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Ice Cube – It was a good day – Lyrics analysis

Gangsta-rap songwriting

Ice Cube – It was a good day – Lyrics

Verse 1

Just waking up in the morning gotta thank God
I don’t know but today seems kinda odd
No barking from the dog, no smog
And momma cooked a breakfast with no hog
I got my grub on, but didn’t pig out
Finally got a call from a girl I want to dig out
Hooked it up on later as I hit the do’
Thinking will I live another twenty fo’
I gotta go cause I got me a drop top
And if I hit the switch, I can make the ass drop
Had to stop at a red light
Looking in my mirror not a jacker in sight
And everything is alright
I got a beep from Kim and she can fuck all night
Called up the homies and I’m askin’ y’all
Which park, are y’all playin’ basketball?
Get me on the court and I’m trouble
Last week fucked around and got a triple double
Freaking brothers every way like M.J.
I can’t believe, today was a good day

Verse 2

Drove to the pad and hit the showers
Didn’t even get no static from the cowards
Cause just yesterday them fools tried to blast me
Saw the police and they rolled right past me
No flexin’, didn’t even look in a brothers direction as I ran the intersection
Went to $hort Dog’s house, they was watchin’ Yo! MTV Raps
What’s the haps on the craps
Shake ’em up, shake ’em up, shake ’em up, shake ’em
Roll ’em in a circle of niggaz and watch me break ’em
With the seven, seven-eleven, seven-eleven
Seven even back do’ little Joe
I picked up the cash flow
Then we played bones, and I’m yellin’ domino
Plus nobody I know got killed in South Central L.A.
Today was a good day

Verse 3

Left my homies house paid
Picked up a girl been tryin’ to fuck since the twelfth grade
It’s ironic, I had the brew she had the chronic
The Lakers beat the Supersonics
I felt on the big fat fanny
Pulled out the jammy, and killed the punanny
And my Jimmy runs deep so deep so deep put her butt to sleep
Woke her up around one
She didn’t hesitate, to call Ice Cube the top gun
Drove her to the pad and I’m coasting
Took another sip of the potion hit the three-wheel motion
I was glad everything had worked out
Dropped her butt off, then I chirped out
Today was like one of those fly dreams
Didn’t even see a berry flashing those high beams
No helicopter looking for a murder
Two in the morning got the fat burger
Even saw the lights of the Goodyear Blimp
And it read Ice Cube’s a pimp (yeah)
Drunk as hell but no throwing up
Half way home and my pager still blowing up
Today I didn’t even have to use my A.K.
I got to say it was a good day

 

Ice Cube – It was a good day – Lyrics analysis

Verse 1

Just waking up in the morning gotta thank God

This first line expresses two feelings: the gratitude of being alive, and the faith in God. The audience who hears this tends to empathize directly with the speaker, because these feelings are beautiful to live and to see. So we start on a positive note and not on the usual “I’mma shoot you nigga “.

Yet… this faith in God seems acceptable, but at the time, Ice Cube had just converted to Islam, which means this thanks goes to Allah, who is not the most appreciated God among Americans, on average… Islam is a protest faith, the one of rebels like the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam. The meaning of the line therefore changes, depending on whether the audience knows that Ice Cube is talking about Allah, or that they ignore it. If they know it, they know it’s funny that others believe that Ice Cube is talking about the Catholic God.

As we will see, the song will be narrative, and consist of a tale of a common day gangster, from sunrise to the night. We thus attend from the first line the beginning of this little story.

It is rare that a rap song is narrative, really rare. Most of the time, rap lyrics are a montage of insults, assaults to the audienceslogans, punchlines, short scenes, but almost never a whole story. This song distinguishes itself by its ambitious choice to participate in the American narrative culture without being limited to a primitive style of writing coming out of the illiterate ghetto. However, this song does not betray the ghetto culture by this choice, since it keeps the gangster as a theme and main characterHero. It popularizes this gangster figure in a way the mainstream audience can like, because narrative songs, including ballads – as we will see it is one – are widespread in other genres, including rock and pop.

I don’t know but today seems kinda odd

By showing his concern that something is odd, is not as usual, this line generates a suspense: we want to know what’s wrong, what’s not normal, and for that we need events to test, clues to investigate. He will provide them in the next lines!

No barking from the dog, no smog

And then? This keeps the suspense alive, feeding a list of things that make this day odd, and starts to develop a parallel description of this gangster’s day.

Those clues have a positive meaning… which hides some negativity:

  • if the dog does not bark, it means that there were no intruders today, no thieves, no attackers, no VRPs, no Jehovah’s Witnesses, no jerk! – which assumes that they usually all come and make the dog bark…
  • if there is no smog – pollution-laden fog – then we can breathe healthy air – that assumes that we usually suffocate in this smog…

And momma cooked a breakfast with no hog

So, this is another good piece of news that makes the day strangely good and odd: mom cooked without pork, that’s good considering that Ice Cube can not eat pork since his conversion to Islam, so if she cooks some it means he doesn’t take breakfast.

I got my grub on, but didn’t pig out

It sounds good too: for once, he could eat normally. It’s like self-mockery, which reveals a relaxed, likeable personality. So far, it seems like a good boy’s day, the morning of an old teenager who still lives with his mother.

Finally got a call from a girl I want to dig out

There, in contrast to the previous line, it gets tough. The expression “to dig out” to describe his desire for her sounds vulgarprovocative and macho – the boy suddenly grows up in our eyes, suddenly appearing much less innocent.

Hooked it up on later as I hit the do’

This line gives two temporal milestones : from there, the gangster leaves home and starts his day outside, goes to work; and he organizes his day by taking an appointment for later.

Thinking will I live another twenty fo’

Bam! This line with tragic resonance takes us by surprise, like an accident in daily life. Til then, it was only an ordinary day without danger, without smog, without pork… This paradox – death is there, but we can not see it – makes the strength of this line.

This extreme and sudden existential anxiety echoes the gratitude of the first line of the verse, about feeling thankful to God to be alive today. It is inevitably touching to see someone who believes his life expectancy will be so short.

I gotta go cause I got me a drop top

After the tragic thought about his precocious death, the gangster gotta go: this shows a beautiful, brave and voluntary attitude to face life as it is, dangerous and uncertain.

The line also sounds comical, because the alleged cause does not explain anything: in reality if he needs to go, it’s not because of this drop top, this car whose top can be dropped. But the expression is a little reminiscent of a woman who would remove her top, and the next line will echo this possible double meaning.

And if I hit the switch, I can make the ass drop

So it’s finally clear that he’s talking about a car, without having uttered the word “car” at all.

I can make the ass drop sounds deliberately ambiguous and saucy.

So, we can understand synthetically, empathically: he just said he was not sure to finish the year, and here he is trying to make us understand that he has a nice car and he also wants to have sex, in short, that he intends to enjoy his life for the time remaining.

Had to stop at a red light

Which implies that the driver usually burns red lights, drives dangerously – or safely, since in the next line we understand drivers risk to get jacked if they stop.

Looking in my mirror not a jacker in sight

Another quirk: no one tries to steal his car at the crossroads. Unbelievable! One can imagine, suddenly, the ordinary dangers of his neighborhood.

Note that this way of turning the negative into positive is precisely what makes this song so charming. It speaks about hard things in such a light manner, evokes a whole world by subtle allusions to implicit facts, content to say little to evoke a lot.

And everything is alright

Not being assaulted… means that everything is alright. The degree of toxicity, of stress, of such an environment is measured by such an appreciation, if the mere extra-ordinary absence of ordinary dramatic facts is already a reason to find that all is well.

I got a beep from Kim and she can fuck all night

This is excellent news, at least from the point of view of the character, given the previous conditioning.

Of course, we understand that this Kim is not the previous “girl I want to dig out” on the schedule that day, so we conclude that the narrator presents himself as a “player“, a seducer of women.

The expression she can fuck all night is obviously made to shock repressive and politically-correct minds, to taunt the censorship of sex in the media.

Called up the homies and I’m askin’ y’all

Which park, are y’all playin’ basketball?

He suddenly changes topic, in a funny way; apparently he is spending his day in pleasurable, hedonistic activities.

Get me on the court and I’m trouble

In fact this line has two possible meanings, it is deliberately ambiguous:

  • get me on the basketball playground
  • get me on the tribunal, where I’ll be judged.

Last week fucked around and got a triple double

This line also has two possible meanings:

  • if it goes along with the basketball game, it means he played well, and obtained 3 double-digit match statistics
  • if it goes along with the court case, and means he took 3 times 10 years sentence or more for 3 different crimes.

Freaking brothers every way like M.J.

So, according to the meaning we retain, this line also has two meanings: he freaks his brothers in basketball, or in life via some crimes that lead him to these double-digit penalties.

M.J. of course is Magic Johnson, the famous basketball player. So, freaking brothers every way like M.J., means ripping them off, bluffing, impressing, bursting his opponents like Magic Johnson. As if Ice Cube was saying “I am a champion of crime”.

I can’t believe, today was a good day

Now, this line tends to extinguish the previous hypothesis about the possible meaning of the court as a tribunal, which still hung like a mean shadow… Today was a good day, also because only the basketball game mattered, not the court.

This concluding  line of the verse also plays the role of chorus. It’s very original and it’s also meaningful: this simple, banal statement comes as a climax, full of emotion, to have already survived all that – we do not really know why, but we felt danger here and there.

 

Verse 2

Drove to the pad and hit the showers

It is coherent: the schedule of the day continues. We do not know when we are in the day, but those showers suggest that the gangster has found a way to get tired. Probably his basketball session?

Didn’t even get no static from the cowards

So, it’s still one of those strange non-events : no aggression today.

Cause just yesterday them fools tried to blast me

This line is stronger than the others, because this info suddenly reveals what had been hidden until then: this man is a gangster, dedicated to killing or being killed.

Saw the police and they rolled right past me

Here, there is a nice effect of meaning, thanks to a logical play with the expectations of the audience. Indeed, the fact that the police is mentioned just after the evocation of the murder attempt, seems logical, but it is a false track: this police does not come there logically to investigate this crime, which the gangster naturally prefers to keep secret, probably to manage it a more personal way… On the contrary, the singer is happy to avoid the police, to pass for once unnoticed.

No flexin’, didn’t even look in a brothers direction as I ran the intersection

So, he is astonished: he was not racially profiled as usual by L.A. police.

Went to $hort Dog’s house, they was watchin’ Yo! MTV Raps

Another banal, harmless event, and a blink to MTV, a possible broadcaster of the song, which could make a funny fractal effect in case the song was played on this channel.

What’s the haps on the craps

Craps is a dice game, to win one has to get some 7 and 11, which explains the next lines.

We went in a few lines from the attempted murder to futile and harmless activities, so there is a big thematic contrast, which represents the tops and downs of life.

Shake ’em up, shake ’em up, shake ’em up, shake ’em

He turns it in a funny way, as previously we can see that his reaction to the eventuality of death is a kind of leap forward into the pleasures of life.

Roll ’em in a circle of niggaz and watch me break ’em

This line sounds more disturbing, and suggests that he may be, rather than playing, scamming everyone.

With the seven, seven-eleven, seven-eleven

The songwriter rolls the words verbally, imitating the action he describes.

Seven even back do’ little Joe

This verse is difficult to understand. A Little Joe, at Craps, is when you get 2 times 2. Back do’, seems to refer to “back door”, as if the Little Joe was coming from the back door, which is perhaps a dishonest way to win.

I picked up the cash flow

In any case, he picked up the money, he won, it’s also what makes his day.

Then we played bones, and I’m yellin’ domino

The player changes game but keeps his greed to win…

Plus nobody I know got killed in South Central L.A.

Nice effect : thanks to the “Plus“, the relationship between futile and important matters gets reverted, the line presents futile matters first and adds important matters as a cherry on the cake. A possible tragedy is in the air, revealing the permanent anxiety of the character about losing the people he knows.

This line obviously echoes the question “will I live another 24” of the first verse, evoking a precarious life, easily lost.

Today was a good day

We get used to this chorus at the end of the verse.

 

Verse 3

Left my homies house paid

We are probably continuing the list of unusual things, and so, with a certain amount of humor, it consists of having paid the rent of the house of his friends. This seems to suggest a position of power and responsibility, like: he is the head of a gang, of dealers for example, and pays their rent to pay their work.

Picked up a girl been tryin’ to fuck since the twelfth grade

It is thus the third sexual encounter mentioned since the beginning of the day, suggesting the character has big sexual needs.

It’s ironic, I had the brew she had the chronic

The brew is some beer, even if might also designate cannabis. And the chronic is a high quality weed, reknown in California.

Why does he find this ironic? Maybe he is a grass dealer, and usually he is the one who has the chronic?

The Lakers beat the Supersonics

It is possible the character is listening to the local radio, and enjoys the result of the local basketball team.

I felt on the big fat fanny

Fanny : slang term to say “ass”, or sometimes “pussy”.

The sudden jumps from theme to theme show a nice mental agility – with that and the fact that all the verbs of action are in the past, we can understand that he is in his head, at night, recapitulating his good day, thinking by association of ideas.

But this time, he will stay on this theme for 5 lines, proof of the importance of the scene in his eyes.

Pulled out the jammy, and killed the punanny

Fanny, jammy, punanny, and Jimmy in the following line: all these slang nicknames sound saucyerotic.

The actions “pull out” then “kill” are what a man who lives dangerously does with his gun, but metaphorically they designate what this man does with his penis. It is as if one dimension of the identity of the singer (the gangster) had contaminated the other one (the lover).

And my Jimmy runs deep so deep so deep put her butt to sleep

Deep, so deep so deep : we find a verbal game as with the line about the dice, “shake ’em up” and then with “seven-eleven“.

There is also a form of play on meaning with the sounds deep, deep, deep, then sleep, that implicitly mimic the action of fucking, in a kind of funny logic.

Woke her up around one

Note how the brevity of the line continues to imitate the action: the action of waking up is necessarily brief, and logically, the line is brief.

She didn’t hesitate, to call Ice Cube the top gun

Another little subtle effect: the singer takes a little pause after the word “hesitate“, which leaves a suspense : she didn’t hesitate… to do what? Then we give the answer, and it is comical and metaphorical.

The top gun, allusion to the famous movie with Tom Cruise, TOP GUN, continues to play on the ambiguity between the gangster, armed with a gun, and the lover, endowed with a penis.

Drove her to the pad and I’m coasting

The expression drove her to the padechoes the expression Drove to the pad“.

Took another sip of the potion hit the three-wheel motion

This line probably contains a double meaning.

  • It seems to mean that the singer drank some alcohol – and then happily made a turn.
  • But we can also understand that they have had sex in the car again – the “potion” would then be sex, and the “three-wheel motion” could be an acrobatic sex position.

I was glad everything had worked out

Everything, so it’s everything that happened since the beginning of the day and the song, : the fact no one died, the relationships with women, the games.

This line sounds conclusive, yet the same scene goes on just after.

Dropped her butt off, then I chirped out

Indeed this line is once again ambiguous: he speaks about the woman with whom he has just slept, one can think that he pulled out of her body, or rather, because he was driving her home, that she just left the car and he went off.

Today was like one of those fly dreams

This kind and naive line contrasts with what took place previously, more vulgar and erotic, and what follows, darker and more violent.

Didn’t even see a berry flashing those high beams

The line in English is difficult to understand because it is poetic slang. The “berry” refers to the red lamps on the top of old police cars, which in the night could look like two red berries; and the “high beams” designate the headlights of police cars.

No helicopter looking for a murder

Big thematic contrast after the soft words at the rhyme two lines ago, “fly dreams“.

Two in the morning got the fat burger

Another theme echoing the “breakfast” of the first verse, being back to the ordinary events just after the mention of a possibility that sounded spectacular and extraordinary, the flight of a helicopter over the city.

Even saw the lights of the Goodyear Blimp

Echoing the fly dreams, this magical appearance of a blimp looks trivially commercial. It’s like a little ironic comment about America obsessed with money and brands, since this brand, with its blimp in the sky, means “Happy New Year” and appears at the end of a good day, like a lucky star… prompting people to buy new tires…

And it read Ice Cube’s a pimp (yeah)

lol ? The vision grows up to the hallucination, to make an obvious comic effect, but also to reveal a strange psychological fault, a form of guilt fought by self-derision

Drunk as hell but no throwing up

This line modifies the meaning of the preceding ones, since from there the audience can interpret the hallucination of the previous line as being due to the effects of a strong dose of alcohol – or magic “potion“.

The fact that he can be very drunk without vomiting also indicates that he is used to drinking, that it is his daily life, which contributes to the characterization of the character.

Half way home and my pager still blowing up

The mystery is kept on the content of these messages, leaving the audience to make assumptions: it can be women, knowing the habits of this man, or customers, if he is a dealer, or “homies”.

Today I didn’t even have to use my A.K.

This info to the negative weighs heavily and contaminate everything else, revealing in the end what we had to guess all along: finally, nothing was clearly said, but we understood that we were not following the life of someone normal, but the life of a thug who, some other days, needs to use his AK to liquidate his enemies.

I got to say it was a good day

The insistent formulationI got to say, reinforces the conclusive effect of the chorus line by enriching it: if he recognizes that he has got to say, it’s because of this hidden but implicit feeling: that even after having played again in his mind the film of the day, he can’t believe it could have been so good, which suggests the ton of misfortune that this character usually has to cope with…

 

SYNTHESIS

If we summarize it, the song tells a plot without drama, the ordinary day of a man who is suspected all along to be a thug:

  • he gets up, takes his breakfast, leaves,
  • drives, communicates with women and friends,
  • meets cops,
  • visits friends, plays dice and dominoes,
  • has an erotic date,
  • eats a burger, sees a blimp, ends up drunk,
  • and goes home in the middle of the night.

The charm of the song comes from its surprising characteristics:

  • Released in 1992, it is the opposite of what the gangsta-rap tradition had begun to do, namely to make songs telling murders and other crime scenarios. Unlike them, IT WAS A GOOD DAY sounds happy, cool, relaxed, celebrating a kind of gangster’s Dolce vita. In contrast, Coolio’s song GANGSTA’S PARADISE will later reveal the less fortunate side of the gangster’s lifestyle, when death anxiety invades and spoils the entire experience.
  • Yet the extreme violence which is typical of gangsta-rap lyrics is always around- and this atmosphere of potential danger, which can come from anywhere, anytime, contributes to feed a constant dramatic tension, even though no Antagonist has been met.
  • It is strangely well-written, mixing the crude and trivial slang language of the street with some more familiar, more mainstream, more established and more literary elements – an evolution that will be confirmed over time in rap lyrics, which will seek to take their share of stylistic excellence.
  • Those lyrics belong indeed to the old tradition of the poetic ballad: according to Wikipedia, “ballad is a form of verse, often a narrative set to music. Ballads derive from the medieval French chanson balladée or ballade, which were originally “danced songs”. Ballads were particularly characteristic of the popular poetry and song of the British Isles from the later medieval period until the 19th century. They were widely used across Europe, and later in Australia, North Africa, North America and South America“. Usually made of three and a half verses, this form of the ballad has influenced modern musical songwriting, through the traditions of folk and pop. Here, we have several typical features of a ballad: 3 verses, a subjective, poetic, and somehow magico-religious vision of life, since this good day is presented a bit like some supernatural miracle.
  • It also participates in a paradoxical way to a well established genre in songwriting: the love song… thought it is by antithesis, since it replaces any love feeling by the mere desire and sexual pleasure, in a raw, hedonist way, totally opposed to the style of all the conformist “I love you so…songs. In fact, IT WAS A GOOD DAY stands as a rap version of the love song, which celebrates sexual freedom instead of hiding desire under honeyed feelings.
Gangsta-rap songwriting