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Unmerciful and hella catchy, Westside Connection, featuring hip-hop superstar Ice Cube and protégés Mack 10 and WC, arrived on the scene near the end of the gangsta rap era in 1996, a last gasp of fresh air before the tired genre weezed in a hail of bullets. Bow Down, the group's only album, was a massive hit, going platinum. Its cool, lean production and couldn't-give-a-shit attitude conjured up a West Coast gangsta paradise of swaying palm trees, bootylicious hos and macked-out low riders.
For years, fans have been dying to hear something new from the trio. Aside from occasional singles, they've been starved, though a Westside Connection reunion -- as part of hip-hop station Power 92.3's annual Boo Bomb show in Phoenix on October 30 -- might quell those appetites for at least a little while. Of course, Ice Cube is a busy kingpin. The once incendiary hoodlum from N.W.A. has a movie career that has taken off beyond anyone's expectations. An actor, writer and director, Cube piles on film projects, such as the current hit comedy Barbershop, and has released just a pair of solo albums in the last nine years. Funny, too, because while Cube is unquestionably one of rap's greatest wordsmiths, composing some of its harshest sentences, his acting skills are merely average. Of course, Mack 10 and WC are still wondering when they'll get a cameo in one of Cube's films.
Not all has been left in the past, however. Recently, a bumpin' new Westside Connection single, "Connected for Life" from Mack 10's otherwise dismal 2001 album Bang or Ball, made its way into regular rotation on rap radio. Hung around a blues-guitar sample and a sweet-sounding chorus from crooner Butch Cassidy, "Connected for Life" is a knockout. Though Westside Connection reuses plenty of its old rhymes on the single, the tune jumps out of the speakers. Listeners will wiggle their butts, which is precisely the point.
And Westside Connection has another single on the way: The Christmas-themed "It's the Holidaze," will lead off the soundtrack to Ice Cube's upcoming film Friday After Next, according to Hollywood Records, which is releasing the soundtrack. Naturally, it's a ghetto Christmas tune -- no sugarplum fairies, snowmen or stuffed stockings. Instead, it's pimps, chicken walking and gats. The beats on this tune bounce, and Westside Connection serves up lines like, "It's Ice Cube/You can call me the Grinch/Got your Christmas list/But I ain't buying you shit."
The just-released WC record Ghetto Heisman, which boasts WC's best song to date, "The Streets," also features a new Westside Connection tune, "Walk." WC has mentioned in interviews that a new Westside Connection album is on the way, but maybe not anytime soon. The group is not officially working on a record, though it is playing several live dates.
So why does Westside Connection continue to be a big deal? What makes it different from a zillion other rap crews? Barring a reteaming of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg or the return of N.W.A. (both are talked about often), a full-blown Westside Connection record and tour could pump some life into the mainstream West Coast rap scene. The threesome has a short but perfect record, while the members' solo careers have occasionally stumbled.
"I think we have a magic chemistry," Mack 10 said in an interview with MTV.com. "There are certain groups that are just like that, like Dre and Snoop. Together, they're just the shit. Westside Connection, it's just magic when we're together. We're to the point where we don't even have to rehearse for shows. We know each other."
WC is a longtime friend of Cube's and has accompanied him on solo tours. While Cube is a big guy, WC towers over him in size. But even though "The Streets" is one of the hottest singles on radio right now, WC has never distinguished himself as a rhyme slinger. His style is bland and borrowed from Cube, though it's a fairly weak impression. Plus, he tends to be overshadowed by whomever is rapping on the same track. However, he is an integral part of Westside Connection and perhaps a better rapper when Cube, rather than he, comes up with a song concept.
In 1994, Ice Cube auditioned Mack 10 and was immediately struck by his talent. Cube hooked up his discovery with Priority Records, and Mack 10 began a remarkably successful solo career. With an awkward flow and too many words stuffed into each line, Mack 10 still somehow became a fixture on rap radio on the strength of catchy choruses and slick, cruising-with-the-top-down-style beats. A few of his hits, such as "Backyard Boogie" and "From the Streetz," actually started to sound pretty good after multiple listens and, even though it slipped commercially, 2000's The Paper Route showed improvement in Mack 10's rapping -- perhaps his marriage to TLC's sultry T-Boz inspired his creativity.
Westside Connection formed because, as the members have said, they wanted to celebrate their neighborhood. To white folks in Los Angeles, the "west side" usually means Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, but Westside Connection rapped about the west side south of Interstate 10 and west of South Central -- Inglewood and Crenshaw, with its famous cruising street, Crenshaw Boulevard. Westside Connection's west side is a prominently black, partly upscale but mostly downscale part of the city that bares no resemblance to Beverly Hills.
The group also helped fan the flames of the then-hot East Coast/West Coast rivalry on its spectacularly harsh "All the Critics in New York," which included jabs like, "Fuck your backpacks and your wack ass raps/Sayin' we ain't real because we make snaps/Selling 6-4 with a dab/What you looking at with your Brooklyn hat/And your pen and pad." And as if one monumental dis song wasn't enough for a record, they tore apart Ice Cube's former pals Cypress Hill on "King of the Hill." Cypress Hill responded, like hip-hop groups used to in the '80s, with a dis of their own called "Ice Cube Killa." The two groups have since patched things up.
At the height of Westside Connection's success, Warren Beatty's congressman character yelled "Westside!" in a scene in the political satire Bullworth. Undoubtedly, these "three-time felons," as they like to call themselves on record, are more formidable as a trio than they are alone. Nobody wants to contemplate a Chuck D without Flavor Flav. Outkast minus Big Boi or Dre would just be sad. Similarly, Westside Connection is the sum of its bad-ass parts.