Before Ice-T went from “Cop Killer” to cop on “Law & Order: SVU” and before Snoop’s “Doggy Fizzle Televizzle,” former N.W.A. rapper Ice Cube was making moves to be the Biggest, Baddest Man in Hollywood.
In 1990 rapper Ice Cube appeared on “Burn Hollywood Burn,” by the controversial rap act Public Enemy. Sixteen years later, Cube (né Oshea Jackson) is more likely to earn from Hollywood than burn it. The 36-year-old Renaissance man is an actor, director, screenwriter, and executive producer whose projects include such cinematic notables as Friday, Barbershop, and Three Kings. Next year he’ll star in the title role in the Welcome Back, Kotter movie. Even after years of music and motion picture success, Cube is just as determined to deliver social commentary as he was back when he was writing classic rap albums like AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. Today his delivery is far from “Fuck tha Police.” Cube and his production company, Cubevision, are using projects like his FX reality series, Black. White., and a new album, Laugh Now, Cry Later, to get his message to the masses.
Did the final cut of Black. White. Turn out the way you had envisioned it?
It was hard to have expectations. We knew we had a good setup, bringing two families together and putting them in makeup. And we knew we could set up certain situations, but we didn’t know what was going to happen once they got there — because it’s reality. We didn’t want to tell them to do anything they wouldn’t normally do. I knew the situations were hot, and when I was getting the footage back, it was just getting hotter. Once I saw it cut together, I knew I had something different that could get people talking.
Was Black. White. your idea?
It was [conceived] by John Land graff, who runs FX. He called [pro ducer] R. J. Cutler in and asked if Cubevision could do it. So we brainstormed and I said, “Once I see the makeup test, I’ll let you know if I’m in or out.”
Race is a weighty topic, especially in America. Is there anything bigger?
It’s hard to come up with something that doesn’t make you think about race. I don’t know one black person who doesn’t think about being black every day. Thinking about what this white man’s about to do reminds you you’re black. Thinking about what the po-po [police] are about to do reminds you you’re black. As far as black America, it’s kind of in our chromosomes.
You were addressing racism long before your Hollywood career. Have you encountered racism in Hollywood?
Oh, yeah. You’re gonna face old Hollywood that wants to keep the status quo. You’re gonna face people who don’t want you in the game because you’re not a thespian. You got your own people hating on you in various ways. Like, we’ve been begging to get on Oprah, [but] she won’t put us on. I don’t know if that’s racism, but it feels just as bad. You’re always going to have people who don’t want you there.
Is the final Friday movie, Saturday, ever going to happen?
I don’t know. Another Friday might happen but I don’t think we will ever get to Saturday. I’ve been talking to Chris Tucker and he’s showing some interest. It’s just about having a meeting and making sure that he’s really comfortable and wants to be a part of it.
You just released Laugh Now, Cry Later. What does the title mean?
The album feels like laugh now, cry later when you listen to it, because you’re jammin’ one minute and the next you’re hearing about our situation. That’s one reason. Another is the state of hip-hop. We’re really on a happy rap tip, [but] a lot of things need to be said. It had the perfect balance between fun gangsta records that everybody’s into right now and message records that people aren’t into right now. A lot of us [are] playing and not thinking about the way God’s playing.
Are you a proud or concerned parent of gangsta rap?
I’m more proud than concerned. I would love to have been able to sit down with all these MCs before they came out, but I couldn’t do that. There are some records I like more than others, but I’m proud that the music we started has been dominating for a long time and it’s still popular, still raw.
“It’s hard to come up with something that doesn’t make you think about race. I don’t know one black person who doesn’t think about being black every day.”
Was making this record like an itch you had to scratch?
I got the bug. I love hip-hop, I love to rap [because it gives me] way more freedom than movies ever could. It takes more than 100 people to put a movie together. There is always compromising. With a record, I could go in there — me, my engineer, producer, and nobody else. [When] I’m in there, [I’m] free. I can do what I want, say what I want, do it how I feel it.
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The Ice Cube you grew up with is lashing out in different ways these days. He knows he can do more about the system from within the system and that's where he's doing most of his work.
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