Crenshaw emcee and West Coast legend Ice Cube is known for his powerful storytelling abilities and willingness to address contentious political issues in his music, and he has many songs that do precisely this.
From ‘It Was A Good Day’ recorded during the Rodney King riots, to ‘Endangered Species (Tales from the Darkside)’ which addresses the animal-like perception of young black men, the rhymer (real name O’Shea Jackson) has never been afraid to highlight and magnify uncomfortable truths.
However, one of Jackson’s most powerful stories is that of his 1991 single ‘Bird In The Hand.’ Featured on the musician’s 1991 project Death Certificate, the lyrics tell a story of financial struggle and the desperation that leads to crime.
The body of work debuted at number two on the Billboard 200. However, the singles received little to no airplay due to its racially and politically charged content. However, this didn’t prevent the album from getting certified platinum by the RIAA.
‘A Bird In The Hand’ takes its name from the proverb “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”, meaning one should be content with what they have rather than risk the loss of everything by being greedy. However, the saying applies to the George H.W. Bush administration in Ice Cube’s track.
The LA musician also highlights the insignificance of black leaders such as Jesse Jackson and the little effect movements such as Operation PUSH have in the African-American community. With lyrics such as “Do I have to sell me a whole lot of crack / For decent shelter and clothes on my back? / Or should I just wait for help from Bush? / Or Jesse Jackson and Operation PUSH?” the emcee was happy to expose the shortcomings of those in power.
The potent track draws attention to the school-to-prison pipeline that sees private prisons profit from America’s growing incarceration rates and scrutinises the system in which a young father with no resources is forced to sell drugs for income due to the lack of financial assistance by the US government.
‘A Bird In The Hand’ asserts that an African-American would be lucky to get a fast-food job, as Cube raps, “Whitey says there’s no room for the African / Always knew that I would clock G’s / But welcome to McDonald’s, ‘May I take your order, please?'”
Furthermore, the track alludes that the USA’s capitalist infrastructure benefits from drug trafficking as it perpetuates the vicious cycle towards incarceration. Ice Cube’s powerful 1991 song is such a classic it was remixed and remastered in 2008 for the Ice Cube: The Essentials compilation CD. You can listen to ‘A Bird In The Hand’ below.