Listening to I Am the West, it’s hard not to think about Ice Cube’s long and successful career, specifically, those early solo years. While prepping for this latest release, Ice Cube became a presence with his blog, insinuating that he would bring back the rawness of his first solo efforts, critically acclaimed albums with potent lyrics, poignant observations and all presented with an in-your-face delivery. The man who some love to hate announced that it was time to get a brand new payback, one inspired by his California roots.
“For seven or eight years now the west coast has been trying to do music that appeals to the south and midwest...Left coast emcees were now trying to change their sound to cater to all the followers. We lost our way...We were all guilty of over reaching. No more. At least not from me.”
When Cube wrote those words, there was a feeling that I Am The West would be a strong leftist followup to 2008’s Raw Footage, a reflection of where The Don Mega is in 2010 and where west coast Hip Hop stands. Unfortunately, that’s not what always shines through on this new record, as Cube misses his mark.
Now, to be clear, Ice Cube has not “lost” his skills behind the mic. His voice is still blaring through the speakers with possibly as much confidence as the 1991 "No Vaseline"-era O'Shea Jackson. He’s still head and shoulders above various competitors, young and old alike. When he speaks on topics with a serious tone, he still delivers quite a punch. “Hood Robbin,’" for instance, is a round-house that connects with poverty in America, the loss of homes, political corruption and nightmare that can sometimes appear when chasing the American dream. In other ways, Cube proves that age no longer matters much in this culture with “No Country for Young Men.” He continues to succeed with the simple yet intentionally fierce flow on “Drink the Kool-Aid” . Other standouts include “Soul on Ice” “Too West Coast,” “Nothing Like L.A.” and the Jayo Felony, WC and Young Maylay assisted “Life in California.”
However, this album also has pitfalls that overshadow some of its successes. After claiming he wouldn’t be guilty of “overreaching,” he falters with the unimpressive “She Couldn’t Make It On Her Own,” which sounds like a feeble attempt at a Southern smash. “Y’all Know How I Am” follows suit, while “Fat Cat” continues this odd pattern with a Texas-inspired instrumental and flow to match. It makes one wonder if the broken promise of Dr. Dre beats affected this project’s outcome in a major way but more than that, it makes one ponder why these cuts landed on an album titled I Am the West.
Approaching 25 years in the game, Ice Cube remains a strong emcee who can still garner top-shelf anticipation for new releases. He continues to thrive on California-based material and he even expands his legacy by introducing OMG, his son, to the Rap world, on this album. However, there are a wealth of parts of the disc that terribly diminish its high points. It’s tough to listen to I Am the West at times, especially after reading his original statements about the album’s direction. It’s difficult not to be disappointed by these flaws after experiencing the N.W.A. alum's pre-album vigor. Nevertheless, Cube continues to stand tall on I Am the West as the veteran gun-slinger in the new west coast, who can still shoot with the best of them, even if he misses his mark.