Thursday, 2 January 2014

Ice Cube - Raw Footage (2008)

Generally speaking rap has a poor record in terms of consistent albums that work all the way from the first track to the last, and the average rap disc will usually contain at least five cuts that just didn't need to be on there. One exception to this admittedly general rule is Ice Cube, who has yet to release a truly dud album - the War & Peace discs could have been a little tighter, but I've heard worse.

As Ice Cube's eighth solo studio album, a good two decades into his career, Raw Footage probably has no right to sound as fresh and dangerous and just plain sharp as it does, but then I suppose it shouldn't be such a surprise. Ever since CIA's My Posse, O'Shea Jackson has been about moving with or even ahead of the times, never about recycling a formula. Lyrically he's always been a bit handy - to lapse briefly into something resembling boxing commentary - but these days he's fucking ridiculous, and I mean that in a good way. This becomes apparent with close listening, although clocking up all the double meanings, metaphors, riffs on themes or puns somewhat misses the point and effectively reduces the painting to just maths and pigment, particularly considering the apparent ease with which these narrative acrobatics are performed, flowing like a conversation he isn't even really thinking about that hard. Most impressive of all are those rapid switches in tone from one line to the next, gritty politics, black humour, then militant joy all woven together as one, and as ever doing the exact opposite of what gangsta rap is believed to do by those who don't listen to it.

You can go be a pimp, you can go be a ho,
But you only gon' get paid off what you know,
If you don't know shit then you can't work for me,
'Cause you read your first book in the penitentiary.

Raw Footage manages to sound simultaneously like an extremely eclectic compilation whilst remaining absolutely consistent to a single vision - painful truths about American society, black culture, and ghetto politics sharing airtime with tracks like I Got My Locs On and Jack N The Box which take the crunk back from all the tossers who've spent the last fifteen years ruining it; and music from a variety of producers rather than just DJ Crazy Toones, whom I wrongly assumed had contributed to more than just the one track here. This may even be Ice Cube's best album - uncompromising, absolutely independent, and sharp as ever after a quarter century in the biz, which possibly makes him unique.

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