Song: "When Will They Shoot"
Album: The Predator
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Throughout the history of the hip-hop genre, it has been claimed that the "true" emcees were much like reporters, telling the world at-large what was going on in their particular part of the universe. From tales of struggling to get by to the many reasons why their town was the best in the world, such "reports" were the center-point of most of the biggest songs of the so-called "Golden Age" of hip-hop. While in these earlier days, the stories were just as vivid and often just as provocative, as the 1990's began, a new attitude and aggression became the standard for the genre. Largely the byproduct of groups like Public Enemy and N.W.A., in many ways, the world as a whole was not ready for such sounds, and many average people began to take very ignorant and conservative stances towards the records being released. It seemed that as the urban cultures grew more tense, so did the hip-hop records, and in the summer of 1992, both reached a boiling point. In the aftermath of the Los Angeles Riots, nearly every musician from every genre was finding some way to relate their music to these events, yet few brought as clear and blunt a picture as those found within hip-hop. Among these emcees that truly served as the role of reporter, there was one man who stood as their leader, rallying against "the powers that be" and releasing one of the most confrontational albums in history. Standing as the finest song on that album, there are few songs that are as searing, aggressive, and outright crushing as one finds in Ice Cube's 1992 single, "When Will They Shoot."
Preceding Dr. Dre's legendary The Chronic record by more than a month, Ice Cube's The Predator remains one of the greatest albums ever recorded, and it is largely due to the pulverizing beats and sounds that are present throughout. On "When Will They Shoot?," the trio of DJ Pooh, Bob Cat, and Ice Cube spin together one of the greatest musical pieces in hip-hop history, and it all revolves around a sample of the claps from Queen's "We Will Rock You." This loop takes on a far more forceful and robust tone, and it highlights the overly aggressive nature of the song. However, this is not the only sample used, and it is quite impressive how the production team mixed together pieces from Bob James, Slick Rick, Delegation, and even one of Ice Cube's previous tracks. The result is a head-bopping, fist-pumping anthem that is unlike anything else in hip-hop history, and it is one of the greatest lead tracks on any album ever released in any genre. One of the most discernible pieces is the repeated hook of "...stalkin', walkin' in my big black boots..." and this furthers the unnerving mood put forth by the wall of sound, and in many ways, this served as a middle-ground between the sonic mayhem of Public Enemy, and the smoother, more delicate sounds of Dre's "G-funk." Regardless of what was behind it, one cannot deny the massive power and sense of rebellion that lies within the musical backing on "When Will They Shoot?"
Working in fantastic contrast to the almost chaotic sounds, the heavy, yet clear rhyming style of Ice Cube found here is so full of raw emotion that it becomes almost unsettling. The way in which Ice Cube is able to keep a measured rapping sound whilst delivering these inflammatory rhymes. It is this ability to ensure that his message is never muddled or lost while at the same time bringing an unprecedented power and presence that makes Ice Cube one of the most highly respected emcees in history. Though he had made his name as one not afraid to speak his mind whilst in the ranks of N.W.A., on "When Will They Shoot?," Ice Cube absolutely lets loose and his rhymes stand today as some of the most brilliant and unrelenting words ever recorded. Leaving nobody safe from his pen, he takes shots at everything, from the way in which the government "deals" with poor neighborhoods to police brutality, to black on black crime. Giving each subject an equal verbal shellacking, he drops one of his most controversial and unapologetic lines when he rhymes, "...'cause to us Uncle Sam is Hitler without an oven..." Ice Cube pushes things even further, when he implies that a non-violent solution would not work with the lines, "...now if I say no violence, devil, you won't respect mine..." There is not a moment where Ice Cube relents even the slightest bit, and it is his forceful, pulverizing rhymes that make "When Will They Shoot?" a true hip-hop classic.
Placing the superb music and crushing lyrics to the side momentarily, there is one other aspect of "When Will They Shoot?" that makes the song a clear cornerstone of the hip-hop genre. Giving a nod to what has become an almost annoyingly cliché "shout-out" within the hip-hop world, in the second verse, Ice Cube quotes the movie Scarface with the lines, "I...I...I bury those cockroaches..." In many ways, this moment can be seen as the final piece that ushered in the full-blown "gangsta rap" era, and every aspect of "When Will They Shoot?" remains a blueprint of how the genre should be done even nearly twenty years after its first release. In many ways, "When Will They Shoot?" also sets the perfect tone for the overall mood found on The Predator, as the sense of dire urgency and unbridled frustration overflows on the track at every turn. Teaming up on the musically assault with DJ Pooh and Bob Cat, the combination of so many different songs creates a strangely stable musical chaos that reflects this delicate tension even more, and there have been few songs that have ever equaled this impressive balance. Yet at no time anywhere on "When Will They Shoot?" does the focus move from the rhymes of Ice Cube. Clobbering the listener with every line, he drops a huge list of names of other hip-hop groups, political figures, and athletes, and this in many ways can be seen as the beginning of the modern hip-hop style. Though often overshadowed by the two hit singles that came from his 1992 album, The Predator, there are few songs from anywhere in hip-hop history that come even remotely close to the power and message found in Ice Cube's masterpiece, "When Will They Shoot?"