Ice Cube's Death Certificate Turns 20: The True Story Behind "My Summer Vacation"
This week Ice Cube's Death Certificate celebrates its 20th anniversary. The album -- which we ranked number seven on our list of the top 20 greatest L.A. rap albums of all time -- is politically bombastic in a way hip-hop albums no longer are. Taking specific aim at the police, the government, Korean grocery store owners, white men lusting for black women, and countless other targets, it's startlingly apolitically-correct. Hearing it nowadays in an era where no one wants to offend anyone is pleasantly jarring.
One of work's best tracks, "My Summer Vacation," however, concerns itself not with politics. Instead, it spins a great yarn about L.A. drug dealers who -- in an effort to escape police scrutiny and increase their profits -- head to St. Louis one summer to ply their trade. It turns out that the song has a basis in real life.
In L.A. everybody and they momma sell dope
They tryin' to stop it
So what the fuck can I do to make a profit?
Catch a flight to St. Louis
Back in 2005, while working as a staff writer at LA Weekly's sister paper Riverfront Times in St. Louis, I investigated the background of the song.
It turns out that though Cube most likely didn't experience the described events himself, he got the tale directly from a pair of Da Lench Mob members, Shorty and J-Dee. According to St. Louisans I talked to, their story indeed checks out. In fact, in the mid-'80s it was quite common for L.A. gang members to descend upon landlocked locales around the country and attempt to set up shop. Along with their dope, they also brought their slang, their gang signs, and even their drive-by shootings. Suddenly, folks were repping spots like Inglewood with which they were likely previously unfamiliar.
Some of them are even lookin up to us
Wearing our colors and talkin that gang fuss
Giving up much love
Dyin' for a street, that they ain't even heard of
Previously innocuous colors took on a whole new significance. The owner of a barber college on the city's north side told me that students wouldn't wear their red smocks outside, for fear they would be taken the wrong way.
But the fortunes of the carpetbaggers were short-lived. After all, St. Louis had its own gangs already, and they soon came charging back in an attempt to reclaim their blocks.
Boom, my homie got shot he's a goner black
St. Louis niggas want they corner back
Though the Crips and the Bloods permanently established outposts in some other midwestern and southern cities, in St. Louis regional pride took over and the gangs' popularity never really seized hold. In "My Summer Vacation," the narrator is about to leave town when a police raid ensnares him at his home early in the morning, and he ends up in prison.
No parole or probation
Now this is a young man's summer vacation
No chance for rehabilitation
To me, the song is just another indication of the brilliance of Death Certificate. To have strong opinions is one thing, but "My Summer Vacation" shows a downright-journalistic dedication to getting the story straight. One wonders if Cube is up for some freelancing.
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