As the title says, Ice-T returns to the street and the hardcore beats with his sixth album, Return of the Real. In fact, the return isn't just to hardcore -- it's to hardcore that happened before gangsta rap, before the message and the music became diluted with endless B-boy posturing and loping P-Funk beats. In concept, the album is brilliant -- Ice-T has always had an eye for lyrical detail and has always been a vocal supporter of hardcore, street-oriented hip-hop; at the very least, his rejection of G-funk/post-NWA gangsta rap is a bold political move. However, Return of the Real doesn't quite re-establish Ice-T as a force, mainly because the production sounds a bit dated. Sure, there are the occasional contemporary flourishes -- usually in the guise of a Wu-Tang-style soundscape -- but for the most part, Ice sounds like he's in his own world. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean that he has created a unique sonic world; it just means that he hasn't progressed far since 1991. Of course, there are a number of tracks that sound vibrant and alive, but Return of the Real can't help escape a creeping sense of stagnation that permeates through the entire album.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine