Saturday night I paid $65.00 USD to see Ice Cube. Actually, I wasn't really going to see him. Also performing at the show was the classic old school group Zapp who I have loved since I bought their first album in 1980 as an 18 year old. I owned all their albums and since it always seems like 90% of hip/hop, at least the so-called West Coast "gangsta rap" is Zapp (Roger Troutman), and Parliament-Funkadelic samples, I will always enjoy Zapp. E-40 was also performing. His music defines reactionary, but if I'm honest, when I was at my lowest point of self-sufficiency in Oregon in 2010, 2011, listening to his music reminded me of the Califonria/Bay Area, which reminded me that's where I came from, which reminded me how I've come through much more than what I was dealing with at that time. So, for that, I wanted to see him too, because hearing his music live was going to be some sort of therapeutic thumb in the face to my struggles seven/eight years ago. And, because of the reasons given above, I was ok through Zapp and E-40's performances so that by itself was worth the cost of the ticket.
What I want to talk about though was Ice Cube's performance. He was the headliner and he spent almost twice the time on stage than any of the other performers mentioned previously. Now, I listened to Ice Cube once he left NWA and went solo. At that time, he was being mentored by former Nation of Islam National Representative, New Black Panther Party founder - Khalid Abdul Muhammad. By the time Ice Cube released "Death Certificate" in 1991, I was happy to plop down my - whatever it cost - for that CD. His approach was angry and extremely anti-woman and patriarchal, but most of us, including the many African women engaged in my organizational life at that time, collectively decided to forgo criticism of his unforgivable anti-womanism because of the strong anti-white supremacy statements that were expressed in virtually every song on that album. I'm not excusing that decision. Its not anything I'm proud of, but up to that point, no one else had figured out a way to express the raw anger of inner city Africans than what Ice Cube articulated on that album. His analogy of a European (white) man kidnapping Africans in his car to the slave trade was genius. "My Summer Vacation" is the story of so many Africans locked up in this country's illegal prisons. "Man's Best Friend" is still poetic justice on African gun rights and "No Vaseline" remains one of the very best dis records in hip/hop history. And without question, the best portion of that record is the end when Ice Cube viciously assaults the late Eric "Eazy-E" Wright for meeting with the Republican National Committee as a fundraiser for the just departed George Bush Sr. "I'll never have dinner with the president, and when I see your @ss again I'll be hesitant!" Pure genius! I'm not mentioning any of those songs filled with patriarchal lyrics because quite honestly, I don't really know them. I skipped over them 100% of the time, but the ones I've mentioned, I played often. Never in front of my then young daughter and any other children in my presence because Cube's constant use of the n word was just not something we have done since the 1970s. Those political lyrics though. "A Bird in the hand (crack) is worth more than a bush (the president) to convey how Africans know they have better odds dealing drugs than trying to play the capitalist game...No matter what anyone says, that's genius. That's the core of what hip/hop is on all levels, despite its shortcomings. During those early 90s, Cube surpassed Public Enemy, KRS-1, and other "political" hip/hop voices in some ways because of his ability to capture that anger. His music wasn't about intellectually dissecting racist society. It was about sticking a 45 caliber pistol into uncle sam's mouth and squeezing the trigger and I loved it!
Even with all I've said about Ice Cube's music in the early 90s and its impact on me, I wasn't under any illusions before Saturday night. The Ice Cube of "Death Certificate" was a young man in his twenties. The Ice Cube of today is a middle aged man who has become the maga capitalist mogul who has distributed blockbuster movies like the "Friday" and "Barbershop" franchise series along with several even more mainstream movies in recent years like "Fist Fight". He's become a major mainstream capitalist star who can be seen in commercials and on ESPN breaking down NBA basketball games with uncle Shaq and Charles. Khalid Abdul Muhammad is a very distant memory for Ice Cube so I knew before Saturday that the chances of Cube performing anything produced during his "angry" years (1990 to 1994) were slim to none. And, my prediction was 100% accurate. The only song Cube performed that could even be suggested as political was his recently released anti-Trump song which of course he would sing, he just released it. The most basic business sense would require him to perform it everywhere he goes, but his short version of it along with his immediate disclaimer after that song of "I'm finished with political stuff...I just want to have fun!" clarified how a song calling for Trump to be arrested may seem radical to those who didn't hear Cube's albums in those early 90 years. Arresting the president pails in comparison to someone who rapped that "the white man puts us in prison for doing everything he does to us - robbery, murder, rape..." Instead, Cube's entire presentation Saturday night was titled heavily towards his "Westside Connection" west coast "gangsta" theme of the late 90s. Why? Because the "gangsta" stuff is safer for him with his current mainstream image. The question why anti-woman (one thing that has never changed in his music) and Africans killing each other lyrics are much more socially acceptable than rap commentary about racist police terrorism and oppression against African people is an entirely different conversation all to itself. I will say that African people have no collective value to this system. Never have and never will. Consequently, if you understand that, it shouldn't shock you in the least that us being dehumanized is entertainment in this backward capitalist world and any commentary challenging that narrative is about as valuable as a song calling for safe passage for every roach people see in their houses.
What I would like to ask everyone to consider is how it is you can claim this country has free speech and democracy when the only way you can become a big selling artist in this country is to tow the line and produce "art" that disparages our people and our culture? That disrespects our women and non-men? None of that is an indication to me of a society where the masses decide the direction of their lives (the definition of democracy) or have the ability to speak to the issues of the times.
The truth is the fact this is the reality is a reflection of the lack of political education in this society. There was no mass uprising Saturday night when his performance ended, missing all of his political material. People seemed quite pleased with "Put Yo Back Into it" and "Up in the Club" compared to "No Vaseline." Now, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that Ice Cube probably has some desire to perform some of those early 90s songs. I say that because I didn't miss his off the cuff comments several times Saturday night about how "they want to blame everything on us!" but until we demand that our culture be represented in ways that uphold our struggle for justice, that day where artists say what they want, and more importantly, what many of us want, is never going to happen.
Sekou Ture, in his classic work "Revolution, Culture, and Pan-Africanism" said that culture is the tool in which oppressed people arm themselves to battle colonialism. I'm an author who writes fiction books that are focused on Africa and our African liberation struggle. Books that present women as full human beings. Books that don't reduce our struggle to one of being anti-European, but clarify that our enemy is the capitalist system. So, based on the challenges I have getting my books out there, I understand why the Ice Cube of 2018/19 is not the Ice Cube of 1991. Everyone who reads them, confirms the quality of my literary fiction. Quality isn't the issue or the defining characteristic. In today's popular culture, that defining element is the products ability to sell and that ability is determined based on the lacking political consciousness of the masses of people. In other words, as long as the masses are willing to settle for nonsense than the entertainment industries will produce nothing except nonsense. Ice Cube's movies are all stacked with nonsense so he clearly has learned that lesson. To be successful, you have to appeal to the most base element of people's consciousness. People don't want to think, they want to laugh as if people are too simple to do both.
In recent history, we have the examples of the social upheavals of the late 1960s and the political hip/hop era of the late 80s, early 90s, to prove that the consciousness of the people dictates what the artists put out, not the other way around. In 1968, James Brown had to produce "Say It Loud! I'm Black and I'm Proud" because the masses of Africans demanded music making that sort of statement. That's what people wanted to hear and despite the fact it was reported that Brown refused to even say the "I'm Black and I'm Proud" part of the song (the children say that part), he was still a smart enough business man to know the record would advance his career. And LL Cool J was equally as aware in 1990 when he was booed from the stage of a show in his native New York because people felt his player lyrics were out of touch with the consciousness of the times. He said so himself. So, don't tell us the masses don't make history. The capitalist system works overtime to keep us confused. Or, maybe you believe it was a complete coincidence that the Isley Brothers recorded songs like "Harvest for the World, Fight the Power" and "The Pride" in the early 70s compared to "Between the Sheets" in 1984. The difference? The consciousness of the times. The activist focused early 70s compared to the me first/only 80s. My point is all of this is the result of what people want and demand, not the artistic focus of individual artists.
So, no, I didn't enjoy Ice Cube's performance. Not because I expected him to perform my songs. As I said, I knew he wouldn't so that's not what bothers me. What's irritating is how easy it is for the majority of us to accept such regular slaps in the face without the slightest flinch on our part.