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AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted

AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted is rapper Ice Cube's influential debut solo album, released after his acrimonious split from his former group N.W.A. It was originally released on May 16, 1990. Primarily produced by The Bomb Squad (Public Enemy's production team), the album was an unexpectedly large critical and commercial success, and remains one of the defining hip hop albums of the 1990s era. Ice Cube's social, and political commentary, which was delivered in an incisive manner, has influenced numerous rappers since, particularly in the gangsta rap and political rap subgenres. The album cemented Cube's reputation as a gifted lyricist, and introduced him as a highly literate scribe on the hardships of life in South Central, Los Angeles, as well as an outspoken critic of the American Justice System, and race relations in the United States. The album was certified platinum for sales of over 1 million units in the United States.

Background

Conception

In an interview with Cooleh Magazine, producer Hank Shocklee had this to say in regards to Ice Cube's approach to creating the album:

Album title

The title of the album is an allusion to a television show called America's Most Wanted, wherein real-life crimes are reenacted and viewers are asked to call in with any information about the alleged perpetrators. The show has taken criticism for its reenactments. They are believed to perpetuate stereotypes regarding the criminality of African-American men and other minorities, such as Latinos. The intentional misspelling of "America" with three K's equates the show and status quo society with the Ku Klux Klan.

Lyrics

AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted is mostly a socio-political conscious and gangsta rap album. The songs delve into the issues of ghetto life, drug addiction, racism and poverty. Throughout the album, Ice Cube incessantly attacks racist institutions and social norms which directly or indirectly allow the oppression of those living in the ghettos of Los Angeles to continue. Predating the Rodney King incident, "Endangered Species (Tales from the Darkside)" can be seen as prophetic in its assessment of police brutality and the inadequate justice handed to police officers who use excessive force against ethnics. Throughout the album, Cube takes some controversial stands, referring to certain types of African-Americans as "oreo cookies"; an epithet implying that they appear to be black on the outside, but are white inside. Arsenio Hall is specifically mentioned as being a "sell-out," while the same accusation is implied to be leveled at Cube's former bandmate Eazy-E. Cube also heavily criticizes R&B and hip hop radio stations for watered-down broadcasting. The titular song on the album directly parodies the television show, America's Most Wanted, exposing the bias and glee with which the program displays in arresting Afro-American men.

A later song ("Get Off My Dick, and Tell Yo Bitch to Come Here") returns to the same theme at the end, with newscaster Tom Brokaw reporting on rioting: "Outside the south central area, few cared about the violence because it didn't affect them." Also of interest is "It's a Man's World", a duet between Cube and female rapper Yo-Yo, in a similar fashion to such famous "battle of the sexes" songs as "Hit the Road Jack" and "Tramp" by Otis Redding. Cube and Yo-Yo verbally spar and trade sexist barbs back and forth in an expose of sexism between men and women. However, within the song concessions are made as Cube admits "it's a man's world, but it wouldn't be a damn thing without a woman's touch."

In a review of a live show at the Apollo in September, 1991, Peter Watrous of the The New York Times wrote:

…the high point of the show was the arrival of the female rapper Yo-Yo, who fought a fierce battle of putdowns with Ice Cube on their tune "It's a Man's World"; Yo-Yo did not agree. Judging from the audience's equally vociferous response, no one came out ahead; any new sense of cultural violence or sexism promoted by the record had dissolved into a traditional battle of the sexes, no better or no worse.

Nevertheless, the album received criticism for alleged sexism, particularly for "You Can't Fade Me," a track, in which Cube fantasizes about kicking a pregnant, former one-night stand in the stomach in order to cause a miscarriage, and avoid having to pay child support.

Reception

The release of AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, and its subsequent success were wholly unexpected, as Cube had only recently split from his former group, N.W.A. His former bandmates, in the meantime had resorted to taunting him in interviews. The album initially charted without the support of a lead single or video, although the title song would later receive a pressing, and a rare video for "Who's the Mack?" did eventually surface. Regardless of the drawbacks, the album shipped half a million copies in its first week out, and was certified Platinum two months later.

AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted received The Source's highly-coveted (at the time) 'five mics' award; a 'classic' rating. It was the second album to be awarded this, and up until Outkast's Aquemini in 1998, one of only ten albums to be approved for five mics by The Source. In 1998, the album was selected as one of The Source Magazine's 100 Best Rap Albums. In 2005, comedian Chris Rock ranked it 17th on his list of the Top 25 Hip-Hop Albums ever.

Ratings and excerpts from editorials:

  • "…Beautiful anarchy, a mercilessly funky record…" - Rolling Stone (3/20/03, p.69)
    • Included in Rolling Stone's Essential Recordings of the 90's - Rolling Stone (5/13/99, p.70)
  • Ranked #80 in Spin Magazine's 90 Greatest Albums of the '90s (Spin (9/99, p.160) and #33 in the 100 Greatest Albums 1985-2005
    • "…An indelible ghetto-storytelling smart bomb…" - Spin (5/03, p.113)
  • Recommended as one of the Five Best Rap Albums of 1990 - "…a lurid account of life in the projects. Ice Cube played the 'Nigga Ya Love To Hate' with theatrical fire and considerable skill in an album that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase `black comedy'…" - Q (2/91)
  • "…A brilliantly wound-up, pissed-off album…" - Uncut (6/03, p.113)
  • "…A visceral classic…" - Vibe (6/02, p.108)
    • Ranked #2 in Vibe's "Top 10 rap albums"
  • "A riotous, feverish rant about life in black Amerikkka that separates itself from his old partners' exploitation… One of the most powerful hip hop records ever." - Peter Shapiro (The Rough Guide to Hip-hop, 2001, p.172)

Legacy

Produced entirely by the Bomb Squad (during the height of Public Enemy's success) and Da Lench Mob, AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted received accolades for innovation in production upon release. Since this time, West Coast rap has largely taken a separate direction from the sound present on AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, and headed more towards the glossy beats, and smooth drawls popularised by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg.

Although Ice Cube's popularity among mainstream listeners has lessened since the 2000s, and his sound may be considered distinctively old school to modern ears, many rappers themselves have been influenced by his innovative lyrical techniques. His style of rap, drenched in real life sentiment, and socio-political awareness, influenced the music of West Coast rappers, including that of Tupac, Ras Kass, and Xzibit, as well as East Coast rappers Nas, The Notorious B.I.G., and more recently, Saigon. While Ice Cube's early albums often described true circumstances in outlandish fashion, for example using fairytale characters to tell a violent and tragic story in "A Gangsta's Fairytale", later rappers would take this to the extreme, often describing physically impossible acts of violence in an outrageously exaggerated manner.

East Coast rapper, Redman, covered "Once Upon a Time in the Projects" on his album, Doc's Da Name 2000, with the song "Jersey Yo!."

Track listing

# Song Writers Performers Time Samples
1 "Better off Dead" O. Jackson
E. Sadler
H. Shocklee
K. Shocklee
Brian Holt
Ice Cube 1:03
2 "The Nigga Ya Love to Hate" O. Jackson
E. Sadler
H. Shocklee
K. Shocklee
Ice Cube 3:13

3 "AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted" O. Jackson
E. Sadler
H. Shocklee
K. Shocklee
Ice Cube 4:08

4 "What They Hittin' Foe" O. Jackson
E. Sadler
H. Shocklee
K. Shocklee
Ice Cube and The Average White Band 1:22

5 "You Can't Fade Me/JD's Gaffilin" O. Jackson
E. Sadler
H. Shocklee
K. Shocklee
Ice Cube 5:12

  • "Pneumonia" by Kool and the Gang
  • "Rumpofsteelskin" by Parliament

6 "Once Upon a Time in the Projects" O. Jackson
Tony Wheaton
Ice Cube 3:41

7 "Turn off the Radio" O. Jackson
E. Sadler
H. Shocklee
K. Shocklee
Ice Cube 2:37

8 "Endangered Species (Tales from the Darkside)" O. Jackson
C. Ridenhour
E. Sadler
H. Shocklee
K. Shocklee
T. Wheaton
Ice Cube and Chuck D 3:21

  • "Standing on the Verge of Getting It On" by Funkadelic
  • "Funky Drummer" by James Brown
  • "Fuck tha Police" by N.W.A.

9 "A Gangsta's Fairytale" O. Jackson
E. Sadler
T. Wheaton
Ice Cube 3:16

10 "I'm Only out for One Thang" Flavor Flav
O. Jackson
T. Wheaton
Ice Cube and Flavor Flav 2:10
11 "Get off My Dick and Tell Yo Bitch to Come Here" O. Jackson
E. Sadler
H. Shocklee
K. Shocklee
T. Wheaton
Ice Cube 0:56
12 "The Drive-By" K. Shocklee
T. Wheaton
1:01

13 "Rollin' wit' the Lench Mob" O. Jackson
E. Sadler
H. Shocklee
K. Shocklee
Ice Cube 3:43

  • "Aquaboogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop)" by Parliament

14 "Who's the Mack?" O. Jackson
E. Sadler
H. Shocklee
K. Shocklee
T. Wheaton
V. Henry
T. Rollins
Ice Cube 4:35

15 "It's a Man's World" O. Jackson
E. Sadler
H. Shocklee
K. Shocklee
Y. Whittaker
Ice Cube and Yo-Yo 5:26

16 "The Bomb" O. Jackson
T. Wheaton
Ice Cube 3:25

  • Note: In the 2003 re-release the album included all the songs from his EP also released in 1990, Kill at Will.

Charts

Album

Charts (1990) Peak
position
U.S. Billboard 200 19
U.S. Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums 6

Singles

Year Single Peak chart positions
U.S. Hot 100 U.S. R&B U.S. Rap
1990 "AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted" 1

Personnel

References

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