While his 2008 effort Raw Footage brought aggression and bitterness, I Am the West leans back a bit, assured in its status and wisdom, showing hip-hop how to grow old both gracefully and gangsta. Ice Cube's first album since turning 40 masterfully lays it all out on key track "No Country for Young Men." This witty, rapid-fire damnation of the ringtone rapper generation and their foolishness declares them "bitches" with "Rappers go to jail like Oprah go to Gayle/Stedman's policy: Don't ask don't tell," along with a laugh-out-loud Redd Foxx line that shouldn't be spoiled. Making the case that his generation fought the power while the 2010 crew was just fighting itself happens elsewhere, and when you combine this with the "we've got a bigger problem now" attitude of "Hood Robbin'" -- high-tech and high-finance corporations are widening the gap between the classes -- and the sage advice of "Your Money or Your Life" -- "This world, so trife/Your money or your life/Keep your kids, keep your wife/Your money or your life" -- you've got a layered argument against misdirected priorities and their devastating consequences. Cube suggests there are more choices than burning out and fading away when he dedicates a song to his wife of 21 years and explains how she's enriched his life on "Nothing Like L.A.," but the real proof is in all the vital yet lighter cuts that keep the message-filled album from being ponderous. Flashy production drives the infectious "She Couldn't Make It on Her Own," featuring fine contributions from Cube's sons Doughboy and OMG, while big daddy himself has put an entertaining, Kool Keith-like spin on his punch lines this time out, dropping odd stingers like "Internationally known/You about to smell my cologne" ("Soul on Ice") and "You about as lethal as a mojito/Be my amigo, eat my burrito" ("Too West Coast"). Add the usual Keith David narrations and the hard-hitting, full-bodied production the West Coast favors and the album is anchored by tradition, becoming an unassailable cocktail of talent, experience, and growth. Most won't have the skills to follow his playbook, either on or off the field, but Cube's utterly unique I Am the West shows the younger generation how to cross 40 while retaining their freedom and baller status. Middle age hip-hop is born here, and if the game follows his lead, it will be one monster of a genre. ~ David Jeffries
Mojo (Publisher) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "Twelve different producers mix styles vintage and modern....Here's proof that this veteran MC still has things to say."