Ice Cube Reveals That This Historic Boxing Upset Impacted The Making of 'AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted'

Ice Cube Reveals That This Historic Boxing Upset Impacted The Making of 'AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted'

Published Wed, January 24, 2024 at 2:08 PM EST

It was perhaps the biggest upset not only in boxing, but sports history, when James "Buster" Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson in Tokyo on February 10, 1990.

Tyson was 37-0 and held the WBC,WBA, and IBF titles. While Douglas was on a six-fight win streak, his last attempt at a title shot — for the vacant IBF title — resulted in a TKO loss to Tony Tucker.

In the 10th round, under a barrage of well-timed shots, the seemingly unbeatable Tyson fell. The reverberations, both in the literal, and metaphorical sense, were palpable. Although Douglas was the bigger man, it was a win for the "little guy," and now, Don King's cash cow was vulnerable.

6,745 miles away, Ice Cube was attempting something of an underdog's rise, too.

After leaving N.W.A. in dramatic fashion, he had abandoned Dr. Dre's G-funk sensibilities to work with Hank and Keith Shocklee and Eric “Vietnam” Sadler (The Bomb Squad) whose horn-stab led production had given Public Enemy their signature and defiant sound.

The seedlings of what would become AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted were forged inside a large warehouse at 17 Franklin on Long Island. The location was home to thousands of records. Cube, along with Sir Jinx, were tasked with filling exactly two crates with records that they wanted The Bomb Squad to sample.

"We were sitting there all day, every day, listening to different records, different loops, different break beats and intros for the album," Ice Cube says.

Regardless of one's creative discipline, the valued "break," allows for a time to take the pressure off. As Cube recalls, the plan was to watch Tyson annihilate Douglas in two to three rounds, then resume the task of finding samples.

"We thought we was going to see quick work of it, and the fight just kind of went on and on," he says. "By the 8th round, Tyson knocked him down, okay, go, just finally and get back to work. Know what I mean? Wasn't over."

"And then Tyson gets knocked out," he continues. "It's like Malcolm X got shot or something. It's quiet is a church mouse in there. And we all stunned. Nobody says a word and nobody can believe it. It's the first time when you see Superman touch the kryptonite. A kid how you felt like, 'Oh, damn.' [There's] something out there that could take down the man."

For Cube, Douglas' nickname — "Buster" — was especially disarming.

"I kept tripping because the word 'buster' on the West Coast mean you're below average without a doubt. You know, you're a sucker. And here we go, Buster knocks out Tyson. We couldn't work after that. We was done. We went back to the hotel room. Everybody was quiet and nobody was talking. We just couldn't believe it. It was shock. We was just in shock."

"I'm glad Hank Shocklee and Keith Shocklee didn't have money on the fight and stormed off and we couldn't find them for two weeks or something," he says. "So we were shocked with... that's sports. And then having somebody like Chuck D around, he could put it all in perspective all the time. That's how it goes. That's why we watch. That's why we love sports because you don't know what's going to happen unless you're the bookie, you might know, but the rest of us, we don't know."

Ultimately, Cube and his creative partners were able to persevere. AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted served as one of the most impressive Hip-Hop debut albums in history.

While the album has been dissected on a number of levels, it's interesting to evaluate the song titles in the context of Douglas' win, and Tyson's resounding defeat. Titles like "What they Hittin' Foe," "You Can't Fade Me," "Endangered Species," and "A Gangsta's Paradise" seem to speak to Cube's perceived "underdog" label following the departure from a very successful group, and his desire to use his unique abilities to persevere.

We tend to put sports losses into a negative category. Over time, it becomes scar tissue. Cube's ability to make AmeriKKAas Most Wanted at a time when someone had pulled on Superman's cape is a testament to his resilience.

By 1996, Mike Tyson had reclaimed both his WBC and WBA Heavyweight titles. During that same time, Cube released multi-platinum albums Death Certificate, The Predator, and Lethal Injection. Perhaps, Tyson used those album titles to fuel his pursuit. Or, at least I'd like to hope so.

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