That’s My Jam: Ice Cube – Death Certificate

That’s My Jam is a weekly feature where one person from the Selective Hearing staff goes to wax poetic about music that is pivotal to their musical tastes. Whether that would be an album, a song, or anything in-between. We all had to start somewhere.

Ice Cube Death Certificate Cover

Released October 21, 1991

Track Listing

  1. The Funeral
  2. The Wrong Nigga to Fuck Wit
  3. My Summer Vacation
  4. Steady Mobbin’
  5. Robin Lench
  6. Givin’ Up the Nappy Dug Out
  7. Look Who’s Burnin’
  8. A Bird in the Hand
  9. Man’s Best Friend
  10. Alive on Arrival
  11. Death
  12. The Birth
  13. I Wanna Kill Sam
  14. Horny Lil’ Devil
  15. Black Korea
  16. True to the Game
  17. Color Blind
  18. Doing Dumb Shit
  19. Us
  20. No Vaseline

Review

Ice Cube is one of the most important voices hip-hop has ever had. Although many people know Ice Cube as an actor, his biggest impact is from his social commentary on life in the inner city, encased in the hardcore, gangster-rap sound. Couple that with his ability as a storyteller makes Cube one of the most prominent MCs in hip-hop history.

Personally, Ice Cube is one of my favourite rappers of all time. Death Certificate is the album that made me give Cube a slot on my list (however credible it is). The album is split into two sides, the death side and the life side. As Cube says in the intro, “The death side, a mirror image of where we are today. The life side is a vision of where we need to go.”

Throughout the album, Cube address various topics such as gang culture on My Steady Vacation, racial tension on both I Wanna Kill Sam and Black Korea, and the struggle between artist integrity and being successful on True to the Game. One of the best moments occurs with Givin’ Up the Nappy Dug Out and Look Who’s Burnin’. The former has Cube rapping about a seemingly good girl acting rather scandalously behind the watchful eyes of her father. But the next song speaks about sexually transmitted diseases people catch when unprotected sex.

One of the best examples of Ice Cube’s ability comes on Alive on Arrival. He tells a story that combines inner-city violence with racial discrimination. In the song, Cube gets shot and goes to the hospital but doesn’t get much help despite the bleeding. Yet he still has to deal with the police harassing him about what happened to him.

The death side is better than the life side if you compare the two sides, but as a whole, Death Certificate takes the talent that appeared on his first album and his stint in N.W.A and elevates his artistry to a higher level. Death Certificate is the shining gem in Ice Cube’s catalogue, even before we get to the album’s end.

Ice Cube had a falling out with N.W.A over contract dealings with Jerry Heller, a music manager and eventual co-founder of Ruthless Records with fellow member Easy-E. No, Vasaline is a diss record attacking N.W.A after the group released songs attacking Ice Cube. Thematically, a diss record doesn’t fit with the socio-economic nature of Death Certificate, but No Vasaline is one of the best diss records in hip-hop history with its aggressiveness and strong jabs at the group’s image.

Even if No Vasaline wasn’t on the track listing, it doesn’t diminish the album’s overall quality. From top to bottom, it’s what one expects an Ice Cube album to sound like. This is Ice Cube in rare form.

About ToZ 37 Articles
TOZ is Selective Hearing’s resident Urban music aficionado. He also has a keen interest in K-Pop, sneakers, Star Trek and long walks on the beach.