Album Reviews


Ice Cube

Lethal Injection  Hear it Now

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If "The Chronic" were a city, Nihilism would be mayor, and Hope and Faith would roll up the windows and lock the doors. After that hip-hop Nevermind, it fits that the follow-up finds Snoop cursing fame: As Nirvana's Kurt Cobain groans, "I do not want what I have got," on In Utero, Snoop opens Doggystyle talking about giving up his kingdom. But Snoop is no disaffected suburbanite whose millions are messing up his artistic credibility. Snoop's nihilism was born of generations of poverty, but his biggest problem now is the high price of black dreams.

Doggystyle is filled with verbal and vocal feats that meet its three-mile-high expectations. "Some of these niggers is so deceptive/Using my styles like a contraceptive/I hope you get burnt," Snoop rhymes on "Doggy Dogg World." On "Lodi Dodi," he covers Slick Rick's classic "La-Di-Da-Di," sounding like young Miles Davis interpreting Thelonious Monk's jazz standard "Round Midnight."

But more stunning is that Snoop's pain appears so often. On "Serial Killa," Dogg Pound member Daz rhymes about niggers around the way asking him about Snoop: "Is that nigga Snoop all right?/Ay, yo, what's up with the crew?/Is the nigga in jail?/I heard the nigga's through." Daz says everything's all right, but it doesn't sound like it. As Snoop begins Doggystyle's first song, "Gin and Juice," "With so much drama in the LBC/It's kinda hard being Snoop D-o-double-g."

Dre tries to cover up for Snoop. The Chronic's slow, heavy beats were a sonic representation of angry depression as accurate as Cobain's feedback blasts; Doggystyle is leaner, with its high-tempo Isaac Hayes- and Curtis Mayfield-derived tracks. The sound-lyric tension peaks on "Ain't No Fun" as a quietstorm groove swirls and Snoop and his homies sing and rap about gang fucking. It's a funny song if you don't think about how the woman 2Pac and his homies allegedly sodomized might feel about it, but most hip-hop fans are so used to the ethical deadening hip-hop routinely demands that they won't. Pray that "No Fun" isn't misinterpreted by some sick fan, like Nirvana's "Polly" was, as an encouragement to rape.

But Dre's production can't hide Snoop's lurking paranoia. Most of Dre's hooks and nearly all his beats refuse to linger, as if the songs themselves are nervous, fearful of exposure, restless to get offscreen. Doggystyle speeds through 55 minutes of constant talk as if on a suicide hot line. Snoop knows his life looks enviable to those living vicariously through albums and videos, but what he's really living is a multidimensional life that's in genuine danger.

Ice Cube is also in danger, albeit musically: The most interesting question surrounding Lethal Injection is, has any rapper ever fallen off as hard as Cube? A modern Richard Wright, Cube made or helped make three hip-hop classics – Straight Outta Compton, Amerikkka's Most Wanted and Death Certificate – as he crafted a Bigger Thomas as vivid and provocative as the original. Now he spends too little time on his music and too much as St. Ides' Uncle Tom. That's wrong.

The light funk sound of "It Was a Good Day" pervades Vaccination Shot, as do boring, predictable rhymes – "Out like a boss/With a half-pint of sauce/Got this sewed up like Betsy Ross" – and a cliché-laden, painfully long "One Nation Under a Groove" rip-off called "Bop Gun (One Nation)" where Cube ruins the George Clinton classic as thoroughly as Whitney Houston destroyed Chaka Khan's "I'm Every Woman."

Once a major social critic, Cube no longer sparks national debate as he did with "Black Korea" and "Fuck tha Police." "Cave Bitch" is planted for that purpose, but the song boils down to "White Bitches Ain't Shit." All that close listening to Mosquito Bite may reveal is the focus of Cube's nickname the Nigga Ya Love to Hate shifting from white people hating him for being a political thorn to black people hating him for being a crap-music-making prick. Mr. Stay True to the Game has, like the Fresh Prince and Queen Latifah before him, chosen to become a multimedia hip-hopper at the expense of his music.

Where Cube's success has cost him his music, Snoop may one day pay for his success with his life. The irony of the Doggystyle moment, when two men recognize Snoop, drive up and shoot him ("Murder Was the Case"), heightens as Snoop's real murder case makes it clear that fame has made him a target. Snoop's personal drama gives Doggystyle a thematic complexity rarely seen in pop but saddles the man with a tangled life. In September, Snoop told me, "The same way it meant a lot in value when a white man shot Martin Luther King and killed him or when a white man killed John F. Kennedy, it would sound hella good, according to the streets, to kill me." That's the American dream?


(Posted: Jan 27, 1994)


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