands up in frustration, but Death Certificate is even better than it's very close runner-up, Amerikkka's Most Wanted. Both of these albums are so Goddamned good that I am splitting hairs by choosing a favorite. I have listened to both of them hundreds and hundreds of times. I only hope that my discussion of Death Certificate inspires you to go purchase all of Ice Cube's albums, up to and including Lethal Injection. Most serious hip-hop people will tell you that Cube jumped the shark after Predator, but I think there is enough amazing shit on Lethal Injection to make it worth a lot of listens.

Goin' through a stage,
but before they can blow up,
they on the front page. And they mom's is havin' a fit
'cause they died young doin' dumb shit,
Doing Dumb Shit

Death Certificate is the ultimate result of the maturation of Ice Cube's writing style, flow, and ability to take an unflinching look at the LA landscape. It is also DJ Pooh's finest work. Clearly one of the most underrated producers in hip-hop history, Pooh expands upon the foundation he built with Amerikkka's Most, creating a bangin', 8-bit sampled masterpiece. Combined with Ice Cube's literally prophetic lyrics, there is no other more significant hip-hop album to ever come from the City of Angels.

In '91 Ice Cube grew stronger and bigger,
and I'm the wrong nigga to fuck wit.
The Wrong Nigga to Fuck Wit
Bolstered by the success of N.W.A. and his already legendary debut album, Ice Cube blessed the hip-hop world with Death Certificate, the most topical album about Los Angeles ever created. Cube hits early and often with street tales that make the listener both think about and utterly fear the future.

And we ain't on edge when we do work.
Police don't recognize the khakis and the sweatshirts.
My Summer Vacation
As his contemporaries were trying to cash in on crossover records that contained lighter, more pop friendly fare, Ice Cube was busy doing what he does best - illustrating vivid, graphic tales about the lives and times of gangs in south central Los Angeles. Addressing such frightening topics as the exporting of gang culture, sitting in the waiting room of MLK after being shot by a rival soldier, and selling crack, Cube provides an unflinching look at gang life in LA circa 1991.

So pay respect to the black fist,
or we'll burn your store right down to a crisp.
...and then we'll see ya.
'cause you can't turn the ghetto into
Black Korea.
Black Korea
What separates Death Certificate from other classic LA hip-hop albums more than anything else is the degree to which it was truly prophetic. While a lot of critics at the time saw this as yet another example of what was 'wrong' with music - the glorification of violence and drug sales, as well as the degradation of women - Death Certificate boldly stated what was about to happen to LA in the wake of years of half-hearted attempts at civil integration, foreign nationals flocking to the inner city to open liquor stores, and police brutality aimed at blacks in LA culminating in the video taped beating of Rodney King. With Death Certificate, Ice Cube holds a mirror to Los Angeles one last time before its ultimate demise and rebirth.

House nigga gotta run and hide,
Yellin' Compton but you moved to Riverside.
No Vaseline
Death Certificate also includes the very best dis song recorded before or since, No Vaseline. Cube rails against his former N.W.A. crew, particularly Eazy-E, in a tirade that is as eloquent as it is venomous and crushing. Whereas other MCs have spit darts at their prey, No Vaseline has Cube dropping nuclear weapons with a virulent educational session highlighting, among other things, the importance of not selling out and keeping it truly real. The foundation of the track, a loop from the instantly recognizable funk era classic "Dazz" by Brick, bounces happily along while Cube simply unloads on Eazy and Dr. Dre. Almost two decades and a couple of hundred of MC dis tracks dropped on mixtape later, No Vaseline remains the essential primer on clowning competitors from the microphone.
That's when I start cussin'.
Police steady asking me, "Who did the bustin'?"

Alive on Arrival

If you care even remotely about west coast hip-hop and do not already own this Ice Cube classic, please reflect on LA history and avail yourself of this opportunity to get educated.

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Enjoy! ©