Review Summary: Ice Cube could you please pass me my steel? Thanks.
You know that opening scene in Office Space where the whiter than snow, white collared Michael Bolton is un-ironically throwing up pseudo gang signs and dropping less-than-phat rhymes in a flow that makes Soulja Boy sound like the second coming of “Liquid Swords” era GZA? That’s me when I hear this record. In short, “Bow Down,” the debut album from hip hop super group West Side Connection, is the personification of 90s era West Coast, chest thumping, dick measuring Gangsta Rap. With apologies to “The Chronic,” which relied heavily on comedic skits, and “Doggystyle,” which was more suitable for party starting than providing the blueprint to rolling in the darker corners of Compton and the LBC, “Bow Down” is tough guy posturing in its most legit form. It’s also arguably the greatest hip hop record to emanate from the left coast during the decade, and the greatest work Ice Cube ever put his stamp on that didn’t include the letters N, W, and A.
“Bow Down” is a non-stop assault of threats, disses, macho braggadocio posturing, and chilling narratives not seen since “Straight Out of Compton.” Set to the siren wail west coast beats popularized by Dre himself, Cube, WC (Dub C), and Mack 10 never take a breath from informing us of their alpha dog status, delivering polarizing, haunting flows with lambasting verses and catchy choruses. The presence of an undeniable hook in almost every track does not cement this as hip hop pop, the result is more definitively in your face. There are no 2Pac-esque sentimental ballads, no Snoop like odes to schoolyards and block parties, and no “$20 Sack Pyramid Sketches” from the Doctor himself. Instead of half posturing/half showcasing a false sense of sentimentality, the trio tirelessly puts on a clinic of what Gangsta rap was supposed to be, not taking a break to pour out liquor for fallen comrades or easing a radio friendly message into the mix in order to sell records. Ultimately, the theme of “Bow Down” resides in placing a greater importance on being gangsters than artists, un-relentlessly serving up highly effective doses of true Gangsta Rap.
When analyzing “Bow Down” as a collection of rap songs, the album delivers on nearly episode, perfectly melding catchy, legit beats with flawlessly executed rapping. Aside from not containing a quasi ballad, nearly every Gangsta staple is delivered in exceptional form. The quintessential turf warring elements are found in the irresistible title track, the baiting “All the Critics in New York,” and the unequivocally brutal Cypress Hill diss, “King of the Hill.” The stance that a rapper will simply not hesitate to bust a cap in someone’s ass is executed in rare form on “Cross Em Out and Put a K,” the alpha dog setting, female belittling “Do You Like Criminals,” and the tailor made for cruising in a Bro-ham “3 Time Felons.” Even the more subdued moments prove menacing, as seen on the subtle chill of “Gangsters Make the World Go Round,” and the morose, ominous thunder of “The Gangsta, the Killa, and the Dope Dealer,” which samples NIN’s “Hurt” and arguably lands as one of the top five hip hop songs of the decade. Aside from the filler track “Hoo Bangin,” “Bow Down,” flows menacingly and exceptionally well through its entirety.
Looking back, “Bow Down” would prove to be one of the last of a dying breed. When Cube boasts "and when I hear Westside Connection, I get a f*cking erection," he might be braying in formulaic gangsta, but it doesn't discount the fact that he speaks the truth. As the industry would unfortunately soon switch to top 40, club happy hip hop, genre dinosaurs started falling off in rapid fashion. Ice Cube would eventually become a parody of himself, starring in children’s movies and fleeing about as far and fast as he could from Crenshaw Blvd. The merits of “Are We There Yet” aside, “Bow Down” is like a perfect snap shot in time in terms of analyzing the genre, and with better promotion, it could have brought that genre to its knees. “Bow Down” serves several purposes, aside from providing a highly enjoyable listen; it is cemented as probably the last superb Gangsta Rap album of the era, and stands today as one of its greatest.