Having long, long ago secured his place in the rap pantheon, Ice Cube today is, to the average Dlisted reader, a man to be both mocked (for his Are We There Yet period) and possibly feared — if, say, confronted in the type of bar where denizens consume Coors Light.
But in person he's cordial and easygoing, without a trace of posturing. In town recently to promote upcoming album Everythang's Corrupt and said light beer's MC talent competition, called “Search for the Coldest,” he sat down with us at the Westwood W, dressed in all black, from his Dodgers cap to his skate shoes. Short and squat, with big arms and shoulders, he was game to talk about everything from the NWA movie he's working on with Dr. Dre, to the late Al Davis, to Amerikkka's Most Wanted to NWA's famous L.A. Weekly cover story.
This is a bucket list interview for me. Speaking of which, I just saw your documentary on the Los Angeles Raiders. Is that how you felt interviewing Al Davis?
Ice Cube: Yeah. Hell yeah. That was real cool. I had met him before, and I knew that he didn't grant a lot of interviews, I knew that a lot of the journalists in the world were mad at me because I got it. It was his last television interview.
He looked like he was a little hurting.
He looked great for a man that was about to die.
The Coors Light talent search is in its third year. What's different this time around?
Shit. $20,000 for the grand prize winner. The regional winners, they take home prizes. We just kinda upped the ante as far as grand prizes and getting people hyped and excited and enthused. I think they added one or two more cities to showcase. It's getting bigger and better.
What to you makes for a dope young MC?
Confidence goes a long way. You gotta have your own style, your own flavor. You can't come up there trying to be like your favorite MC, you got to be an original. Your music has to move people. People have to get on it, you know, right off the jump. That's hard for established artists — for new artists it's that much harder.
Along with your work in music, film, and television, being a pitchman is a whole separate element of your career. How does that fit in? Do you have any role models?
Not really, I seen artists do it mainly overseas. I see people like George Clooney do Japanese products, but you know to me, I wanted to do something over here. Some people have a taboo about doing advertising in the States. You know, where they kind of make their bread and butter. But to me, that's crazy.
What are your favorite projects you've done?
Wow, you know, I never really thought about which ones is the best. I have a lot of milestones that I'm proud of when it comes to music, Amerikkka's Most Wanted, I'm extremely proud of that. Just because of what I had to go through to get that music produced, that album produced. Friday is something I'm extremely proud of because it was the first time I tried to, you know, write a movie and produce a movie. And to have a movie that still gets that kind of response is pretty cool from my point of view.
Seems like with Amerikkka's Most Wanted you were really taking a risk there.
I was passionate about what I was fighting for, which was, I had refused to just be in the music industry if I knew that I wasn't getting what I deserved. I rather quit than to be that kind of artist. I'm just glad everything worked out. And it's still working out.
In the documentary you talk a lot in the early days of NWA and gangsta rap. Why do you think L.A. and the West Coast remains so obsessed with that whole era?
I just think that, you know, this is a place where it originated from when it comes to talking about what's going on in the streets. And by this being the original place, it has power. It has an aura to it. And I think the whole country is as fascinated with L.A. living as they are with something like the Sopranos, something where they want to know more but they don't want to get no closer. It's kinda that. That feel, you know. It's a forbidden fruit in a lot of ways and you know, its still mysterious and dangerous. This is the land of surf and sun in a lot of ways so it's a crazy contrast.
I interviewed the D.O.C. a couple of years ago. When it comes to Straight Outta Compton, how much did he write and how much did you write and how much did everyone else write?
I think between me and D.O.C. we wrote the lion's share of the record. But Ren wrote his part, Dre wrote a little bit. D.O.C. was pretty much, me and him was carrying the load when it came to Eazy's parts on his record so I think it was a…it was a big collaboration.
A few years back a big theme in your music was the persecution of gangster rap. Do you think that's still going on? Or do you think it's now mainstream enough?
Well I know I think it's always something that gets blamed when you talk about the youth doing anything wrong, bad or illegal. I think rap music is brought up, gangster rap in particular, as well as video games, every other thing they try to hang the ills of society on as a scapegoat. So I think it's always going to play that role because it's easy, it's an easy target, it's easy to get caught up in the profanity and not really understand the real tone of these records and the real nature of these records. People get caught up, you say, fuck, bitch, and pussy, and people think you're just the nastiest person on earth. No matter what you're talking about. I think since the music is cloaked in that, it's always going to be easy to say, I'm bad because of this. I was listening to that and that made me bad. He's listening to that, he's a bad person…Yeah, I don't know, how many serial killers listen to classical music? They never blame classical music. [laughs] But let a young teenager do something, it's got to be that rap music.
In recent years you had the Rare Ink project and the Pacific Standard Time stuff, kind of moving into the worlds of art and architecture. Do you have anything else coming in that vein, and also do you have any more documentaries in mind?
We've been talking about it. We've been talking to ESPN, thinking of something new to do that's just very preliminary. You know in the art world, its like, I just want to do something that's interesting. The thing we did with the Eames project was real good for us, we got a lot of traction from that. We're thinking of other ways we can introduce cool stuff to the world. It's really all about catching the right vibe, right situation, right product or the right thing to promote or display and going for it.
Seems like some people want to be like Dr. Dre, kinda like sit on their money a little bit, they don't feel like putting something out there all the time, whereas people like you and maybe Jay-Z are always out there. Obviously you don't have a big financial need; do you just feel like something driving you to keep putting out creative projects?
Yeah, to me it's the creative freedom — the creative outlet is really what I love about the entertainment business. The money is the gravy on top, but I'm into the projects that I'm working on. I want them to be good. I want people to enjoy them and the money will come after that. I get off on that more than the money. That's why I stay active. My wife will tell you when I'm not busy, I'm antsy. [laughs] It's really all about creating. Nothing is bigger than the canvas of a movie screen. You can't find a pallet that's better than that. Or anything that's better than that where you can create. So I'm going to be doing this hopefully until I'm too old to pay attention.
Movie directors can be old. In fact, rappers can probably be old too, it's just never been tested.
I'd be the one to test it. I'd give you tickets for the show in Vegas. [laughs]
There you go. Blues guys are ageless. What's the difference really?
We'll be there. We'll definitely be there. I can rap off of a teleprompter. [laughs]
Do you and Dre still talk much?
Every now and then. We're trying to put this NWA movie together. This is the real one. That other one that you heard about was bullshit. This is the official one. We're taking it to the nooks and crannies, I think deeper than any other article or documentary on the group. These are the intimate conversations that helped forge NWA. To me I think its interesting to anybody who loves that era and I don't know any other movie where you can mix gangster rap, the FBI, LA riots, HIV, and fucking uh, feuding with each other. This movie has everything from Darryl Gates and the battering ram.
Last question: I saw the 1989 NWA LA Weekly cover in your documentary. Do you remember anything about being interviewed by Jonathan Gold?
I remember that the guys were late. I was waiting on them to get there. I remember taking that picture [for the cover]. I remember we were clowning Eazy's hair because he didn't get his curl fresh, so his shit was looking a little shot out. We was talking about him the whole time. [laughs] 'Cause his shit was shot out and we was about to take a picture. And um, you know, we couldn't wait until it came out. We was like, damn we gonna be on the cover! That was one of the first covers we ever made.