ICE CUBE left N.W.A. in late 1989 over a royalty dispute, a fairly mundane conclusion to his tenure as the intellectual force and chief lyricist for the self-proclaimed “World’s Most Dangerous Group” after only one proper album. Cube’s lyrics for “fvck the Police” had triggered an F.B.I. response earlier that same year, but Cube was still living at home with his parents when Straight Outta Compton was rocketing toward platinum status. He was 20 years old, and he’d just turned down a $75,000 check because he didn’t trust Eazy-E and Jerry Heller, who ran the group’s label, Ruthless Records. Two years later, with the release of Death Certificate, he’d be the biggest and most controversial rapper in the world.
During the two years between Cube’s split in late 1989 and the release of Death Certificate, his sprawling, imperfect magnum opus in late 1991, rap music grew up in a hurry, experiencing its pop and punk moments simultaneously.
Crossover acts like L.L. Cool J, M.C. Hammer, Vanilla Ice, Kid ‘N Play, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, and Digital Underground took rap to the top of the charts and into the heart of suburban multiplexes, while southern California gangsta rap continued to proliferate in N.W.A.’s wake via Above the Law, Compton’s Most Wanted and Cypress Hill.
On the East Coast, Public Enemy’s Black Nationalist oratory and incisive media critiques, which inspired Straight Outta Compton, continued on 1990’s Fear of a Black Planet. The Geto Boys took their nightmarish vision of Houston’s Fifth Ward to the Hot 100 singles chart while Miami’s 2 Live Crew emerged as unlikely First Amendment pioneers, and regional rap scenes took shape around the country.