Death Certificate (album)

Death Certificate
Studio album by Ice Cube
Released October 29, 1991
Recorded 1991
Length 61:08
Label Priority/EMI
Ice Cube chronology
Kill at Will
Death Certificate
The Predator
Singles from Death Certificate
  1. "Steady Mobbin'"
    Released: August 9, 1991
  2. "True to the Game"
    Released: September 14, 1992

Death Certificate is the second studio album by American rapper Ice Cube, released on October 29, 1991 by Priority Records. Highly anticipated with over one million advanced orders,[1] the album was certified platinum in sales on December 20, 1991.[2]

Due to some of its racially and politically charged content, and Ice Cube's acerbic statements on drug dealing, racial profiling, and the right to keep and bear arms, Death Certificate was the source of much controversy upon its release. In 2003, Priority Records re-released Death Certificate with the bonus track "How to Survive in South Central", which originally appeared on the Boyz n the Hood soundtrack.


The recording and writing for Death Certificate began in early 1991, and carried on throughout most of the year. While making the album, Ice Cube was also heavily involved in several other projects, including Yo-Yo's debut album Make Way for the Motherlode, his younger cousin Del tha Funkee Homosapien's I Wish My Brother George Was Here, and perhaps more importantly, his film debut, Boyz n the Hood, which he co-starred with Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Laurence Fishburne. Similar to AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, Ice Cube was very active in the album's production, though the overall sound differed. Unlike AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, which featured The Bomb Squad's hard edged beats, Death Certificate featured a slightly more West Coast-oriented sound in comparison, with heavy use of 70's Funk and Soul samples. A number of the tracks also use samples taken from acts such as Zapp (Ohio) and Fishbone (California).


While making Death Certificate, Ice Cube was said to be affiliated with the Nation of Islam, which had a large impact on the majority of the album's content, although he has denied being part of the organization. Death Certificate was roughly organized as two thematic elements of a larger whole, and opens with Cube's explanation: "The Death Side: a mirror image of where we are today; The Life Side: a vision of where we need to go." The first half, therefore, is replete with the tales of drug dealing, whore-mongering and violence expected of a gangsta rap album in 1991.

The Death Side's "A Bird in the Hand" laments a young man's slide into a life of drug-dealing after finding that the best jobs available to him with little education and a jail record simply won't pay the bills.

Do I have to sell me a whole lot of crack
For decent shelter and clothes on my back?
Or should I just wait for help from Bush?
Or Jesse Jackson and Operation PUSH?

The Life Side's "Black Korea" threatens rioting and arson alongside Black entrepreneurship as a response to the preponderance of Korean grocery stores in ghettos across the United States. The track was seen as a response to the death of Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old African American girl who was shot to death by a Korean store owner on March 16, 1991 in an altercation over a bottle of orange juice. Since the release of the track preceded the Los Angeles Riots, in which many of the people targeted were of Korean descent, Ice Cube was accused of inciting racism by African Americans towards Asians.[3]

The track "Look Who's Burnin'" tells of the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases in low income neighborhoods, while "Alive on Arrival" tells the story of a young man caught in the crossfire of a gang shootout who slowly bleeds to death while in a hospital waiting room, being questioned by police. "Color Blind" preaches neutrality and brotherhood between gangs, such as the Bloods and Crips. Although Ice Cube's previous album avoided direct attacks on N.W.A, Death Certificate contained "True to the Game" and most notably "No Vaseline,"[4] which were diss tracks aimed at his former bandmates.

Unlike Ice Cube's other albums, Death Certificate was not released in a censored version. The tracks "Steady Mobbin'," "True To The Game," and "Givin' up the Nappy Dug Out," were, however, recorded with clean lyrics and released for airplay.


Professional ratings
Review scores
The Austin Chronicle[6]
Christgau's Consumer GuideC+[7]
Entertainment WeeklyA−[8]
Los Angeles Times[9]
Rolling Stone[12]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[13]
The Source4.5/5[15]

AllMusic calls Death Certificate "even harder and angrier than AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted... It continues the sharp insights and unflinching looks at contemporary urban lifestyles that his solo debut only hinted at; in short, it's hardcore without any gangsta posturing." They also call it "funkier, noisier, and more musically effective (than AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted)." Initially giving a four-and-a-half out of five "mic" rating,[15] The Source gave the album a five "mic" rating in a retrospective list of "5 Mic Hip-Hop Classics" with its 150th issue.[16] "His homophobia may be irksome," wrote Ted Kessler in Select, "but the shock value of these views has been blunted by lesser rappers. It's the sublime combination of '70s P-Funk and Ice Cube's excellent, taut delivery of rhymes calculated to jolt that pleases."[14] Spin wrote that it "integrates vitriolic politics with raw street knowledge" and "achieves an almost George Clinton-esque sense of celebratory freakiness".[17]

Death Certificate received a meager $18,000 promotion budget, and neither of its singles received much airplay, although the album's two singles, "Steady Mobbin'" and "True to the Game," received music video treatment.[18]



In 1992, as a result of the album's controversy, the state of Oregon declared any display of Ice Cube's image in retail stores throughout the state illegal. This ban also included advertisements for St. Ides Malt Liquor, which Ice Cube endorsed at the time.[26] In the September 2006 issue of FHM, Ice Cube stated in an interview that he did not regret the controversial statements made on the album.[27]

Due to fear that laws against racial incitement in the United Kingdom could see the album banned, the original United Kingdom release removed the tracks "Black Korea" and "No Vaseline". Island Records, the distributor of this version of the album, deleted these tracks with the consent of Priority Records, but not Ice Cube himself.[18] "We're very excited about Ice Cube," said Island MD Marc Marot, "but on a personal level I just could not take those two songs. I understand that self-censorship after the NWA case puts us in a strange position, but we're not going to support minority racism or antisemitism. We came to a compromise with Profile that was acceptable."[14] The tracks have since been reinstated on a CD reissue readily available in the UK.

Commercial performance

The album sold 105,000 copies in its first week and debuted on the Billboard 200 chart at number 2, and the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart at number 1, while it eventually went on to sell over 2 million copies in the US and sold over 5 million copies worldwide.[28][29] On September 4, 2015 Death Certificate went back on the Billboard 200 chart and ranked at number 99 with 14,000 sales in its week; also, Greatest Hits and AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted came back on the Billboard 200 in this week with Greatest Hits charting at #118 with 11,920 sales and AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted at #150 with 8,300 sales.[30]

Track listing

The Death Side
No. TitleProducer(s) Length
1. "The Funeral (Intro)"  Sir Jinx 1:37
2. "The Wrong Nigga to Fuck Wit"  Sir Jinx, Ice Cube 2:48
3. "My Summer Vacation"  Boogiemen, Ice Cube 3:56
4. "Steady Mobbin'"  Boogiemen, Ice Cube 4:10
5. "Robin Lench (Interlude)"  Boogiemen, Sir Jinx 1:13
6. "Givin' Up the Nappy Dug Out"  Boogiemen, Ice Cube 4:15
7. "Look Who's Burnin'"  Sir Jinx, Ice Cube 3:53
8. "A Bird in the Hand"  Boogiemen, Ice Cube 2:17
9. "Man's Best Friend"  Boogiemen, Ice Cube 2:06
10. "Alive on Arrival"  Boogiemen, Ice Cube 3:11
11. "Death" (featuring Khalid Abdul Muhammad)Ice Cube 1:03
The Life Side
No. TitleProducer(s) Length
12. "The Birth" (featuring Khalid Abdul Muhammad)Sir Jinx, Ice Cube 1:21
13. "I Wanna Kill Sam"  Sir Jinx, Ice Cube 3:22
14. "Horny Lil Devil"  Boogiemen, Ice Cube 3:42
15. "Black Korea"  Sir Jinx, Ice Cube 0:46
16. "True to the Game"  Sir Jinx, Ice Cube 4:10
17. "Color Blind" (featuring Deadly Threat, Kam, the Maad Circle, King Tee and J-Dee)Boogiemen, Ice Cube 4:29
18. "Doing Dumb Shit"  Boogiemen, Ice Cube 3:45
19. "Us"  Sir Jinx, Ice Cube 3:43
20. "No Vaseline"  Sir Jinx, Ice Cube 5:15
Total length:

Sample Credits

All credits taken from WhoSampled[31]

The Death Side The Life Side
"The Funeral" (Intro)
  • "The Nigga Ya Love to Hate" and "Better Off Dead", "Once Upon a Time in the Projects", and "Turn Off the Radio" by Ice Cube
"The Birth"
"The Wrong Nigga to Fuck Wit" "I Wanna Kill Sam"
"My Summer Vacation" "Horny Lil Devil"
"Steady Mobbin'" "Black Korea"
  • "2001" by The Cecil Holmes Soulful Sounds
  • 20 D Energizer from Do the Right Thing
"Givin' Up the Nappy Dug Out" "True to the Game"
"Look Who's Burnin'" "Color Blind"
"A Bird in the Hand"
  • "Chains and Things" by B.B. King
  • "Take Some...Leave Some" by James Brown
  • "Don't Change Your Love" by Five Stairsteps
  • "Bop Gun (Endangered Species)" by Parliament
  • "Big Bird Writes a Poem" by Big Bird
"Doing Dumb Shit"
"Man's Best Friend" "Us"
"Alive On Arrival" "No Vaseline"


  • Ice Cube - performer, producer, executive producer, mixing
  • Khalid Muhammad - performer
  • Deadly Threat - performer
  • Kam - performer
  • The Madd Circle - performer
  • King Tee - performer
  • J-Dee - performer
  • Sir Jinx - producer, mixing
  • Boogie Men - producer

  • Bob Morse - engineer, mixing
  • Frank Macek - engineer, mixing
  • Mr. Stoker (Andy Growcott) - engineer
  • DJ Pooh - mixing
  • Daryll Dobson - mixing
  • Bernie Grundman - mastering
  • Brian Gardner - mastering
  • Mario Castellanos - photography
  • Kevin Hosmann - art direction


Chart positions

Chart (1991) Peak
US Billboard 200 2
US Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums 1

Year-end charts

Chart (1992) Position
US Billboard 200 63
US Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums 25


Year Song Chart positions
Billboard Hot 100 Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks Hot Rap Singles
1991 "Steady Mobbin'" 1 30 3

See also


  1. Ice Cube dot org - Ice Cube Lyrics, Pictures and more - Part of the Rapbasement Network
  2. RIAA Searchable Database - Death Certificate. Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved on 2008-08-10.
  3. Pareles, Jon (December 13, 1992). "POP VIEW; Rap After the Riot: Smoldering Rage And No Apologies". The New York Times.
  4. Pareles, Jon (December 8, 1991). "POP VIEW; Should Ice Cube's Voice Be Chilled?". The New York Times.
  5. Jeffries, David. "Death Certificate – Ice Cube". AllMusic. Retrieved March 30, 2010.
  6. Coletti, Christopher (April 4, 2003). "AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, Death Certificate, The Predator, Lethal Injection". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved March 30, 2010.
  7. Christgau, Robert. "Ice Cube: Death Certificate". Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  8. Bernard, James (November 15, 1991). "Death Certificate". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved March 30, 2010.
  9. Hilburn, Robert (November 3, 1991). "A Crucial Message, a Crude Delivery From Ice Cube". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  10. "Ice Cube: AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted". Q (123): 154. December 1996.
  11. "Ice Cube". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on May 9, 2006. Retrieved April 1, 2010.
  12. Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian, eds. (2004). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 400–01. ISBN 0-743-20169-8.
  13. 1 2 3 Kessler, Ted (January 1992). "Ice Cube: Death Certificate". Select (19).
  14. 1 2 Reef (January 1992). "Ice Cube: Death Certificate". The Source (28): 85. Archived from the original on December 24, 2010. Retrieved December 24, 2010.
  15. Kazeem (August 4, 2010). "The Complete List Of 5 Mic Hip-Hop Classics". The Source. Archived from the original on December 24, 2010. Retrieved August 21, 2015.
  16. Spin (1/92, p. 72)
  17. 1 2 "Rock & Rap Archives: Number 94/January 1992". Retrieved June 8, 2007.
  22. 1 2 3 4 5
  23. Hip Hop Connection, July 1994
  24. Album Guide To Coke Rap Referenced 26 July 2010
  25. Ice Cube for St. Ides Malt Liquor - Commercials - SPIKE Powered By IFILM
  26. Ice Cube Quote/Unquote: September 2006
  27. "Ice Cube's Frozen Assets Chill Capitol's Expenditures - Los Angeles Times". 1991-11-17. Retrieved 2012-02-13.
  28. "SoundScan Album Sales 10/12/2005 - Home Recording forums". 2005-10-14. Retrieved 2012-02-13.
  29. "N.W.A Takes Over Charts, Gets First Top 40 Hit on Hot 100". Billboard.
  30. "Ice Cube on WhoSampled". WhoSampled. Retrieved 2015-10-02.


External links

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