Bruce Lee once said simplicity is brilliance, and if that holds, Ice Cube is the embodiment of genius. He is a presence, an ordained messenger from the West who made some of the most powerful, politically charged music hip-hop has ever seen. Cube’s attitude allowed him to voice truths in a way that hit so much harder than other MCs. On “Hand Of The Dead Body,” Scarface might have the better verses, but Cube is more impactful because of how he calls out names and tells his peers to stop sucking the Devil’s dick. He is direct, but humorous; forceful, but not overbearing.
Earlier this week, Ice Cube announced that N.W.A. would be reuniting for a concert, and it got us to thinking – “Fuck, Cube had some crazy guest verses.” So without further ado, here’s a look at a more unexamined aspect of Cube’s career – his best guest appearances.
15. King Tee – “Played Like A Piano” (Feat. Ice Cube & Breeze) [Prod. By DJ Pooh] (1990)
Cube has always been a no-nonsense rapper. His rhymes are all blunt force with just a hint of finesse, so it’s no surprise Cube kicks off this verse with, “Do re mi, but I don’t sing mothafucka / I kick shit with the King, mothafucka.” This isn’t lyrical spiritual miracle shit – this is smack-you-in-your-mouth rap.
14. Kam – “Watts Riot” (Feat. Ice Cube) [Prod. by DJ Pooh] (1993)
These two were close at one point, as Kam was signed to Cube’s Street Knowledge label in exchange for lending Cube some serious street cred via Kam’s Nation Of Islam connection. Kam’s ’93 album Neva Again is a classic, and here Cube is a lot more animated than his colleague: “Fightin’ the police with my peers / with head and shoulders, and no more tears.” Though the two beefed briefly over egos, they later made up.
13. Willie D – “Play Witcha Mama” (Feat. Ice Cube) [Prod. by Grizz & Willie D] (1994)
This has to be one of the most lighthearted verses about killing people I’ve ever heard. Cube loves saying “ping” and occasionally breaks out into song while rapping, but what’s really on display here is how Cube toes the cautious line between militancy and mirth. He’s bubbly, but still shutting eyelids.
12. Too $hort – “Ain’t Nothin’ But A Word To Me” (Feat. Ice Cube) [Prod. By Sir Jinx] (1990)
This is as misogynistic as it gets, but it works for Cube – brash, unapologetic, and raw. Though the two MCs trade bars throughout the track, Cube spits a full 16 at the end, breaking down his approach to ladies. It’s far from gentlemanly, but his honesty at least gives us a stark portrayal of gender relations – “I say hi and I’m really kind of pitched / If they ignore me, then I say, ‘Freak bitch!’”
11. Yo-Yo – “What Can I Do?” (Feat. Ice Cube, Sir Jinx, & J-Dee) [Prod. by Ice Cube & Sir Jinx] (1991)
Ice Cube’s co-sign helped legitimize Yo-Yo as the West Coast Queen Latifah, but he also contributed this dope guest verse on her debut album. He starts by arguing with Yo-Yo before being given the floor to say off-the-wall shit like, “And if you’re pretty, acting shitty, it’s a pity / I’m a nigga from the city, I’ll hang you from your titty.” Sounds painful.
10. King Tee – “A Hoe B-4 Tha Homie” (Feat. Threat & Ice Cube) [Prod. by King Tee & DJ Pooh] (1993)
This reductive song is included for two reasons: first, because Cube uses the humor of a girl having a bigger dick than her man to insult him, and second, because he mentions Bruce Jenner in what is now an overly-dated reference.
9. Sister Souljah – “Killing Me Softly” (Deadly Code Of Silence) [Feat. Ice Cube] (Prod. by Street Element)
The internet must have wanted this song banned from existence, because this is the only place you can hear it on the world wide web. Perhaps it’s the incendiary material, as Cube concludes that Black Panthers need to start taking an eye for an eye. It’s also depressing how even 23 years ago, he was talking about the one-sided nature of “freedom of speech” in this country.
8. Anotha Level – “Level-N-Service” (Feat. Ice Cube) [Prod. by D’Maq & Laylow] (1994)
I remember seeing Django: Unchained, specifically the part where Jamie Foxx is about to have his dick cut off, and thinking how symbolic that act of cruelty is. Perhaps it’s why rappers talk about their cock ‘n balls so much, as a way of reclaiming the masculinity that the white race tried to literally take away. Hence, why Cube might have decided to dwell on his dillz and over enunciate “black erec-shun” on this verse.
7. W.C. and the M.A.A.D. Circle – “West Up” (Feat. Mack 10 & Ice Cube) [Prod. by Crazy Toones] (1995)
The West has always had a chip on their shoulder about not getting the respect of the East, but on “West Up!” Cube points out why he prefers it like that by using some of the signifiers of West Coast culture – “Now shit can be squashed over a 40 ounce of backwash / No jokes, the land of locs and hundred spokes.”
6. Erick Sermon – “The Ill Shit” (Feat. Ice Cube & Kam) [Prod. by Erick Sermon] (1993)
There’s a line in Cube’s verse where he says he’s “still got the deuce deuce / ‘cuz some niggas don’t believe in a gang truce.” That poignant rhyme gets at the cyclical nature of violence in oppressed communities. Forced into poor neighborhoods without many job opportunities, Cube’s peers can’t even trust each other in the face of The Man.
5. Kool G Rap & DJ Polo – “Two To The Head” (Feat. Ice Cube, Scarface & Bushwick Bill) [Prod. by Kool G Rap & Sir Jinx] (1992)
The East, West, and South come together on this maniacal classic as Cube displays his consistent affinity for onomatopoeia (“Pow pow, buck buck, pow buck”). What sticks out about this verse, though, is when Cube repeats words – “Walk, walk the plank, got the shank, hide the tape,” “Real quick, shank shank,” and his opening lines – “Buck ‘em down, buck ‘em down, come again.” The repetition gives his rhymes an added impact, as he isn’t quite as imaginative as ‘Face, Bill or G Rap.
4. Scarface – “Hand of the Dead Body” (Feat. Ice Cube & Devin The Dude) [Prod. by Uncle Eddie, Scarface, & N.O. Joe] (1994)
Any verse that calls out the Clintons and Calvin Butts gets a pass. Cube is virulent on this, and though ‘Face’s verse might be more poetic, you remember more of what Cube says after you hear the song. Even that Don Cornelius line has some history, as the host of Soul Train aligned with Tipper Gore in the urge for Parental Advisory stickers during the ’90s. No matter, though – Cube had been dissing Soul Train since his debut solo album.
3. 2Pac – “Last Wordz” (Feat. Ice Cube & Ice-T) [Prod. by Bobcat] (1993)
Cube sounds pissed on this, stabbing words into the beat to emphasize his anger – “The trigger, the zigga, tha zag / The nickel, the bag, the nigga, the sag.” Compared to that opening verse, Ice-T sounds damn near asleep.
2. “Get The Fist” (Feat. King Tee, Yo-Yo, MC Eiht, Cypress Hill, Da Lench Mob, Kam, Threat, Ice Cube & DJ Pooh) [Prod. by DJ Pooh] (1992)
“Get The Fist” was recorded by a coalition of West Coast rappers in response to the L.A. Riots in 1992. In the final verse, Cube gloats about cutting a cop’s throat, and though “cracker” was a common term in ‘90s raps songs, hearing Cube employ it to describe a police officer reminds us how scared today’s rappers are to really speak their minds.
1. Terminator X – “Sticka” (Feat. Chuck D, MC Lyte, Ice-T & Ice Cube) [Prod. by Chuck D & Terminator X] (1994)
Ice Cube’s verse here is kind of brilliant. Notice how he’s watching CNN and wishing he had a missile like Desert Storm. It might be a phallic reference, as he mentions watching the Playboy channel in the line before, but it brings to mind the debate about how much we spend on our defense budget versus how much more we need to spend in this country. Cube goes on to talk about the double standard of condemning 2 Live Crew while showing just as much ass in the Jane Fonda workout, as well as Elvis being a junkie and Cypress Hill needing their own stamp. Excellence.
Bonus: 1996 Freestyle
In ’96, producer Crazy Toones released a West Coast mixtape with freestyles and exclusives from W.C., E-40, Ice Cube, and others. Hear Cube rip the vintage Tom Tom Club sample above.