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Ice Cube and “It Was A Good Day”

Ice Cube

Ice Cube, born O’Shea Jackson, was one of the first members of N.W.A. and is known as a highly controversial figure due to his extensive politically fueled and profane raps. In 1989, he parted from the group after managerial disputes and went on to pursue an independent career [1]. In 1992, he released the single “It Was A Good Day” which departs from his usual aggressive style. He recorded the track while living in Los Angeles during the 1992 Los Angeles riots and released the song and music video shortly after. The LA riots began after the acquittal of four LAPD Officers charged with brutally beating Rodney King, an African American motorist. Anti-police protestors took to the streets in what became the largest period of civil unrest in American history [2]. Given the context surrounding its release, “It Was A Good Day” projects a sense of hope for the black community, but Ice Cube is only able to do this by entering into a fictional realm.

 

Ice Cube’s “It Was A Good Day” music video [3].

 

A ‘good day’?

Ice Cube uses various musical and visual symbols to hint that the ‘good day’ he describes is far from reality. In the music video, the sampled backbeat from the Isley Brothers’ “Footsteps in the Dark” begins as a little girl opens the gate to enter her house. The placement of the sample over the action of opening a gate suggests that when the song begins, we exit from reality and enter a fictional world. It becomes clearer at the end of the video that this ‘good day’ is unattainable. The last line of the song — “Hey wait, wait a minute Pooh. Stop this shit. What the fuck I’m thinking about? — suggests that Ice Cube’s narrative of a ‘good day’ is in fact “shit” and he questions why he is thinking of such an unattainable world. The last line in the song is cut out of the music video. Instead, the video visually conveys how this ‘good day’ is fictional. Ice Cube arrives home after his ‘good day’ and steps out of his car. As he walks toward his house, the sounds of helicopters, sirens, and guns emerge, as police cars and officers arrive in his driveway and surround him. The chaos invoked by the sounds and images on screen is a clear shift away from the fairly simple musical texture and slow cuts throughout most of the video. The shift represents reality prevailing. As Michael Odell writes in a 2005 article for Blender, “the song’s mellow mood, just like any peaceful interlude in the ‘hood,’ cannot last forever” [4]. The abundance of police officers that surround Ice Cube could also be referencing the criticism that the four police officers who beat and arrested Rodney King used excessive force. The song ends after Ice Cube slams the gate of his house behind him, alluding to the opening of the gate at the beginning of the video.

In this fictional ‘good day,’ the theoretical attainability of the events that take place, along with the easy going rhythm of the song, project a sense of realistic hope. Ice Cube doesn’t rap about a completely fantastical, utopian world. Instead, his ‘good day’ entails eating the breakfast his mother makes, playing basketball with his friends, and hanging out with the girl he likes. Further, he raps about the challenges of life in the hood, but notes how on this ‘good day,’ they aren’t a problem. For example, in the second verse, he raps, “Saw the police and they rolled right past me” and “Nobody I know got killed in South Central LA.” He didn’t “even have to use [his] A.K.” The easygoing vibe of the song reinforces this sense of hope. The song’s backbeat is an instrumental sample from the Isley Brothers’ “Footsteps in the Dark.” The slow, groovy beat evokes a laid-back and relatively peaceful mood, mirroring what it is like to have a ‘good day.’

The fictional world in “It Was A Good Day” creates a space for Ice Cube to explore his own agency. A visual trope that conveys this idea is the repeating shot of Ice Cube driving around South Central Los Angeles in his 1964 bright green Chevrolet Impala. As described briefly in the introduction, the highway system helped to physically cut off neighborhoods, like South Central Los Angeles, from other more prosperous parts of the city. Given this context, various scholars have examined how hip hop artists use cars in their music videos to project ideas of mobility and freedom. For example, scholar Robert Farris Thompson argues that with its promise of freedom and mobility, “automotive flash” is a symbol of “black quest” [5]. In this case, Ice Cube’s bright green lowrider becomes a symbol of him taking ownership of the space and searching for a better, or ‘good’ day.

Ice Cube’s fictional world also creates a space for him to dictate his own narrative. Scenes in the music video depict events that take place during Ice Cube’s ‘good day.’ Dispersed between these clips are shots of Ice Cube rapping in a dimly-lit room, wearing black clothing, black gloves, and black sunglasses. Inserting these shots places emphasis on the fact that Ice Cube is narrating this story and consequently exerting control. But as the fictional world shifts back to reality at the end of the video, the narrator shifts, too. After arriving home, Ice Cube steps out of his car and the video cuts to a wide shot of him walking toward his house. In this shot, the camera is positioned behind tree branches, giving the illusion of an outsider looking in. The final shot in the video pans out from the house and again hides behind the dark branches. The framing of these shots suggest that with a return back to reality, a new narrator has taken Ice Cube’s place. Ice Cube has lost control. He is surrounded by the police, physically trapped, and voiceless. The ominous narrator could be representative of the people and forces that have controlled and unfairly dictated the fate of black communities. In the aftermath of the turbulent and violent Rodney King riots, Ice Cube’s fictional ‘good day’ extends hopefulness for a time when black communities can take back their voice and dictate their own narrative.

 

 

 

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[1] Erlewine, Stephen, “Ice Cube: Biography,” allmusic.com. Accessed Dec. 6, 2018.

[2] Felker-Kantor, Max, “The 1992 Los Angeles Rebellion: ‘No Justice, No Peace,’” osu.edu. May, 2017.

[3] IceCubeVEVO. “Ice Cube – It Was A Good Day (Official Video)”. YouTube video, 5:12. Posted Feb, 2009. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4UqMyldS7Q

[4] Odell, Michael, “The Greatest Songs Ever! It Was a Good Day,” Blender. April, 2005.

[5] Kajikawa, Loren, “‘Let Me Ride’: Gangsta Rap’s Drive into the Popular Mainstream.” Sounding Race in Rap Songs, University of California Press, p. 85-117. 2015.

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