Lench Mob Records / Interscope Records

Arriving on the 26th anniversary of Death CertificateIce Cube’s greatest and most scathing piece of work as a singular artist, released at the height of the MC’s fury, creativity and relevancy—is the West Coast legend's 10th solo LP. And the while the trappings around Everythangs Corrupt suggest a defiant return to form, the pep has long left O’Shea Jackson’s fastball. Moments of rap brilliance—in which lyrics, beat, subject matter and the hook all hit—are now few and far between, despite his best efforts.

Ice Cube is one year shy of 50. He successfully transitioned into a Hollywood star, acting, directing, writing, owning. He’s the face of the BIG3, a 3-on-3 basketball league he co-created and toured with all summer. If he no longer has time or the ability to be in your Top 5, that’s OK. He gave us “Dead Homiez” and “No Vaseline” and “It Was a Good Day.” Hall of Famers aren’t expected to dunk on the next generation. His work here is done.

So, it’s with a readiness to cringe and a genuine curiosity that we dig into Cube’s first full-length project in eight years, delayed multiple times due to the family man/businessman’s diversified endeavors. The trademark gothic font, the dark cover art—a bleeding fist clutching a $100 bill—and the Trump-trashing lead salvo, “Arrest the President,” all hint at, just maybe, something resembling a return to form.

Although Cube’s intentions and ethics have not wavered, and the wise veteran mercifully doesn’t reach to appease the ears of his children’s generation, his attempts at documenting street ills (“Bad Dope,” “On Them Pills”) feel distanced and thin compared to the urgency and immediacy of what N.W.A’s lead writer penned in his prime. And where there were once stinging one-liners, there are now too many clunkers. When Ice Cube asks, “Who let the dogs out?” without irony, you can’t help but cringe. And he compounds a bad Goldilocks reference with this: “Niggas wanna gorge on all a nigga’s porridge.”

One of the issues here is that Cube, as with the bulk of his late-career catalog, serves as his own executive producer. His voice is a powerful weapon, and he still has some ideas worth mining, but he’d be better served under the direction of a producer who could focus his sound, kill a couple bad hooks and weed out the filler. We’re not expecting Dr. Dre or Bomb Squad-level results anymore, but some outside guidance could help.

A handful of decent tracks are buried in the back half of Corrupt. “Good Cop, Bad Cop” (albeit a year old) is a wailing, thumping “Fuck tha Police” redux, spiked with great flashes of detail. “Streets Shed Tears,” produced by Magnedo7, is a downtempo positive joint touched with a welcome hook from Shameia Crawford. And longtime collaborator DJ Pooh dusts off a well-worn Delegation sample (1977’s “Oh Honey”) for a West Coast cruise on “Ain’t Got No Haters,” which features fellow OG Too $hort riding shotgun on the record’s only rap cameo.

It’s this same familiar-yet-fresh vibe that Suave House beatsmith T-Mix cooks up for “That New Funkadelic”—a “Bop Gun” for the future and one of rare the moments where Ice Cube sounds like he’s having a blast. —Luke Fox

See 60 Hip-Hop Albums Turning 20 in 2018