Before he released Death Certificate, Ice Cube was a member of the groundbreaking N.W.A. In 1989, he split from the group over creative differences and went on to release his first solo album, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, in 1990. With AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, Ice Cube established himself as a major force in the world of Hip Hop. The album was critically acclaimed and commercially successful, and it showcased Ice Cube’s talents as a rapper and a social commentator.
But it was with Death Certificate that Ice Cube really came into his own as an artist. The album was released in 1991, and it’s widely regarded as one of the greatest Hip Hop albums of all time. It’s a powerful and uncompromising work that addresses a wide range of social and political issues, and it cemented Ice Cube’s status as one of the most important figures in the history of Hip Hop.
Death Certificate is divided into two parts: “The Death Side” and “The Life Side”. The “Death Side” is a grim depiction of the reality of life in the inner city. Ice Cube addresses issues such as police brutality, gang violence, and poverty. He also takes aim at politicians, calling out their hypocrisy and ineffectiveness in addressing the needs of the Black community.
The intro track, “The Funeral”, sets the tone for the album. It is a funeral march that mourns the loss of Black lives due to police brutality and gang violence. The track is a call to action for listeners to wake up and take action against the systemic issues that are causing these deaths, it serves as a warning to that same system, because of its lead-up to the album’s hard-hitting first song, “The Wrong N**** to F*** Wit”.
Another notable track on “The Death Side” is “Steady Mobbin'” which was released as a single and is one of Ice Cube’s most recognizable songs, highlighting Ice Cube’s skill as a rapper and his ability to embody the energy and spirit of the gangsta rap movement as no other. “Alive on Arrival”, closes out “The Death Side”, a powerful song that sheds light on the realities of healthcare disparities and how Black individuals in disadvantaged communities are often mistreated and neglected in hospitals.
The “Life Side” of the album is a celebration of Black culture and pride. Ice Cube takes a more positive approach, addressing issues such as love, family, and community. The songs on this side of the album provide a contrast to the more negative themes of the “Death Side”.
A standout on this side is the all-star posse cut “Color Blind”, a powerful commentary on the dangers of gang violence, with the title alluding to the colors used to represent different gangs. Other highlights include “True to the Game”, in which Ice Cube comes at those who prioritize following fads and trends over staying true to themselves, a powerful call to action for listeners to embrace their individuality and resist societal pressure to conform; and “Us”, which tackles issues such as gang violence, drug dealing, materialism, and jealousy, with Ice Cube highlighting the ways in which these factors contribute to the community’s struggles.
“No Vaseline” is the last and one of the most famous tracks on the album, a scathing and also hilarious diss track directed at former N.W.A. bandmates, Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, and MC Ren. The song was a response to the disses on tracks that they had released about Ice Cube after he left the group. “No Vaseline” accuses them of stealing his lyrics and profiting off of his talent, while also mocking their music and their personal lives.
Death Certificate is a powerful and influential album that tackles important issues that are still relevant today. Ice Cube’s lyrics are unapologetic and confrontational, calling out the injustices faced by the Black community and demanding change. Ice Cube’s music gave voice to those who were feeling unheard and provided a platform for the issues that were affecting their lives. The album’s themes of police brutality, systemic racism, and the struggles of Black people in America are still prevalent today, and the album’s messages continue to resonate with listeners.
Another reason why the album has endured is because of its impact on the Hip Hop genre. Death Certificate is rightfully considered one of the most important albums in the history of Hip Hop, and its influence can be seen in the work of countless artists who have followed in Ice Cube’s footsteps. The album’s raw and uncompromising style has inspired generations of rappers to use their music as a means of social commentary and political activism. With its blend of hardcore gangsta rap and socially conscious commentary, this album is a true masterpiece.