Coming straight outta Compton in the late ’80s, Ice Cube first made noise as a founding member of N.W.A. But when bad blood started brewing within the crew, he went solo on that ass and released his critically acclaimed 1990 debut, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, which boldly tackled poverty, racism and social issues head-on. Continuing to release quality material throughout the early ’90s, the hip-hop pioneer solidified his position as a lyrical menace, but slowly transitioned into a successful movie career. Now he’s more likely to be seen on Hollywood soundstages than on SoundScan. But Cube looks to prove he hasn’t lost touch with his gangsta roots on his seventh solo disc, Laugh Now, Cry Later.
After six years away from the mic, Cube returns with a set that is at times agitated, obnoxious and even poignant. The centerpiece of the album is the reflective “Growin’ Up,” where the OG recounts some career peaks and valleys—including his a cappella audition for Dr. Dre before joining N.W.A, forming Westside Connection with WC and Mack 10 and regrets about not having the chance to reconcile with Eazy-E before his passing. Over a sampled loop of Minnie Riperton’s “Memory Lane,” he asserts, “Just because I’m acting/A nigga never stop rappin’/It’s in my blood, homie/I keep the party crackin’.”
Elsewhere, Cube revels in the provocative lyrics that made him the self-proclaimed “nigga you love to hate.” On the Scott Storch–produced “Why We Thugs,” he rails against the prison system over looming organ chords and crisp hand claps. Then “Child Support” finds O’Shea Jackson staking his claim as a gangsta rap forefather while offering his views on beefing rappers, moneygrubbing record labels and crooked cops. But it’s the somber “The Nigga Trapp” that offers up some of Cube’s most antiestablishment bars. After taking aim at President Bush and the lack of AIDS awareness in the hood, he says, “Flavor Flav with a White girl, that’s wack/Gotta put that nigga in the back of my Cadillac/Take him to the hood where it’s action packed/Let him know that the target’s still on his back.”
Clearly, rhyming with a political edge is still Cube’s strongpoint, but at times his nigga-witta-attitude posturing falters. Take the plodding “Doin’ What It ’Pose 2Do,” where he delivers an Andy Milonakis–style clunker: “Ice Cube, reflect like chrome/When I’m in the hood, I run it like Rome.” The braggadocious “The Game Lord” is afflicted with the same level of wackness, thanks to lines like, “Oooohhh, it’s a dog-eat-dog world/You a nut, I’m a squirrel, baby/Can I get you in my world, baby?/Can you grease up my curl, baby?”
Laugh Now also suffers from several lack-luster beats that weigh down Cube’s strident flow. Awkward heavy metal guitars drive “Click, Clack—Get Back” into rock-rap purgatory, and the dissonant Swizz Beatz synths of “Stop Snitchin’” are just plain grating. Even Lil Jon drops the ball creatively here, on “Holla @ Cha Boy,” which rehashes the same warped horns from Usher’s 2005 smash hit “Yeah!”
Cube redeems himself toward the end of this daunting 20-track disc with “Spittin’ Pollaseeds.” A fantastic voyage of top-down carnivalesque funk featuring WC and Kokane, the song is a perfect example of the Cali-centric hip-hop that Cube is adept at crafting. Reaffirming his OG status one more time, he spews, “Think you know the culture/You a fuckin’ vulture… Sayin’ what you don’t like/Who deserves five mics/Who deserve two/But the nigga that got two can still serve you.” Yay-E-Yayeee!—BRETT JOHNSON