Albums You Must Own – Death Certificate by Ice Cube
We have decided to launch a new feature on Music Eyz, its simply called “Albums You Must Own” – we will review albums from the vaults and hopefully open your eyes to music from yesteryear or underplayed albums and artists. First off is Ice Cube‘s 1991 album ‘Death Certificate’.
The album courted controversy on its release, not that Cube was alien to controversy. Calls to ban the album after it tackled issues such as drugs, racial profiling and gun-toting in a gritty manner were common, however Cube evaded the censors and the album went on to sell over 1m and was even re-released in 2003.
Production of ‘Death Certificate’ kicked off at the beginning of 1991 and continued throughout the year as Cube worked on other projects. Perhaps the one of note was his debut motion picture role in ‘Boyz n the Hood’ the brilliant film based on the projects of LA. The movie influence was prevalent throughout the film, with real quality interludes throughout the album linking the tracks together and maintaining a constant theme throughout.
The other things of note for ‘Death Certificate’ was Ice Cube‘s move away from the really hard beats created by The Bomb Squad on ‘AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted’ and a move to the more West Coast sound, using heavy 70s enthused samples and funk influences. This was the sound that made Ice Cube in to the worldwide phenomenon he later became.
‘Death Certificate’ was extremely well thought through in terms of the construct of the music but also in how Cube put his message across. The album was split in to two sections. “The Death Side” and “The Life Side”. This is where Ice Cube demonstrates his passion for giving messages and also how he wants to construct his messages. “The Death Side” was the archetypal Gangsta Rap album of the early 90s, full of whores, drug dealing and violence. The “Life Side” was targeting a view of where we need to go, prescriptive messages almost offering a way forward.
Highlights of the album and standout tracks that most people that remember the track first time round include ‘The Wrong Nigga to F#&k Wit’, ‘Steady Mobbin’, ‘Look Who’s Burnin’, ‘Black Korea’ and ‘Horny Lil Devil’.
‘Look Who’s Burnin’ does what it says to be honest. The track quite candidly talks about the effects of being a bit free and easy with your love and the repercussions you could get. The track tells the tale of the inevitable trip to the clinic.
‘Black Korea’ has a much stronger meaning behind it. This was seen as a complaint against the mass ownership of convenience stores in the US by Korean and Asian shopkeepers. The alleged stronger message was that the track was seen as a response to the shooting of a young black teenage girl by a Korean shopkeeper. The short track hints at the treatment young black people receive at the hands of the Korean shopkeepers and hints at a violent response from the black community.
For me ‘True to the Game’ is a great track, utilising a real mellow sample and really encapsulating the West Coast sound of the time. The lyrics are again quite controversial and demonstrates the complexities going through the entire black community at the time. Ice Cube‘s delivers the controversial topic of rappers selling out to get MTV play and to appeal to white folk. Ironically, this Ice Cube album really resonated with middle-class white Americans and it sold in its masses.
Overall, the album is superb in every way, shape and form. Musically it is really well put together. The album tackles complex messages. Every track is a must listen with no filler. Cube drops his lyrics with such style and skill that it is easy to see why this helped define a whole West Coast, funky sound.
This is a must-listen to and must own album. If you don’t have it, get it. If you have it, dust it off and take a listen. Despite being over 20 years old, it still sounds as current as ever. Simply a brilliant album.
We salute you Ice Cube.