The 19th installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums (read intro), comes from multi-instrumentalist/producer Cassettes Won’t Listen (aka Jason Drake), who is currently offering a free ’90s covers EP called One Alternative at his Web site. (See recent post.)
Death Certificate (Priority Records, 1991)
If I were stranded on a deserted island, hip hop would actually be the genre I’d love to be “stuck with”. I grew up listening to hip hop, and it’s always had a huge influence on my songwriting and production. Some of the first albums that come to mind when thinking of my all-time favorite are The Pharcyde’s Bizarre Ride II, Digable Planets’ Reachin’, Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique and Wu’s Enter The Wu-Tang. Although the latter is possibly my favorite (I’m a huge early Wu-Tang fan), I would have to take it back to my roots and go with Ice Cube’s Death Certificate.
I was born in LA and grew up around California until 1994, and so it was inevitable that G-funk and gangster rap would seep into my subconscious. Production is what got me into the genre, and when I first heard beats by Dr. Dre, The Bomb Squad, J-Swift, and Prince Paul, among others, I realized that this was the music I wanted to be a part of. I used to write rhymes and record them over instrumentals from 12″s that I would buy at the nearest thrift store for 25 cents. My lyrics would reflect the life I wished I were living: driving cars with hydraulics and daytons, selling drugs, making money, talking shit about other rappers and starting beef with everyone. Gangster rap was very prevalent in my early rhyme books. Honestly, my rap skills were sub par, and so I decided to gravitate towards what first sparked my love for hip hop: production.
So let’s get to Death Certificate.
Ice Cube, before all the family movies, was ridiculously ill back in the early ‘90s. You can’t really talk shit about someone who was spawned from one of the most influential rap groups in history and started his own successful solo career. Death Certificate, Ice Cube’s second solo album, was released in ’91, when I was 12 and in 7th grade. Back when people were laughing nervously in sex ed class, I was speculating what the “nappy dug out” was like and what Ice Cube meant by not using “vaseline”. My all-time favorite track from the album, entitled “My Summer Vacation”, was not only named after my favorite time of year, but it encapsulated everything I loved about the music with stories of gang life set to Parliament Funkadelic samples. It still sends shivers up my spine just thinking about it.
Ice Cube’s pissed off delivery has always been harsh — making the recent venture into PG-rated movies that much more surreal — and sits nicely with strong, hard-hitting production. Before I got into the playfulness of J-Swift and Prince Paul, there was The Bomb Squad, Death Certificate’s (and Dr. Dre’s cousin) Sir Jinx, Boogiemen, and Cube himself. I don’t think that The Bomb Squad made an appearance on the album, but all of these producers combined heavy-hitting drum hits and claps with classic funk and rock samples that complimented Ice Cube’s flow very well. This album would not have been possible without the heavy-weighted samples; I couldn’t imagine Ice Cube trying to ‘Steady Mob’ over Digable Planets “The Art of Easing”. The album would have tanked quickly.
The production acted as an anchor and compliment to Ice Cube’s storytelling of life and death. The well-balanced nature of beats vs. emcee is the reason I’d be more than happy to sit on an island with nothing but myself and a boombox. I may need to ask for suntan lotion, as well; I wouldn’t want to end up ‘Burnin’.
Ice Cube | My Summer Vacation