The deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two unarmed black males, have spurred protest across America this summer. Al Sharpton, Rand Paul, and every major newspaper have all been in agreement: American police departments have structurally racist problems that need to be addressed. As well as this, police need to be held more accountable. The FBI’s unified crime reports, the closest thing to a system of accountability for police, still have no reliable records on how many people the police are killing.
This leads directly on to Ice Cube’s new album, to be released on October 21st. His acerbic critiques of American neoliberal politics have made him one of America’s most controversial musicians. Ice Cube defines his lyrics as “street knowledge,” in which he tries to let “the streets know what the politicians is trying to do them,” while also “letting the politicians know what the streets think of them, if they listening.” From his early days with rap group N.W.A. up until now, he has been trying to bridge the gap between the two separate Americas. However, often he has only stirred up more trouble and division. For example, “Fuck tha Police” (1988) caused so much controversy that the FBI even wrote a letter to N.W.A.’s record label concerning the group’s violent lyrics.
Since his breakup with N.W.A., Ice Cube has gone on to have a successful solo career. His first three albums are now all considered classics that helped establish West Coast gangsta rap. After those first few albums, his acting career began to take off. While starring in movies such as Friday (1995)and Barbershop (2002), many people forgot he was still rapping. And many of those who did notice thought he should stop. His last few albums have been ignored by major media outlets, especially since he went independent for his last two albums, Raw Footage (2008) and I am the West (2010).
“I’m not doing it for the money; I’m doing it because I’m a goddam B-boy in my heart.”
Ice Cube addressed his numerous critics, saying, “A lot of niggas don’t think I should still be in the game. I’m not doing it for the money; I’m doing it because I’m a goddam B-boy in my heart.” Hip-hop has changed, yet Ice Cube has remained constant. A genre that was once known for speaking truth to power and exposing the underbelly of the American Dream has now become commercialized to cater to the masses. However, Ice Cube has continued to spit “street knowledge.” The lead single for Raw Footage, “Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It,” satirically argues that his raps are not responsible for America’s inner city problems; rather, they respond to the policies that caused them. In the two verses of his cleverly titled song, “Hood Robbin’”, from his last album, he firstly addresses how the Great Recession disproportionately hurt poor blacks in America, yet only the big banks – not the poor – were bailed out. The second verse addresses the need for universal health care in America (“I know you ‘bout to die, but can you pay this fee? / If you can’t pay, then please have a seat.”). The hook puts it best: “Aint that a bitch / When you gotta steal from the poor and give to the rich.”
His upcoming album, Everythang’s Corrupt, will be more of the same. On the hook of his lead single, “Everythang’s Corrupt,” Ice Cube screams on top of the dissonant sounds he is known for rapping over, “Everythang’s corrupt. Everythang’s fucked up. / Everythang’s by the bout’ to buck me shit out of luck.” The verses go deeper into the problems with America’s crony capitalism with critiques of dark money used to buy campaigns, police brutality, prison privatization, and more. However, even if one disregards his socio-political insights, the man can flat out tell a good story, as demonstrated in his most famous single, “It Was a Good Day,” (1992) which describes an ideal day in Compton. Or, one can jam to another of his classics, “Once Upon a Time in the Projects,” (1990) in which he describes the worst day one could have in Compton.
American democracy is under threat. Senators Tom Udall and Bernie Sanders just wrote a piece in Politico to address it. A major part of the Voting Rights Act was recently gutted. Along with Voter ID, minority voters are continually marginalized. The Citizens United (2010) and McCutcheon (2014) Supreme Court decisions have effectively drowned out working class voters due to super PACs. These problems, along with Michael Brown and Eric Garner’s deaths, have caused many to criticize America’s legal system. The irony is that Ice Cube has been writing about these problems since the 1980s – since “Fuck tha Police.” The first lines from his verse read, “Fuck the police comin straight from the underground / A young nigga got it bad cause I’m brown / And not the other color so police think / they have the authority to kill a minority.” It has taken America over thirty years to realize the truth in these words. During that time, Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and many others have fallen victim to racialized police brutality, and the gap between the rich and the poor in America has increased. Though Ice Cube has been trying to bridge the gap between the two Americas for nearly 30 years, the FBI and others have wrongly considered him the problem. Mainstream America is finally realizing that the FBI should stop worrying about Ice Cube’s lyrics and start worrying about the police. In Ice Cube’s honor, and for our good, we should go back and really listen to his words, and eagerly await what his new album has in store.