Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Hard Again

Between "Dead Homiez," which mourned murdered friends in a voice some considered soft, and Boyz N the Hood, which occasionally required him to simulate thought, Ice Cube was worried about his reputation. To use the only noun in the hard lexicon that suggests human sensitivities others might designate normal, he was acting like a "faggot." So on his new album, Death Certificate, the N.W.A dropout and St. Ides spokesperson reclaims his perpetually threatened manhood. The first side does a number on the usual gangsta shit--the gat as penis and pit bull, the female body as pestilence and plague. But on the second, Ice Cube--who despite his professed fondness for malt liquor has been keeping company with the Nation of Islam, making at least one college appearance with Minister Louis Farrakhan--breaks new ground. He posits a "nationwide boycott" of Korean-owned inner-city businesses that escape the torch, poking gentle fun at the Korean accent along the way. He inveighs against "Jap" and "Jew" (the most loathsome epithet he can think of for his ancient adversary, N.W.A manager Jerry Heller). He nuts out on white devils who crave "a taste of chocolate" because "white bitches have no butt and no chest." And he devotes many fascinated rhymes to the complex subject of who fucks who in the ass and how. In short, he bests the standard not just of N.W.A and the Geto Boys, but of Axl Rose's "One in a Million." This Ice Cube is no "faggot"--he's a straight-up racist simple and plain, and of course a sex bigot too. His publicist, rap progressive Leyla Turkkan, would offer no on-the-record appraisal of the album's content. She says Ice Cube's Street Knowledge Products regards Death Certificate as an honest expression of black rage. Hey, didn't Axl already use that line? Oh, right--ripping off the white man is reparations, not theft. And it's certainly not playing into the enemy's hands. No way.

Village Voice, 1991