In 1990 Ice Cube established himself as arguably the top rapper in hip-hop, thanks to the release of his debut solo album Amerikka Most Wanted (which just made me realize that I completely forgot to review Kill At Will, which was his EP sandwiched in between AMW and today subject. Stay tuned), which was both a commercial and critical success, as Cube would combine his already well established gangster sensibilities with his new-found black awareness, all over the Bomb Squad’s production. Cube’s would continue to grow in knowledge of self after playing Doughboy in the movie Boyz N The Hood, which would lead to our frowned face friend cutting off his very tired jerry curl in place of a low-cut ceaser and start to show interest in the teaching of Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam.
Cube would return in 1991 with his sophomore effort, Death Certificate. As outlined in the liner notes and reiterated on the intro, the album is comprised of two sides (which would make more sense if your listening to Death Certificate on cassette or vinyl): “The Death side”, which is a mirrored image of where we (the black community) are today. And the “Life side”, a vision of where we (the black community) needs to go. Cube titled it Death Certificate as a message to the black man that he must first go through a mental death so he can then be reborn mentally and live righteous. Maybe the title has a dual meaning because the album cover artwork shows Cube holding a gun in hand while hovering over a toe-tagged Uncle Sam.
Like it’s predecessor, Death Certificate would also go on to receive heaps of critical acclaim and sell over two million copies, cementing Cube as the man. The Source initial gave Death Certificate a 4.5 mic rating but would revisit that rating years later and change it a 5 mic rating, so we have that to discuss at the end of this review.
The Funeral – Short interlude that sets up the first actual song…
The Wrong Nigga To Fuck Wit – Over a hard Sir Jinx instrumental Cube picks up where he left off at on AMW. He’s still angry and ready to kill any horny little devil or uncle Tom insight. This song still knocks.
My Summer Vacation – Cube plays the role of a drug dealer who’s relocated from South Central L.A. to St. Louis to set up shot and slang. This song is not terrible but it’s probably my least favorite song on Death Certificate.
Steady Mobbin’ – This was the first single released from Death Certificate. Cube uses this one to talk about the day in the life of he and his Lench Mob brethren, which is filled with boomin’ systems, brews, and bitches. It was kind of funny to hear him tells his guys to stop drinking Olde English and get with St. Ides, as he had an endorsement deal with them at the time (remember those “crooked I” commercials? I think Kane did a few as well). Solid.
Robin Lench – Is the ghetto version of the Lifestyles Of The Rich & Famous host, Robin Leach. During this interlude he takes you on a brief tour of the hood.
Givin’ Up The Nappy Dug Out – This one is pretty funny. It starts off with Cube ringing the doorbell of the house of a girl named Cheryl. Cheryl’s father answers the door and after Cube introduces himself and tells him he’s there to take his daughter out on a date the father protests. Cube responds by spends the next three verses degrading her and revealing all of her dirty deeds to her father. The Boogie Men hook up a quality instrumental for the backdrop. This one ends with a short PSA brought to you courtesy of a talking condom (who sounds like Alvin Seville) which sets up the next song…
Look Who’s Burnin’ – On this one our host stops by the local clinic, so he claims, to get 20 free jimmy hats, which for someone claiming to be making all the dough, is pretty cheapskate of him. He then spends the next few verses talking about a few of the promiscuous hood rats he bumps into while at the clinic. The Sir Jinx instrumental kind of sounds like a fire alarm, which fits in nicely with the song title and content.
A Bird In The Hand – The Boogie Men lay down a sick instrumental that Cube uses to tell a story from the perspective of a black teenage father and the life choices that lead up to him feeling forced to slang dope to feed his family. In one short verse Cube covers a lot of ground and does it with phenomenal detail. This was brilliant.
Man’s Best Friend – Cube spits his thesis to why his gun is more reliable than a dog for protection. This one line sums of Cube argument perfectly: “If you shot your gun and my dog tries to fetch ya, me and the dog is going out on a stretcher”. Fittingly, the Boogie Men mesh in the classic funk record “Atomic Dog” to the backdrop. Pretty clever concept.
Alive On Arrival – Cube spins a tell about himself hanging out in the dope spot with the homies when a car rolls up and starts spraying shots (also known as a drive by), and Cube gets hit. He uses the rest of the song to address all the snafu’s and poor treatment from law enforcement and hospitals for urban patients who are victims of violent crimes. The Boogie Men’s’ instrumental was cool, although I don’t know if it was the best fit for the song’s content.
Death – Short spoken word piece from Dr. Khallid Muhammad, who was Louis Farrakhan’s National assistant at the time. This poem marks the end of the “Death side” of Death Certificate.
The Birth – Another spoken word piece from Dr. Khallid Muhammad which marks the beginning of the “Life Side” of Death Certificate.
I Wanna Kill Sam – According to Cube, the first step black America needs to take in order to get to where we need to be is to kill off Uncle Sam. Not literally, doodoo brain. What Cube is saying is blacks need to realize that Uncle Sam, aka the US government, does not have black America’s best interest at heart and hasn’t since the African slave trade (Cube actually makes an ill analogy between being kidnapped by uncle Sam and the African slave trade…deep). Sir Jinx hooks up a funked out instrumental that make for a solid backdrop for Cube’s meaty rhymes.
Horny Lil’ Devil – After we’ve killed off Uncle Sam, the next step is to torture the horny lil’ devil, aka the white man. And no white man is exempt, as even the fellas from Color Me Badd get called out on this one. The Boogie Men’s instrumental samples Lou Donaldson’s “Pot Belly” record and James Brown’s “Funky President”, and even though it sounds more like something you would here an east coast emcee rhyming over, Cube handles it well. “Swing, swing, swing, and chop, chop, chop”.
Black Korea – Okay. Now that he’s killed off Uncle Sam and emasculated the horny lil’ devil, now it time to give out a warning to the Asian immigrants who set up businesses in the hood to take the black dollar but don’t respect the blacks spending the dollar at their establishments. Over a hectic paced Sir Jinx instrumental Cube declares that if they don’t start respecting black people they’ll start boycotting their businesses, or worst, burn them down to the ground. Jinx cleverly adds in a sound bite of a conversation between a Korean store owner and Radio Raheem from Do The Right Thing. Dope.
True To The Game – Our host has already fired shots at the government, white America, and Asian immigrants. Now its time to point the finger at the brothers. Sir Jinx hooks up a smooth instrumental built around a sample of the Gap Band’s record “Outstanding” that Cube uses to call out the “Oreo cookie”, who “makes it” and forgets about the black community. This was the second single released from the album. Classic record.
Color Blind – This may be my favorite song on Death Certificate. Cube invites Deadly Threat, Kam, W.C, Coolio, King Tee, and J Dee (from the Lench Mob) to join him for this cypher session as they discuss surviving the gang invested street of Los Angeles. The Boogie Men hook up a sick sample from The Meters and drown it under a muffled bass line that makes for a monster instrumental. Every party involved brings their A game to match the track’s energy. This is one of the sickest (and often overlooked) cypher joints in hip-hop history.
Doing Dumb Shit – Cube relives the days of his youth skipping school, stealing candy from the corner store, losing his virginity at 13, etc. The Boogie Men build the instrumental around a zany Parliament sample that reminds me of The Wiz for some reason. Solid.
Us – Sir Jinx’s hooks up a raw mid-tempo instrumental that Cube uses to stand on his soapbox and list off several issues that ail the black community and keep us from progressing. Sadly, many of the reason he mentions still apply today. Good song, though.
No Vaseline – Cube saves the last record of the evening to drop one of the greatest dis record in hip-hop history. Sir Jinx pretty much rips Brick’s “Dazz” record at wholesale for the backdrop, as Cube goes for the necks of Dre, Easy, Ren, Yella and Jerry Heller, and manages to body all five of them in the process. This was the cherry on top of an incredible milk shake. Or a chocolate sundae.
Many considered Amerikkka’s Most Wanted to be Ice Cube’s shinning moment, but I disagree. While AMW was a solid solo debut, it was a bit inconsistent at times. Death Certificate is the pinnacle of Ice Cube’s music career as he would never make another album as conscious, entertaining and relevant. From beginning to end Death Certificate holds the listener’s attention hostage. Cube perfects his mixture of gangster swag with the conscious rhymes that made him one of the best to ever do it. Sir Jinx and the Boogie Men lay down consistently quality production, and the movie director in Cube was present even back then, as the song sequencing it almost flawless.
Did The Source Get It Right? Not the first time. Good thing they went back to review it years later and got it right. Death Certificate is brilliant and definitely deserving of a 5 mic rating.
I agree. I’m surprised cube hasn’t caught some flak for his early work. This album would be banned today. I love it, but I must admit this shit would hurt some feelings. Classic. As you said, he would never be this consistent with an album again.
So good I’ve bought this album three times.
Did the Source get it right? No doubt about it. Color Blind is my favorite, too. Though, I think “No Vaseline” is a far better diss track than “Hit Em’ Up.” Far, far better. I’m not a east coast bias, but Hit Em’ Up is the most overrated song in the history of music in general.
no vaseline by far is one of the best, i always thought hit em up was overrated too and am shocked that it’s one of 2pac’s biggest songs given all the amazing tracks he pushed out years before
i’m pretty sure it has the praise it does because 1) he’s dead and 2) the east coast/west coast rivalry was big
Definitely a 10/10 album. But I love “summer vacation” …His best lp