Ice Cube used to be the brains behind N.W.A., a Los Angeles rap group much vilified for their song ”F— Tha Police,” which some thought proposed the outright murder of law enforcement officers. It didn’t; instead, it condemned attacks by police on black youths. But the damage was done. Police departments in several cities tried to stop N.W.A. from performing; a spokesman for the FBI protested the song to the group’s record company.
All this attention allows Ice Cube, now recording on his own, to summon classic rap hyperbole and return as AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted — the K’s are meant to evoke the Ku Klux Klan. He’s angrier than he was with N.W.A. His album’s title song is a drama about a black kid who robs white people and gets arrested for it. The moral isn’t that he shouldn’t be a criminal (Ice Cube knows his listeners are smart enough to figure that out for themselves), but that the kid wouldn’t get arrested if he were robbing blacks. In other words, the police don’t protect black people.
Horror piles upon horror as, with caustic rage, Ice Cube tells what life can be like in poor black communities. One family he describes has a mother on drugs, a brother in a gang, a sister 12 years old and pregnant, and a 3-year- old with a diaper nobody changes. Violence is everywhere; nothing can stop it; you have to get a gun just to survive.
But the album — even though it was coproduced by Chuck D of Public Enemy, working with the crew who made Public Enemy’s rap albums some of the strongest there are — doesn’t focus its attack. The music is suitably harsh but rarely striking. The most memorable tracks have no music at all. They’re like miniature radio plays, using voices and sound effects to dramatize (in ”What They Hittin’ Foe?”) why it’s crucial to bring a gun to a ghetto crap game, or (in ”The Drive By”) what a gang murder feels like, and how nobody outside the black community really cares.
Ice Cube emerges as a rapper most original for his uncompromising tone. He throws ghetto life in our faces and dares us to draw our own conclusions. That makes AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted an important social document, but not necessarily cohesive art.