Since the eighties, it’s been commonplace in hip-hop for rappers to link up with one another and make cameos on each other’s songs and projects. The cameo appearance or posse cut is a great way to break up the monotony of hearing the same voice over the course of an entire album. It also allows the listener a chance to discover new artists and/or hear some of their favorite artists matched up together on the same track. Some artists have found such great chemistry working together on these types of records that they decide to take things a step further and form supergroups. Through the years we’ve seen several supergroups at work with varying degrees of success: The Firm, HRSMN, Golden State Warriors, Crooklyn Dodgers, Black Star, Red & Meth, Watch The Throne, Run The Jewels, Slaughterhouse, and even the newly formed supergroup, Mt. Westmore. But when discussing the most influential and commercially successful supergroups of all-time, Westside Connection has to be in the conversation.
The first time I heard Ice Cube, W.C. and Cube’s mentee, Mack 10 rhyming together was on “West Up” from W.C. & The Maad Circle’s 1995 album, Curb Servin’, where Dub and Mack just seemed to be representing the West Coast, but you could taste the East Coast spite in Cube’s bars. The same year the threesome linked up for “Westside Slaughterhouse” from Mack 10’s self-titled debut album, and all three of the So-Cal emcees sounded like they had East Coast malice. Ice Cube would infamously diss Common on that record in retaliation for “I Used To Love H.E.R.,” which Cube felt was taking shots at the West Coast, and rightfully so. Common would respond with the highly underrated diss record, “The Bitch In Yoo,” and the East/West feud would continue to grow. In the meantime, Cube, Dub-C and Mack 10 would continue to build on their chemistry, officially forming Westside Connection and releasing their debut group effort, Bow Down at the tail end of 1996.
Bow Down would feature production from Ice Cube and QDIII, but the bulk of its sound would be crafted by a couple of newcomers, Bud’da and Binky. The album would go on to produce two Billboard charting singles, climb to number two on the Billboard Top 200, and it would reach platinum status less than six months after its release.
I didn’t buy Bow Down when it came out back in the day. A few months ago, I bought a CD copy on eBay as I thought it would be an important (or at least intriguing) piece to listen to from 1996. Although this is my first time listening to Bow Down in its entirety, I do remember the singles, and based on those songs, I’m anticipating a whole bunch of crip walkin and the throwin’ up of dubs.
World Domination – Bow Down opens with the Australian born actor, Jonathan Hyde (who you may remember for his roles in movies like Jumanji, Titanic, The Mummy and starring in Anaconda, alongside the scrumptious Jennifer Lopez and Ice Cube) elaborating on who the Westside Connection is and their mission, all delivered in his regal accent and voice, while dark ominous music plays behind him.
Bow Down – WSC starts the night off with the title track that was also the lead single. Cube, Mack 10 and Dub C each spit a verse, as they collectively rep for the West, boast about their gangsta lifestyles and demand that everyone bow down and show reverence; or as Dub-C so hoodly puts it: “All y’all can kiss my Converse like Sho’Nuff.” All three emcees get off decent verses and the hook was solid, but Bud’da’s instrumental sounds a little too soft to back up all of the Connect gang’s tough talk.
Gangstas Make The World Go Round – This was the second single released from Bow Down. Not to be confused with MC Eiht’s “Niggaz Make The Hood Go Round,” Cube (with a co-credit going to Cedric Samson) builds this instrumental around an interpolation of The Stylistics classic single, “People Make The World Go Round,” which was also interpolated on Eiht’s record. As I’m sure you figured out based on the song title, WSC continues their celebration of the West Coast gangsta lifestyle, and surprisingly, Mack 10 out raps his comrades on this one. He sounds unusually slick as he spits: “Three-sixty degrees, like my D’s the world be spinnin’, niggas been sinnin’, since the beginnin’, history’s a trip so I peep when I’m readin’, niggas probably grew weed in the garden of Eden, before big ballin’, sex, cars and loot, it’s like bitches been scandalous bitin’ forbidden fruit,” and later in his verse he gets off my favorite line: “I gave up sports to slang ki’s but blamed it on my knees.” An uncredited male vocalist sprinkles falsetto notes on the hook, adding the cherry on top of this smooth gangsta anthem.
All The Critics In New York – After a short skit, a fed up and offended Ice Cube has a few words for New York hip-hoppers. Then Binky drops a synth-heavy banger that’s guaranteed to have you c-walkin’ and twistin’ your fingers into W’s. Our hosts then take aim at New York journalists and critics (basically The Source and Vibe Magazine) calling them out for what they feel is biased critique: (Ice Cube) “Fuck all the critics in the N-Y-C, and your articles tryna rate my LP…I gotta pocket full of green bustin’ at the seams, fuck your baggy jeans, fuck your magazines.” Between the three of them, Westside Connect gets off a plethora of wise cracks and sharp disses, mostly aimed at New York-based hip-hop journalists and publications, but a couple of artists from hip-hop’s Mecca catch strays as well (Dub C dissin’ Doug E. Fresh’s “I-Ight” record was one of my personal favs). Binky weaves a jazzy horn loop into a portion of the instrumental that sounds like his way of making the music wag its tongue at the dusty jazz loops that were so prevalent in the sound of East Coast hip-hop during the nineties. This was dope.
Do You Like Criminals? – Westside Connect keeps the bangers coming. Bud’da gets his second production credit of the evening as he serves Cube, Dub, Mack, and their guest, K-Dee, an incredible G-funk groove that the foursome use to ask the ladies what kind of guys they’re into. Or specifically, if they like criminals: (Ice Cube) “How would you like to get a rough nigga rugged and raw, outlaw rollin’ down the Shaw, do you want a muthafucka that’s hard, or a bitch-made nigga cute as El DeBarge? Do you like Negroes? Him and those individuals, called criminals? How’d you figure a West Coast nigga, drinkin’ liquor, gotsta know how to dick ya.” Mack-10 and K-Dee keep their content pretty light-hearted, but Dub-C takes the “bad boy criminal” shit too far as he threatens to give a chick an eye jammy for rejecting his advances (“Bitch you best be glad I got three strikes, because back in ’85, I’d been done gave your ass a black eye”). Despite Dub-C’s ridiculousness (which I’ll chalk up to him joking), this was enjoyable in a guilty pleasure kind of way.
Gangstas Don’t Dance (Insert) – A super short interlude that Cube uses to let you know what gangstas do on the dance floor and he reminds you all to bring your…cookies?
The Gangsta, The Killa And The Dope Dealer – Cube assumes the role of the gangsta, Dub C’s the killa, and Mack 10’s the dope dealer. Bud’da slides the threesome a dark twangy backdrop with an eerie howl that falls somewhere in between a gangbanger’s and wolf’s call to action. This isn’t one of the album’s standout tracks, but it’s still decent.
Cross ‘Em Out And Put A ‘K – I’ve never heard of this Bud’da guy before listening to Bow Down, but I have to admit, this dude’s got some heat and this one might be his most fire instrumental of the evening. Over angry synth stabs and a furious bass line, Cube, Mack 10 and Dub C load the clips and let loose on all opposition, and for the first time on the album, they call out a few of their adversaries by name. Cube and Mack 10 fire direct shots at Cypress Hill (who you may remember dissed Ice Cube on “No Rest For The Wicked” from Temples Of Boom for what they felt was thievery of their hook) and Dub C does a drive-by on, of all people, Q-Tip. Well, it’s not really a drive-by, as he claims to kidnap Tip, puts an apple in his mouth before sodomizing him, then murders him and leaves his body in a garbage bag with a cucumber stuck in his ass for good measure (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check). Even though the lead emcee of my favorite group of all-time was a target, I found this one highly entertaining.
King Of The Hill – Dub C sits this one out and let’s Cube and Mack 10 finish the job they started on the previous track, as the duo dedicate the entire song to Cypress Hill. Over a decent QDIII production, Cube’s in “No Vaseline” form (which he also suggests that Cypress go listen to before they address him on record again), delivering quality blows and hi-larious punchlines (the “B-Real soundin’ like he got baby nuts” bit was hysterical), while Mack 10 proves to be a decent accomplice.
3 Time Felons – Our hosts use this one to brag and boast about the criminal lifestyle and being decorated felons (Cube claims that Westside Connect, collectively, has “eleven strikes” between the three of them). I didn’t necessarily care much for their content, but the hook is catchy, and I really like Bud’da’s slick G-funk slap, punctuated by an audacious buzzing synth clip that sounds like the audio equivalent of mashing on the gas in a six-fo’ just to peel out so the fumes and exhaust can blow fiercely in the face of your haters and naysayers as they stand on the curb.
Westward Ho – QDIII gets his second and final production credit of the evening, providing a smooth seductive synth groove for WSC to spit some good old fashion misogyny over. Of course, this record is filled with an overabundance of bitches, hoes and objectification, but there’s also some romantic moments, like when Ice Cube fantasies about running his “trigger finger all through her extensions” and buying he and his lady “his and her nines.” But it’s Dub-C who gets off the best bars of the song as he describes his dream woman: a 5’10”, two-hundred-and-twenty-pound chick with thigh and c-section scarring, tattoos, stretch marks, and a few bullet wounds. Ya’ll laughing, but I wouldn’t mind meeting this sexy beast in the flesh.
The Pledge (Insert) – WSC remixes and puts a gangsta twist on The Pledge of Allegiance.
Hoo-Bangin’ (WSCG Style) – Westside Connect Gang is in full effect, as K-Dee, Tha Comrades and All Frum Tha l join Cube, Mack 10 and Dub-C for this album ending cipher session. Cube takes another feeble swipe at Common (“I’m bombin’, on Common Sense, Chicago is mine, nigga hit the fence”), but it’s a swing at the wind compared to the missile Common launched at Cube in the form of “The Bitch In Yoo.” Along with Cube’s underwhelming instrumental, none of the parties involved on this one impress, ending Bow Down on a low note.
Bow Down finds a butt hurt Ice Cube all the way pissed off and offended by the disrespect he felt the East Coast (and Common) were showing to West Coast hip-hop, specifically the gangsta sub-genre that he and his N.W.A. bredrin helped pioneer and make commercially successful in the late eighties. By 1996, Cube’s street cred was in shambles (as Common so poignantly pointed out on “The Bitch In Yoo,” Cube went from “gangsta, to Muslim, to the dick of Das EFX,” within the span of five years), so it made perfect sense for the Amerikkka’s Most Wanted rapper to recruit a couple of his comrades with legitimate gangsta backgrounds to accompany him on an East Coast hoo-ride, while proudly waiving the Westside banner.
Over the course of Bow Down’s thirteen tracks, Westside Connection defends its coast, declares war, and verbally assaults anything and anyone even remotely associated with East Coast hip-hop, while brashly flaunting and promoting the criminal/gangbangin’ lifestyle; and of course, they had to sprinkle a little misogyny into the mix. Bow Down’s tracks are scored with synth-heavy G-Funkish production (a few of them are incredible bangers), which makes perfect sense for this West Coast celebration and serves as the perfect accomplice to WSC’s verbal drive-bys. There are a few dull and unnecessary moments on Bow Down, but the majority of it (evoking my west coast slang) sounds hella dope.
In the mist of firing shots and making violent threats on “All The Critics In New York,” Cube pauses for a second and says, “I hope blood ain’t got to spill.” Unfortunately, as the frivolous coastal feud continued, both coast’s biggest stars, 2pac and Biggie, would lose their lives. I’m sure Westside Connection had nothing directly to do with either of their murders, but it could be argued that some of Bow Down’s content helped water the seeds of hate that led to their tragic deaths. So, while Bow Down is indeed an entertaining listen, the violent events that followed what some of its content perpetuated will forever loom over it.