We last heard from Ice Cube in 1992 with his multi-platinum third full-length release, The Predator. If y’all read this blog on a regular basis, you already know how I feel about that album. But if you don’t: I felt The Predator was a solid album, but Cube’s flow was deteriorating and his messages weren’t as potent as his past output, and even though he could still move units, it kind of marked the end of Cube’s reign as the hottest rapper in the game. He would return at the tail end of 1993 with his fourth album, Lethal Injection.
For Lethal Injection Cube would bring in Little Quincy Jones (QD III) to handle a chunk of the production, with contributions from Laylaw, Sir Jinx and a few relatively unknown producers as well. Of course the album went platinum, but the reviews from critics and fans were mixed.
Let’s review and see if the South Central native could regain his swag or would continue down the path that history has already written.
The Shot (Intro) – Lethal Injection opens with a skit that has “Mr. White” going to the doctor (played by Ice Cube) to get a shot, and boy, what a shot it is.
Really Doe – This was the lead single from Lethal Injection. Laylaw and Derrick McDowell get credit for the nasty instrumental (I love the soulful Pointer Sisters vocal sample on the hook) that Cube sounds solid rockin’ over, even if he doesn’t sound as focused as he did in his Amerikkka Most Wanted/Death Certificate days. I completely forgot about this one, but it was a pleasant refreshment hearing it today.
Ghetto Bird – Is slang for the Police helicopter that hovers over the hood looking for criminal suspects. Cube uses this one to detail his run in with (or run from) the Ghetto Bird and how he escaped it’s watchful eye. QDIII gets his first production credit of the evening and I’m not a fan of it, or the song for that matter.
You Know How We Do It – Now this is more like. QDIII redeems himself from the previous track and hooks up a smooth west coast groove that Cube uses to describe how a west coast brother chills on the west side. No, you won’t get a deep message from Cube, just random bars spilled over a groove perfect for listening to as the sun goes down on a beautiful summer day.
Cave Bitch – Brian G (yeah, I never heard of him, either) obeys Cube’s demands and makes a rough backdrop for Cube to dis white women, that he affectionately refers to as “cave bitches”. I chuckled a little when I heard our host call out Charles “Turrible” Barkley for dating white women, and when he refers to white girls as “she-devils”. I wonder if Cube still finds white women unattractive today or if this was just a phase. All in all, this song was and still is mildly entertaining.
Bop Gun (One Nation) – This was the third single released from Lethal Injection and may be the worst song in Ice Cube’s entire catalog. QD III replays portions of Funkadelic’s “One Nation Under A Groove” as Cube spends the entire eleven plus minutes of the song quoting pieces of songs from the seventies and finding random things to rhyme them (for example: “put a glide in your stride a dip in your hip, got Daytons on the mothership”). This was REALLY bad.
What Can I Do? – Cube comes from the perspective of a drug dealer who gets caught, serves his time, and when he comes back home he has a hard time readjusting to the legit life. Someone going by The 88 X Unit gets credit for the instrumental (which is built around an interpolation of Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You”) and he churns out a pretty smooth groove. Not one of Cube’s best storytelling songs, but it’s solid. Plus, I have to give him props for shouting out my home state…even though the Dome and Prince are now gone. Time is truly illmatic.
Lil Ass Gee – Cube uses this Sir Jinx instrumental to share a tale of a young gangster and where his life of ill deeds leads him to. Unfortunately, Jinx’ backdrop is trash, Cube’s storyline is uninteresting and his flow gets corny at certain points, like during the second verse when he turns “tomorrow” in to “tommari” so it will rhyme with “Atari”. Come on, Cube.
Make It Ruff, Make It Smooth – Cube’s Lench Mob brethren, K-Dee joins him on this duet, as they take turns spewing random lyrics about absolutely nothing. Cube and K-Dee might not give you much lyrically, but QD III’s instrumental is tough.
Down For Whatever – Trash.
Enemy – The song opens with a sound bite from a speaker dissing Martin Luther King for wanting blacks to sup with white folks when blacks can’t even get along with each other. Then Madness 4 Real drops a decent beat (that sound like it could have been on The Predator album) and Cube continues his verbal assault on the white devil.
When I Get To Heaven – The last song on the proper album finds our host questioning the validity of Christianity for the black man in America (which has been a common theme throughout hip-hop’s history). Brian G gets his second and final, production credit of the evening as he builds a mellow soundscape around an interpolation of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues”. Not a bad way to end things.
The following are bonus tracks that were included on the 2003 reissue of Lethal Injection, which I happen to have:
What Can I Do? (Westside Remix) – This remix was the single release version for this song. Laylaw & D Maq give it a complete makeover, replacing the smooth laid back vibe of the original mix with a heavily funked out backdrop this time around. Cube’s future Westside Connection brethren, Mack 10, makes a quick cameo on the last verse, which slightly alters the ending of Cube’s original storyline. I absolutely hate this version of the song.
What Can I Do? (Eastside Remix) – This is my favorite version out of the three mixes on the album, and not just because the DJ from my favorite hip-hop group of all-time, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, produced it. I mean, that may play a part, but it’s still dope on its own merit.
You Know How We Do It (Remix) – Cube gets credit for this remix. Interestingly, both the original mix and the remix use different samples from Evelyn Champagne King’s “The Show Is Over”, and their equally as dope. Like “What Can I Do? (Westside Remix)” Cube adds a few new bars at the end of the song that don’t add much to it, but whatever.
Lil Ass Gee (Eerie Gumbo Remix) – N.O. Joe (best known for his production work for Scarface) gets the production credit for this one, and the song’s subtitle actually describes the instrumental, perfectly. Even though the instrumental sounds ten times better than the original, I still don’t like the song.
Lethal Injection helps Ice Cube continue his journey from being one of the most respected emcees (on any coast) to hip-hop irrelevancy. It’s not a terrible listen. The production hits more often than it misses, but Cube’s not as focused, as the songs structures, themes and lyrics aren’t nearly as strong as they once were, circa 1991. Lethal Injection is almost like watching Kevin Garnett at the end of his career. He could show up and give you 12 points and 6 rebounds from time to time, but was far from the player that he was in his prime (bars!). But don’t feel bad for Cube, the dude just put his energy into making movies, and that has worked out well for the man.