POPSCREEN: Ice Cube

"Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It"--Dir. Alan Smithee

In the words of Gangstalicious from “The Boondocks,” Ice Cube “was so gangsta. I used to have dreams that Ice Cube would come to my house and kill my whole family.” It’s been disheartening to see the Ice Cube persona (if not the man himself) emasculated, sanitized, and dismantled over the last ten years in third-rate family films. After a decent comeback album in 2006, “Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It”—the lead single for O’Shea Jackson’s 2008 album “Raw Footage”—serves as a promise to hardcore headz that he is, in fact, true to the game. The sad thing is that the promise rings a bit hollow, as trite Storch-esque piano chords and a dearth of true street knowledge belie the gritty aspirations of the video.

Cube opens with the now-obligatory pre-music skit, this time set in a dystopian futuristic classroom in which the teacher is brainwashing kids about the evils of gangsta rap (“COMPTON WAS A NATURE PRESERVE FOR BUNNY RABBITS!”). The rest of the video (shot mostly in black and white) intersperses angry Cube on a black background with footage of controversial world news, from 9/11, to Dan Quayle stomping on a 2Pac album, to a protest of the Jena 6, to the 2004 Malice in the Palace sparked by Ron Artest. Think “What’s Going On” meets “Still D.R.E.”

One of the most admirable things about Ice Cube is that at his best, he never had to scramble or speed up his delivery in order to impress you. Instead, he slowed it down, enunciated every single word, and inserted terrifying post-rhyme silences that let you mull over the significance of his verses. This song finds him running this trick into the ground, as the audio equivalent of the gangsta stare becomes the stubborn old-man pause. If Cube and Chuck D were to get together again in 2008, the result would not be “Burn Hollywood Burn” or “Endangered Species” but “Darn You Youngsters and Your Silly Snap Dances and Video Games.”

“Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It” doesn’t come close to his thematically similar 1990 song “The Product,” but this song and its accompanying video are iconoclastic and ambitious enough to keep any longtime fan hopeful. The days of West Coast MC genius over Sir Jinx beats are long gone, but Cube is slowly getting rid of the fluff and getting back to his roots.

—J. Samuel Abbott