Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted vs. Mos Def’s Black On Both Sides. Which Is Better?
One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?
“Finding The GOAT Album” will consider 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. You and your vote will decide which album goes forward, and which one leaves the conversation. While there will no doubt be conversation between family and friends (virtual and real), only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click.
Ice Cube and Mos Def both followed up making incredible group debut albums with pivots to iconic solo careers. Those first solo albums, in the case of AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted and Black On Both Sides defied genre in their accessibility and presentation. Both artists worked with talent beyond their immediate circle to make powerful commentary about the world at large, race, and music. These albums have vastly different textures, but both are keystones in 1990s Hip-Hop, even if at opposite book-ends of the decade. In the kind of battle that beckons revisits of each album, we ask you: which is better? (click one then click “vote”).
AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted by Ice Cube
Less than a year after abruptly exiting N.W.A., Ice Cube and Sir Jinx flew to New York City. No longer with Dr. Dre and DJ Yella, O’Shea Jackson reunited with his teenage musical partner (of group C.I.A.) and sought out the “louder than a bomb” sound of Eric “Vietnam” Sadler, and brothers Hank and Keith Shocklee. AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, the album that resulted, was a referendum on Cube’s place in “The world’s most dangerous group.” The MC bottled up his anger and frustration, sharpened his pen and his flow, and went to work on an album that shared no microphone time, no credit, and no royalties for rapping. In the last days of Hip-Hop’s free-wheelin’ sample style, The Bomb Squad, Sir Jinx, and Cube made an album that applied the MC’s world view to a sonic style that knew no region. “Once Upon A Time In The Projects” spoke to an experience in any-ghetto, USA. The title track employed a charged tempo as heard on Public Enemy’s albums, something too urgent and busy for the current L.A. sonic landscape. Despite his furrowed brow, Ice Cube was having apparent fun as an MC, and challenged his pen, his voice, and his breath control in the Priority Records build-out.
Although Cube’s forthcoming albums would be more stylized, AmeriKKKa’s Most bridged the gap. The LP expanded upon the substance of the South Central, L.A. MC’s raps heard in the group. “The Nigga Ya Love To Hate” may have been overblown with his group, but the control afforded Ice Cube the ability to keep the tone serious, without any pageantry. “Endangered Species” raised the stakes, showing how Ice and Chuck D were in solidarity, despite their distinct approaches to calling for justice. For an artist that may have felt other in the conversation of top MCs, this album was a stat-sheet of Cube’s strengths and abilities. As he entered Hollywood, the rapper could still be cinematic and entertaining. The leader of Da Lench Mob lit a Molotov Cocktail of sex, violence, and reality with hard truth and palpable angst. AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted signaled Cube’s ascent to the top, and led a solo craze in Hip-Hop much akin to Rock & Roll in the 1970s. Artists tested their legacy, their market value, and their creative freedom because Ice Cube made it look so damn easy—even if it clearly was not.
Album Number: 1 (solo)
Released: May 16, 1990
Label: Priority Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #19 (certified gold, August 1990; certified platinum, September 1990)
Song Guests: Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Yo-Yo, Lil’ Russ, Keith Shocklee, Da Lench Mob, Ricky Harris, Al Hayes, Vincent Henry, Brian Holt, Tim Rollins, Shannon, Chilly Chill, Dan Wood
Song Producers: (self), The Bomb Squad (Hank Shocklee, Keith Shocklee, Eric “Vietnam” Sadler & Chuck D), Sir Jinx, Da Lench Mob
Black On Both Sides by Mos Def
Just over one year after Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, Mos Def (now known as Yasiin Bey) stepped forth with his solo debut. Black On Both Sides showcased Dante Smith the MC, the poet, the musician, and the singer. Notably, mighty Mos was fine staying the course in making an album that largely dealt with the state of Hip-Hop. Out of that personal vantage point, so more was said, from Mos’ inner-voice of inspiration (“UMI Says”), his urgency to transmit rhymes (“Hip Hop”), and the impending white-washing of yet another form of Black expression (“Rock N Roll”). As Jay Z, Nas, and Snoop Dogg were making super-albums filled with pointed guests and producers, B.O.B.S. opened Mos’ circle to Busta Rhymes, Q-Tip, DJ Premier, and Diamond D. It felt like an album, conceptually and in sequence, that the MC had been dreaming to make for 25 years (and he contributed musically to nearly every track). The sincerity, and range yielded crossover singles to a world not wearing Rawkus hoodies or buying 12″ wax.
Mos Def reminded an especially-segmented music culture that Hip-Hop was all things. He made Jazz, Soul, instrumental grooves, and Rock & Roll on an album that’s ceremony was always mastered by a B-Boy. Like Kanye West would do five years later, Mos Def was a sharp reminder that being yourself and creating courageously could still be rewarded in a music industry that was bulldozing its own middle-class. In step with Eminem, Mos proved that the oft-ignored independent scene could—and was producing Rap’s next stars. As Hip-Hop was changing, Brooklyn was changing, and the music industry was changing, the Black Star member was documenting it all—in one of the most sprawling 70 minute albums that arguably never wasted an instant. Mos Def had messages of love, lust, and environmental survival. Along the way, he was not above calling out white appropriation, lazy MCs, or his own label splits. As much as Illmatic, or Ready To Die, Mos Def—who had already participated extensively in a full-length album–made an example of an idyllic debut album, that fully presented an artist, his wide reach, and his skillful ability. Black On Both Sides seemingly reached all sides of the Hip-Hop universe, and delivered Rap music a star that has lasted more than 15 years since.
Album Number: 1 (solo)
Released: October 12, 1999
Label: Rawkus/Priority Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #25 (certified gold, February 2000)
Song Guests: Q-Tip, Busta Rhymes, Talib Kweli, Vinia Mojica, DJ Etch-A-Sketch, will.i.am, Johnny Why, Weldon Irvine
Song Producers: (self), DJ Premier, Diamond D, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Psycho Les, 88-Keys, Ayatollah, D-Prosper, Ge-ology, David Kennedy, Weldon Irvine, DJ Etch-A-Sketch
So what’s the better album? Make sure you vote above.