the first annual karen sisco award
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random friday, 2008 edition: ice cube, “gangsta rap made me do it”

Gangsta rap emerged in 1986. Ice-T seems to get the nod as the first, with “Six in the Morning,” although he credits Schoolly D’s “P.S.K.”, and Boogie Down Productions is in there as well. One could argue that Hustler’s Convention is the first gangsta rap record, and the point is well-taken, but I’d place that in the Roots of Rap category. Whoever went first is less important here than the year it happened, ‘86.

Here we’re talking about 2008, and what do you do when you’re a gangsta rapper 22 years after it got started? Many of them move on … Ice-T plays a cop on television, and Snoop Dogg is so beloved that companies happily use him in ad campaigns and he makes guest appearances on shows like Weeds and The L Word. Ice Cube has built a solid acting career, and while some of his work reflects his gangsta rap background (he is very good in Boyz n the Hood), he has stretched out (great in Three Kings, the guiding light behind the popular “Friday” and “Barbershop” franchises). He has even made a few family films … Are We There Yet? spawned a sequel and a television series.

But Ice Cube was also a key member of N.W.A, whose hugely popular 1988 album Straight Outta Compton included the immortal “Fuck tha Police.” As a solo artist, Ice Cube was responsible for “Black Korea” (“we’ll burn your store right down to a crisp, and then we’ll see ya, ‘cause you can’t turn the ghetto into black Korea”). He also gave us the perfect “It Was a Good Day” … he’s not a one-trick pony by any means.

Still, it would seem to be difficult to maintain one’s status in the gangsta world while simultaneously making family movies and TV shows. Ice Cube pulls it off as well as anyone, though. Which leads us to “Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It.”

The music is slow, spare, repetitive and insinuating. At first, Ice Cube is describing the positive power he gets from his music … “It’s about my persona, ain’t nothing like a man that can do what he wanna.” And when the chorus kicks in for the first time, this point is emphasized: “I can say what I wanna say, ain’t nothin’ to it, gangsta rap made me do it.” But then things take a different turn … “I can act like an animal … eat you like a cannibal.”

The subsequent verse returns to the more positive side of gangsta rap’s power, and danger. “Lyrically I’m so lethal,” he declares, “plant thoughts in they mind, just to defeat you.” And for those who think Ice Cube has mellowed, there’s this: “I keep it gangsta, and why should I change that? Fuck you, all you motherfuckers tryin’ to change rap.”

The wonderfully inflammatory video isn’t as subtle as the song itself, believe it or not:

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