Not every hip hop game-changer follows the hackneyed rhyme-fast-and-leave-a-good-looking corpse route to rap immortality. Survive into middle age and suddenly losing cutting edge relevance is the chief pitfall to circumnavigate, as gangsta rap pioneer Ice Cube discovers on this infuriatingly incoherent California-repping set.
From angriest screwface in Compton trailblazers N.W.A. to Hollywood actor, the man born O'Shea Jackson has undergone an intriguing transformation. Now aged 41, I Am the West is quite a statement. In the main, unfortunately, that cocksure claim isn't backed with requisite originality to suggest Ice Cube genuinely does support an entire side of America on his shoulders in 2010.
There are moments of vitality, sure, notably when hip hop's east/west coast wars are briefly re-ignited as Life in California takes New York's king of grown-man rap to task. "If Jay-Z can rap about the NYC / Why can't I talk about the s*** I see? / Without Alicia Keys / Without going RnB / This ain't Motown / This is R-A-P," Ice rails in its fiery opening exchanges. Nothing Like L.A. makes a barbed point too, knowingly intoning "You don't go Hollywood / When you from Hollywood".
She Couldn't Make it on Her Own, meanwhile, is the album's pinnacle by some distance, mixing addictively repetitious, slurring motifs with pinches of crunk minimalism. That it near enough wholesale jumps on Texan duo UGK's southern rap bandwagon, though, is a measure of the shortcomings here.
Too West Coast epitomises the wide-of-the-mark misses, somewhat ironically employing a hook delivered with twang dangerously over-indebted to west coast big gun Snoop Dogg. And sub-genre-jumping stylistic inconsistencies mar the clutch of aforementioned tracks that, in isolation, show Ice Cube hasn't forgotten how to effectively channel his simmering ire.
Where N.W.A. shaped the standard for no-nonsense depictions of inner-city life, making Ice Cube's name in the process, he's no longer at the vanguard of hip hop's evolution. The cruel might even argue he hasn't unleashed an essential album since the early 1990s. While the leader has become absorbed by the pack, however, at least I Am the West doesn't go down without a mouthy fight.