It’s the late April of 1992, and you’re in Los Angeles, California. Four police officers have just been acquitted (by a mostly Caucasian jury) in a case involving the brutal beating of a black motorist named Rodney King, after King committed felony evasion. All around your city, thousands of people (mainly blacks and Latinos) have joined in what has been deigned to be a “race riot.” The ensuing chaos has left 60 people dead, thousands injured, and has produced mass looting and arson. It’s not exactly an ideal situation to be in, or to witness on television. It goes to show how something as insignificant as the color of one’s skin can cause entire societies to crumble.
Several months after the Rodney King riots took place, hip-hop legend and former NWA
member, Ice Cube, released his third album, The Predator
. The title, as well as some of the lyrics contained on the record, are loosely based on the movie Predator 2
. However, as seemingly science-fictional as the record’s supposed inspirations were, that couldn’t be further from the truth. No, The Predator
was inspired mostly in part by two things: Ice Cube’s view on the state of racial tensions at the time, and the Rodney King riots (which serve as a prime example of his throughout this album’s course). Ice Cube not only discovered a profound sense of meaning with The Predator
, he was also met with critical and commercial success for it. The album debuted at number two, spawned three hit singles, and has (to date) gone certifiably two times platinum in the U.S. The Predator
is also hailed as his most influential and greatest overall achievement, second only to his solo debut, 1990’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted
It’s fairly evident to see why The Predator
has received such accolades. For one thing, it features Ice Cube’s legendarily fantastic rapping style and delivery. All of the energy that has carried him since his days as a mic controller for NWA
is present. While Ice Cube’s previous work seemed to be angry just for the sake of being angry, on The Predator
he seems to have a new rage. A rage with meaning. This new-found power is channeled into Ice Cube’s rapping, making for some of the best vocal-work of his career. On par with the fantastic vocals is, of course, the lyrics. As you know, they focus mostly on ethnic and racial tensions that Ice Cube believed that he should bring to the forefront (and thus the attention of) popular culture. The Predator
is also infused with several oftentimes disturbing interludes, which show the true fear of people in response to the King riots, and the state of the U.S. at that time in general. When mixed together, Ice Cube’s raucous presence combined with his well-written lyrics, makes for deep hip-hop, with a good sense of intuitive vision.
Of course, the instrumentation holds up just as well as its overlaying vocal-work. The music is spectacularly groovy, and manages to go with the flow in perfect synergy. While repetitive at times, the excellent mix of samplings, straight-up musicianship, and even a dash of electronic influences, spans genres making The Predator
a very musically accessible album for a good deal of people. This sheer sense of virtuosity only serves to emphasize the album’s principle points, while doing so in an interestingly eclectic fashion, that’s both pleasing to the ears and well-suited for what it is. Naturally, The Predator
exudes raw energy at every possible opportunity, with a very heavy feeling. You won’t find much in the way of comedic relief here, save “Gangsta’s Fairytale Pt. 2,” a satirical little exercise in alliteration, which strays slightly from the album’s extremely serious mood. The attitude found on The Predator
is decidedly second to none: Ice Cube knows he’s a legend in his own time, and he is allowed to do whatever he damn well pleases.
’s greatest contextual achievement would be in the form of a song by the name of “It Was A Good Day.” If ever there was a peak of Ice Cube’s monstrous talent as a songwriter, it was clearly channeled into this song. “It Was A Good Day,” is an extremely serious song, yet is based more on a feeling of sadness and exasperation at one’s helplessness, rather than acrimony. The lyrics, while both tranquil and meaningful, are some of the best in hip-hop. It’s easy to see the conclusions that can be drawn about thankfulness, despair, and just every day life, in the first verse of “It Was A Good Day:”
Just wakin up in the mornin gotta thank God/I don't know but today seems kinda odd/No barkin from the dog, no smog/And momma cooked a breakfast with no hog (damn)/I got my grub on, but didn't pig out/Finally got a call from a girl I wanna dig out/(Whassup") Hooked it up for later as I hit the do'/Thinkin will I live, another twenty-fo'/I gotta go cause I got me a drop top/And if I hit the switch, I can make the ass drop/Had to stop, at a red light/Lookin in my mirror and not a jacker in sight/And everything is alright/I got/a beep from Kim, and she can *** all night/Called up the homies and I'm askin y'all/Which park, are y'all playin basketball"/Get me on the court and I'm trouble/Last week ***ed around and got a triple double/Freakin niggaz everyway like M.J/I can't believe, today was a good day (***!)
Other songs, such as “When Will You Shoot,” which is followed directly by the riot commentary of “I’m Scared” aptly sum up the smothering tension and weakness that The Predator
is attempting to convey. “We Had to Tear This Mothaf*cka Up” overshadows all feelings of alleviation that the album may even hint at, with an extremely violent, and dangerous tone. “Say Hi to the Bad Guy” is a mockery of the police, in the vein of Ice Cube’s work with NWA
on their infamous “F*ck Tha Police” (Straight Outta Compton
). “Check Yo Self” was one of the most commercially successful songs to come from The Predator
It features a guest appearance from Das EFX
, and heavily samples Grandmaster Flash
’s “The Message.” The title track is yet another worthy output, with an extreme sense of ambition, yet with bark to back up it’s bite. “Don’t Trust ‘Em,” “Dirty Mack,” and the like (along with the other fillers), make up the meat and potatoes of The Predator
. They help to flesh things out, and only serve to add to the overall polish of the record on the whole.
The only real detraction from the immersion experience of The Predator
is it’s general lack of consistency. On occasion, things can tend to be a little sloppy, and somewhat lackluster. On the whole, though, The Predator
is a superb album, that has become a classic, without actually being of classic quality, in this humble reviewer’s opinion. If you’d like to see the genesis of an era of West Coast hip-hop with an actual message, then you will be well-served here. Just remember that there’s something more to The Predator
while you listen to it, and I’ll be one happy reviewer.