War & Peace Volume 2 (The Peace Disc)
It's been a long time since Ice Cube declared War. With the 1998 release of War & Peace Volume 1 (The War Disc), Cube promised its flip side, slated to be released a year later. It's been two years now, and a lot has changed: No Limit and Cash Money records have come from the South to hijack the hip-hop nation; Dr. Dre raised himself from the dead; even N.W.A is back in the studio. Through it all, Cube's clearly been paying attention, and the result -- War & Peace Volume 2 (The Peace Disc) -- manages to keep him relevant for now.
Producing a concept album like Peace has inherent difficulties. While War's funk was sinister and Cube's lyrics drew a violent landscape close to themes he'd already explored to the point of exhaustion, Peace might have proved a major imposition on Ice Cube's character if mishandled. (Picture him in a PM Dawn kimono rapping over an interpolated Gordon Lightfoot melody.) But with a few exceptions -- particularly the listenable but painfully mawkish "Until We Rich," a life's-lessons duet with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's Krayzie Bone -- the album avoids taking the listener on an uncomfortable sentimental journey and follows a different road with a simple, eloquent thesis: "Shake your ass till your curls fall out."
And Peace does work on a dance floor, thanks to extremely able production by Carl "Chucky" Thompson (who has worked with hit-ready artists such as Faith Evans, Sean "Puffy" Combs, and Mase) and guest producers like Dr. Dre (the excellent N.W.A reunion track, "Hell Low") and Combs ("Gotta Be Insanity," a rubbery disco track that stays in motion by shamelessly jacking Cameo's "Keep It Hot," almost in its entirety). Cube even sounds great in the latest fashions, injecting his ferocious bark into Southern bounce on tracks like "Can You Bounce" and "You Can Do It" (a track that could inherit the "Back That Azz Up" prize for Best Ass-Related Record).
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It's encouraging that Ice Cube put down his guard on record long enough to dance, and it makes Peace his most consistently enjoyable album in a long while. Naturally, if it's an Ice Cube party, there are going to be guns, and violence plays a role on Peace, as it has on all of Cube's records. But this isn't necessarily at odds with the record's title. Rather than tearing into anger, most of the tracks speak from a mature perspective ("Record Company Pimpin'") and the peace on the record is really an inner solace that has come with experience. On "24 Mo' Hours," when Ice Cube declares, "I don't wanna lose, all I wanna do is win/I fucked up today can I try it again?" it feels real; he just wants to make sure he will be around to get to the next party.