Happy 25th Anniversary to Ice Cube’s third studio album The Predator, originally released November 17, 1992.
About halfway between October 29, 1991 and November 17, 1992, the city of Los Angeles exploded.
On April 29, 1992, the four police officers on trial for the beating of black motorist Rodney King were found not guilty of the assault by an all-white jury. The riots that erupted soon afterwards rocked Los Angeles for nearly a week, eventually ending when the National Guard was deployed. As more knowledgeable historians and sociologists than myself have written, the Rodney King verdict was just the flash point of a fury that had been building in L.A. for the better part of 30 years. For many, the uprising wasn’t a shock, but a predictable outcome that came from decades of oppression at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department, the justice department, and the United States government. One of the people who saw it all coming was one O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson.
Ice Cube had released his second album, the monumental Death Certificate on October 29, 1991. Cube had already been deep into the recording process for that album in March of 1991, when the videotaped beating of Rodney King first went public and teenager Latasha Harlins was shot and killed by corner store owner Soon Ja Du. As a result of the album being nearly finished, he never referred to either of the incidents on Death Certificate. Regardless, the album still channeled the frustrations and anger that those type of events stirred in the black communities within Los Angeles and across the country.
Ice Cube’s two previous albums were built around cohesive themes that held everything together. His 1990 debut AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted was about him establishing himself as a solo artist that had experienced a social awakening. Death Certificate made a statement about where the black community is now and where Cube thought it needed to be. The Predator is a reactive album, largely concerned with capturing a particularly volatile period of time.
When Ice Cube released The Predator on November 17, 1992, he certainly had a lot to talk and be angry about at that moment. Death Certificate was the quintessential “angry” hip-hop album, and The Predator is bursting with resentment. Cube raps a lot about the Rodney King beating, the verdict, the riots, and the continued abuse by the police in the months that followed. Ice Cube clearly states, “I told you it would happen and you heard it, read it” on the album, about as clear of an “I told you so” as you can get. But there’s also a different sort of anger present. Throughout the album, Cube focuses much of his fury at people who, after the release of Death Certificate, spent more time being critical of him than listening closely to what the album had to say.
Much of the controversy that surrounded Death Certificate came from some of the lyrics of the album’s closing track, “No Vaseline,” the infamous N.W.A dis track. Due to a couple of choice comments that he made towards the infamous N.W.A manager (at the time) Jerry Heller, he was decried for being anti-Semitic (Heller, who passed away last year at the age of 75, was Jewish). As a result, Cube was censured by many media outlets, personalities, and organizations, Billboard magazine, the Jewish Defense League (JDL), and the Guardian Angels. Cube became infuriated that many focused on the manner in which he insulted Heller rather than the overall narrative of the album. And he believed that the country inherited the wind with the subsequent uprising.
The Predator does capture the post-L.A. riots rage like few other albums ever released. Cube takes no joy in having envisaged what invariably resulted from years of oppression, but he is more than happy to chronicle the raw bitterness that ensued upon being proven right. This is where the album excels. Cube continually expresses the sentiments that while he’s aware of how the oppressors operate, the oppressors themselves are largely ignorant of the culture of the people that they oppress.
The Predator is the first of Ice Cube’s solo albums that doesn’t feature a relatively unifying production team handling the majority of the production. Cube famously collaborated with the Bomb Squad on AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted and the Boogiemen for Death Certificate. For The Predator, he uses about a half a dozen different beat-makers. DJ Pooh and various members of the Boogiemen contribute a handful of tracks, DJ Muggs lends his production chops to three songs, and Sir Jinx works behind the boards for a pair of others. The rest of the beats are handled by various L.A.-based producers, including Mr. Woody, Torcha Chamba, and Pockets.
Cube always knows how to start off an album right. “When Will They Shoot?” continues in his tradition of great album openers. Produced by DJ Pooh, it kicks the album off with a maelstrom of blistering, ferocious energy. The drums of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” never sounded so hardcore as Cube launches into the track with extreme fury, rapping, “I thought they was buggin’ / ’Cause to us Uncle Sam is Hitler without an oven / Burning our Black skin / Buy my neighborhood, then push the crack in / Doing us wrong from the first day / And don’t understand why a n***a got an AK / Calling me an African-American / Like everything is fair again, shee-it!” The track practically pulses with anger, as Cube stomps across the track in his big black boots, attacking the LAPD, the U.S. government, various media publications, and the oppressors and the exploiters of the black community.
Cube’s influences shine through many of the songs on display here. It’s apparent that Cube is an admirer or both Das EFX and Cypress Hill, as both the lyrical stylings and musical backdrops on The Predator are quite similar to the milieu of both groups. This is most evident on songs like “Wicked” and the title track.
“Wicked,” the album’s first single, is a dark, churning whirlwind of energy. Producer Torcha Chamba takes the keyboard solo from the Ohio Players’ “Funky Worm” and transforms it into a hellacious wail, pairing it with swirling, warped sirens and the drums from Sly and the Family Stone’s “You Can Make it If You Try.” Cube uses a rapid-fire delivery, clearly influenced by the aforementioned Cypress Hill’s B-Real and Das EFX, throwing in references to a young Shaquille O’Neal and Los Angeles-based attorney Larry Parker. The chorus features dancehall chatting by Don Jagwarr (formerly known as Earle the Poet) and scratches from Public Enemy and Das EFX tracks. Interestingly, and as a side note, rapper King Sun would later claim that “Wicked” was remarkably similar to a song that he recorded, and that Cube had jacked him for the track.
The album’s title track is probably the closest Cube got to creating a straight battle rap song for this project. Over a DJ Pooh-flipped sample from Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Superman Lover,” Cube uses an almost sing-songy delivery to let off steady stream-of-conscious lyrics, rapping, “Check your head for the new style / Fuck Laurence Powell and Briseno, Wind and Koon, pretty soon / We’ll fuck them like they fucked us and won’t kiss ’em / Riots ain’t nothing but diets for the system.” Cube also makes sure to throw in a few sharp disses to “Billboard and the Editor.”
Cube does some of his best work on the album when teaming with DJ Muggs. Working with the producer most likely led to the aforementioned Cypress Hill influences throughout the album. One of the best tracks on The Predator is “Now I Gotta Wet ‘Cha,” one of three collaborations with Muggs. In three verses, Cube targets gang bangers with no regard for the local communities and the jury in the Rodney King trial for blood-soaked retribution. The beat has distinct elements of vintage Cypress Hill dusted-funk, but features influences from other Cube tracks, such as vocal samples from Parliament’s “Aqua Boogie.”
Another superior Muggs track is “Check Yo Self,” Cube’s words of warning for doubters, fake gangsters, and women of ill repute. The remix, which features Cube rapping over a sample of “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, was the album’s third single, but I’ve always preferred the Muggs-helmed O.G. version, with its bluesy, guitar-driven groove. Das EFX performs the song’s chorus, which was a slight let down for me when I first purchased the album, expecting verses from the Hit Squad-affiliated pair.
“It Was a Good Day,” the album’s DJ Pooh produced second single, isn’t a personal favorite, but it remains one of Cube’s most popular and enduring songs. Over a mellow electric guitar loop taken from the Isley Brothers’ “Footsteps in the Dark,” Cube reports the intricate details of his particularly gratifying day. He catalogues all the minutiae from beginning to end, from receiving breakfast sans bacon or ham, to hitting a triple-double while playing pick-up basketball, to winning at craps and dominoes, to celebrating the Los Angeles Lakers beating the Seattle Supersonics, to receiving some female attention, to seeing the Goodyear Blimp delivering the friendly message that “Ice Cube’s a Pimp.”
Cube utilizes a slow, stilted flow on the song that he’d lean on more often as his career continued, probably to his detriment. But underneath the positive imagery of everything coming up roses on the day in question, there’s an undertone of sadness. Cube includes the fact that no one he knew in South Central died and he wasn’t forced to use his AK-47 as criteria for being a good day. Lack of violence is something that many people take for granted in their everyday lives, but here it’s cause célèbre.
“It Was a Good Day” works best in the context of the album, rather than standing alone. Here on The Predator, “It Was a Good Day” ends with the music unexpectedly stopping, and Cube muttering “Stop this shit… What the fuck am I thinking about?” The album then moves into “We Had to Tear This Motherfucka Up,” changing gear suddenly from the carefree into anger and chaos.
“We Had to Tear…” is probably the best song ever released about the ’92 LA Riots. The track is anchored by a fittingly sinister track by DJ Muggs, driven by a menacing bassline taken from a chopped and re-freaked sample of Gene Russell’s “Get Down.” Cube expels extra-heavy doses of venom again at the four acquitted officers and the jury that freed them, promising to hunt them down in their Simi Valley Neighborhood. He then openly challenges the federal government, asserting that “their National Guard ain’t hard,” and then closes the track by creating a detailed account of how the rioting went down in the streets of Los Angeles: “Don't fuck with the black-owned stores but hit the Foot Lockers / Steal, motherfuck Fire Marshall Bill / Oh what the hell, throw the cocktail, I smell smoke / Got the fuck out, Ice Cube lucked out / My n***a had his truck out, didn’t get stuck out / In front of that store with the Nikes and Adidas / Oh Jesus, Western Surplus got the heaters.” Cube’s vitriol is palpable and courses through each line of the track.
Anger towards the LAPD permeates the entire album. “Who Got the Camera?” presents Cube assuming the role of Rodney King. He’s pulled over, accosted, and viciously assaulted by police officers, then yearns for someone to film the incident in the hopes of securing justice. By the end, he realizes that “’Cause if I had a camera, the shit wouldn’t matter,” instead preferring someone to give him a gun to shoot his attackers.
The album ends with “Say Hi To the Bad Guy,” a Sir Jinx-track that again tackles abuses by the police department. Between a pair of uptempo verses that showcase Cube’s lyrical dexterity, there are some darkly humorous interludes featuring interactions between Cube and his homies and a donut loving cop who just “might have to gaffle ya!”
Cube making an album like The Predator was understandable. This was the third album he released in two and half years, so coming up with ambitious themes each time around is a lot to ask. From beginning to end, the album isn’t as strong as AmeriKKKa’s Most or Death Certificate, sometimes due to content and other times due to execution. Nevertheless, The Predator is still accurately remembered as another salient and successful effort on Cube’s part.