If the first time you saw Ice Cube was when he was attacked by a crazed deer in Are We There...
Raw Footage Album Review
Thank you. Now we can get down to business. Improbably, Mr. Cube parlayed his pyroclastic flow into a booming career in family-friendly comedies, but I’m not here to get into the complexities of selling out vs. making cash, I’m here to talk about what O’Shea Jackson used to do better than almost anyone on Earth; make hip-hop. I know, I know, I said used to. Don’t get it twisted, measured against the vast majority of rap out in the ether his latest album Raw Footage is damn good, but compared to the once unstoppable rap juggernaut that was Ice Cube, it’s just pretty good. Listen, even Michael Jordan faded a little as he got older, and as dominant as Ice Cube still is, he’s undeniably not what he used to be. After Raw Footage hits our eardrums you’ll say Cube is back, he’s just not back to 1992.
Raw Footage hits hardest when it fulfills its mission; delivering a potent mix of politics, street justice and hip-hop. Gangsta rap’s been blamed for everything from poverty to air pollution, but Cube triumphantly fires back with Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It, a booming dismissal of those who blame hip-hop for America’s ills: “if I shoot up your college, ain’t nothin to it, gangsta rap made me do it.” When Cube is pissed off he’s as good as ever (it’s just understandably harder for him to get pissed off now), and Gangsta Rap is Cube rhyming like we want him to - viciously. Raw Footage features no shortage of similarly stomping tracks, from the military vengeance of It Takes a Nation to the dark Get Money, Spend Money. Even the more smoothed-out tracks like the Musiq Soulchild-assisted Why Me? prove that while it’d be so easy for Cube to cash in and walk away, he’s still speaking his mind. In the end that fearlessness will be his legacy, and on Raw Footage the legacy lives on.
The remainder of Raw Footage finds itself in a strange position. If Cube came out with hot beats and catchy choruses he’d be accused of catering to radio, and if he went old school they’d say he was washed up. So instead he opts for a sometimes muddled sonic middle ground. Just take I Got My Locs On, a track featuring typically soaring and snapping DJ Toomp production. It’s the perfect backdrop for an artist like Young Jeezy to do his thing (and he does), but it leaves Cube sounding uncomfortable, dropping perfectly delivered but slightly forced lines like: “been ballin since the word ballin played out, brought it back to describe me in that Maybach.” Not to be the rhyme police, but “out” and “Maybach” just aren’t getting the job done. It’s the same story on Hood Mentality, a track that uses the same beat as Twista’s Creep Fast. Cube’s lyrics and message are miles ahead of Twista’s, but where the beat demands Cube truly flow he just can’t bring that extra dose of energy. It’d be a different story if Cube didn’t have a history of dropping major singles, but Raw Footage doesn’t have one song that could spark a party like You Can Do It still does. Even the single Do Yo Thang doesn’t quite connect, due in no small part to an eminently forgettable beat, a problem the entire album suffers from.
But at the end of the day you don’t want Cube to make you feel good, you want Cube to scare the s**t out of busters, and believe me, he still can. So he doesn’t have another Predator in him and he’s gonna keep doing slapstick comedies? So what? He’s still motherf**ing Ice Cube. Act accordingly.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins