As his popularity continues to grow through movies and television, Ice Cube remains committed to the foundation of his career: Hip-Hop music. Quick to emphasize that he is and always will be a B-Boy, dedicated to writing vivid rhymes, delivering stellar stage performances and making dope hip-hop records. I Am The West is poised to be another high point in that mission. Very few can make as bold a statement as I Am The West and even fewer can dispute Ice Cube's right to stake the claim. His hall of fame resume alone would be enough to own the title, but this album is an opportunity to raise the bar even higher. The hallmark of Ice Cube's best known work is ever present on I Am The West: Lyrics from a realistic perspective, giving voice to those usually ignored or shunned by the power base, rhymes that make you think and songs that set the party off. All supported with outstanding production that makes your head nod. And Ice Cube accomplishes this while thoroughly representing his unwavering commitment to the west coast hip-hop movement that he helped to start over twenty years ago. I Am The West is a celebration of summertime on the west coast. So it's only right to introduce the album with the first single "I Rep That West." A song on which Ice Cube makes it very clear where he stands in hip-hop. An up tempo record, that's hard enough for the hard core, "I Rep That West" boasts an infectious hook that knows no geographic or demographic boundaries, saturating everyone from the club and radio DJ to those of us singing along in the car. "I Rep That west" is one of several songs on the album that will gain the attention of music fans around the globe. And maybe that's why Ice Cube says he's "too west coast for the west coast."
Not every hip hop game-changer follows the hackneyed rhyme-fast-and-leave-a-good-looking corpse route to rap immortality. Survive into middle age and suddenly losing cutting edge relevance is the chief pitfall to circumnavigate, as gangsta rap pioneer Ice Cube discovers on this infuriatingly incoherent California-repping set.
From angriest screwface in Compton trailblazers N.W.A. to Hollywood actor, the man born O’Shea Jackson has undergone an intriguing transformation. Now aged 41, I Am the West is quite a statement. In the main, unfortunately, that cocksure claim isn’t backed with requisite originality to suggest Ice Cube genuinely does support an entire side of America on his shoulders in 2010.
There are moments of vitality, sure, notably when hip hop’s east/west coast wars are briefly re-ignited as Life in California takes New York’s king of grown-man rap to task. "If Jay-Z can rap about the NYC / Why can’t I talk about the s*** I see? / Without Alicia Keys / Without going RnB / This ain’t Motown / This is R-A-P," Ice rails in its fiery opening exchanges. Nothing Like L.A. makes a barbed point too, knowingly intoning "You don’t go Hollywood / When you from Hollywood".
She Couldn’t Make it on Her Own, meanwhile, is the album’s pinnacle by some distance, mixing addictively repetitious, slurring motifs with pinches of crunk minimalism. That it near enough wholesale jumps on Texan duo UGK’s southern rap bandwagon, though, is a measure of the shortcomings here.
Too West Coast epitomises the wide-of-the-mark misses, somewhat ironically employing a hook delivered with twang dangerously over-indebted to west coast big gun Snoop Dogg. And sub-genre-jumping stylistic inconsistencies mar the clutch of aforementioned tracks that, in isolation, show Ice Cube hasn’t forgotten how to effectively channel his simmering ire.
Where N.W.A. shaped the standard for no-nonsense depictions of inner-city life, making Ice Cube’s name in the process, he’s no longer at the vanguard of hip hop’s evolution. The cruel might even argue he hasn’t unleashed an essential album since the early 1990s. While the leader has become absorbed by the pack, however, at least I Am the West doesn’t go down without a mouthy fight.
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