Sunday, May 16, 2010

“Amerikkka's Most Wanted” is 20 today so of course I had to write a love letter to it.

I should have instructed (NWA) to leave Cube behind in Phoenix, where he could have continued his mechanical drafting career. He had hustled back into the group when the Priority deal was finalized, but he was always a major pain in the ass--a complainer, a borderline paranoiac.

‘A paranoiac,’ growled writer William S. Burroughs, ‘is someone who's in complete possession of the facts.’

- Ruthless, Jerry Heller

“Once again it's on,” all our parents heard from our rooms when we got into this album. “The motherfucking psycho.” Ice Cube was a damn baby when this came out--19, almost 20--but remember, those are Black Man in '80s South LA years. I believe the word I'm looking for, then, is “perspective.”

People call the narrator of Amerikkka’s Most Wanted amoral, misogynistic, pockets heavy with ammunition and a fucking chip on his shoulder. I guess, but really, that was the opinion held by people who had nothing to do with me. Those were people afraid of language. All you need to do is listen to the album more than once. I love Black women with a passion, he says, and he puts a girl on a song—Yo-Yo, a girl pretty skilled at rhyming—imploring him to respect her. He didn't fool me when I heard it some years later, a suburbs-raised girl who got along with her parents and was free of tragedy. He wants girls to cover themselves, talks about how great he is and says fuck a lot. This made him no more or less complicated than the people I knew in real life. The cover is lovely (those calm, clasped hands) and the samples used are strangely revealing--Sly, James Brown, Parliament*, music that hits the cerebral and the physical. Then there was the bad guy in the story, of course, the foil to our hero; Jerry Heller played the part of villainous fucking jerk whose attempts at discrediting Cube (“gangsta rapper? Uh, no--try mechanical engineer”) fell blissfully flat.

The empirical is so overrated in music, our need for singers and MCs to have lived it--even I'm guilty of this, though (Drake is a rich kid from Canada! CANADA). But thankfully, nobody deducted points for Cube having 2 loving parents and a career path outside of rap music. He had facts and sad stories, things that happened so many times that they made him sound paranoid, always the same details--sirens, girls, County, bullshit, fakery, authenticity, the constantly defensive stance. He also sounded sure as hell when he described how he would exact revenge on the LAPD.
A realllll pain in the ass, that one, they surely said about him.


Honesty is an overrated quality in an MC.
We were talking from the perspective of a coast, rather from the perspective of one man, said Sir Jinx of the album. Ice Cube wasn’t like, ‘I’m a Crip, I’m a killer.’ He was more so like, ‘This is what can happen in Los Angeles’.” Cube’s not known for his lyrical prowess, which is so much bullshit because he wrote 70% of Eazy's quotables and about half of Straight Outta Compton. Charisma, vocal volume and force combined with sheer insistence is his thing; he gave his best lyrics away to other men. Generosity is an underrated quality in an MC.

NWA started with 5, but 1 couldn’t take it
. So then it became 4 ‘cause the fifth couldn’t make it. When he first walked away, I imagine Cube might've been scared. I'd be. Flying to New York, finding solace with the Bomb Squad, he must've been aware of his talent and supremely confident, but the nerves were probably jangled. It just made him a better protagonist, though. Paranoid, but rightfully so. Heller was pretty powerful during those years.


Some rappers are heaven sent/But “Self-Destruction” don't pay the fucking rent. His words coming out of my bedroom never shocked my parents, a couple of socially aware hippies who possessed equal parts romantic idealism and hard cynicism, although they were probably appropriately concerned that their suburbs-raised daughter was listening to what was basically poverty porn in CD format. I knew nothing of the goings-on in places south of Olympic and east of Vermont. But I liked a good storyteller, and I knew the police were bad (via my parents, the stories about their college years). I liked somebody whose anger makes his stories better (all teenagers do). He was believable and charming. His delivery was uncomplicated. His voice had that great parched sound to it. Also: ganked. Gafflin. I wish somebody'd bring these words back into the lexicon. And while we're on the topic of my hopes and dreams, I also wish they'd have put “Burn Hollywood Burn” on the album. I mean, it was from the same sessions so it would've been easy.


I have a government job, working with homeless men. A few weeks ago, they shut down my regular route to work in downtown LA so they could have a funeral procession for Daryl Gates. I had to drive all the way around the blocked-off area, Figueroa to 1st, up Alameda, then left onto Temple. This added 20 minutes to my commute; I was late to work. There was a client waiting for me in the lobby when I walked in and he asked me where I'd been. I explained, apologized, and evidently didn't do a very good job of hiding my disdain. I was cranky and flustered. But this was mostly just bad planning on my part.

“You didn't hear they were gonna block off Temple?
he asked me. I had heard, but you know. I just didn't give myself enough time. Bad planning.

“I can’t believe it didn't last all day,
he said. “Daryl Gates probably said half that shit in the '80s just to get a king's funeral.”

His public persona was very different from his private one, one of his former subordinates said in an article I read about the funeral, sitting at my desk a while later, still grumbling about the goddamn traffic. I know he got in trouble a lot of times for the things he said, and that's unfortunate because that wasn't his heart. His words were exciting, inflammatory. That's what everyone remembers.

* Amerikkka's samples (zip), courtesy of HipHopIsRead, even though it pains me to think you're getting these in tinny, compressed mp3 format instead of hearty, delicious analog.



1 comment:

AaronM said...

Aced it, Logan. Such a classic.
Cube's convictions, to me, were strengthened by his inherent contradictions. He's multifaceted in a way few rappers are today.