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Album review: Ice Cube's 'I Am the West'

September 28, 2010 |  2:51 pm

ICE_CUBE_240At his most intense, Ice Cube penned ultra-violent and visceral vignettes about life in Southern California that reflected national concerns: racial tensions, gang warfare and internecine poverty.

But on his ninth album, the independently released “I Am the West,” he retreats to self-satisfied taunts about his legendary status, the enervated state of the Left Coast, and his rivals, both real and imaginary. As he puts it on “Too West Coast,” his “ego is as big as Heathrow.”

Lamentably, his trademark narratives are scarce. Only “Hood Robbin” finds Cube at his most poignant, weaving a highly contemporary tale of mortgage foreclosures and corporate chicanery. Too often, he lapses into banal boasts and gets repeatedly outshined by his contemporary, the perennially underrated W.C.

Despite early promises of beats from Dr. Dre and DJ Quik, Cube relies on largely anonymous producers, who lazily lean on ominous pianos and plodding drums. Of course, it’s impossible for one of the greatest rappers of all time not to occasionally connect. On “Life in California,” he makes gibes at Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind.” “No Country for Young Men” finds Cube bringing vintage political incorrectness, mocking Oprah, Tiger Woods, the Clippers and Kaiser Permanente.

Yet the coda of “Your Money or Your Life” provides the record’s most telling moment, when Cube recites a litany of conspicuously absent rappers he’s down with — including Dre, Snoop Dogg and almost every L.A. legend imaginable. Even the greatest can use a little help from their friends, and all too often this feels like how the West was one-dimensional.

— Jeff Weiss

Ice Cube
“I Am the West”
Lench Mob
Two and a half stars (Out of four)