We remember Ice Cube as the man who once said: “Black people want to be like white people, not realizing that white people want to be like black people. You need black men who are not looking up to the white man, who are not trying to be like the white man.” This mentality helped birth rap’s exaggerated-thug movement: black rappers indulging in brutally violent imagery in an attempt to embody white people’s distorted perception of black people. Cube’s new Raw Footage attempts to discourage those still holding this perception.
Seventeen years after Death Certificate, contemporary society is unlike what that album’s “Life Side” suggested. Cube has inevitably changed, and while his delivery is as fiery and poignant as ever, this is not his most incendiary work, as exemplified on “True to the Game” or “Black Korea.” However, Raw‘s “Gangsta Rap Made Me Do it” comes close: By taking responsibility for helping popularize thuggish behavior, Cube acknowledges why he’s now confronting a community that’s ruining its identity, while producer Maestro evokes a familiar West Coast vibe, using plinking piano progressions and uncomplicated 808 structures to support Cube’s urgent tone. This transitions into “It Takes a Nation,” an explicit nod to the rapper’s Bomb Squad glory days; producer Emile works similarly to Maestro, using loose, loud, and crackling synths alongside wide, lumbering drums. “Why Me,” a story of an accidental drive-by victim, also utilizes those same techniques (though it’s helmed by Hallway Production) and showcases Cube’s storytelling ability, giving the album yet another dimension.
The result is arguably his best work contextually since Death Certificate itself; the line “one generation from slums, happy for these little crumbs” is the central theme of both “Get Money, Spend Money, No Money” and Raw Footage as a whole. It voices Cube’s fears for a society that praises endemic style over substance, but still celebrates the triumphs of an OG returning to protect a legacy—both his and his culture’s.