Ice Cube may cut hair in the movies, but if you schedule a photo shoot with him, his people will request it be BYOB — Bring Your Own Barber. You'll need to bring a makeup artist, too.
After all, he's not the same man he was when Boyz n the Hood came out, 20 years ago last month. The Academy Award–nominated film sparked Cube's transformation from Amerikkka's Most Wanted into its most adored. He is Cube, the mogul — a rapper, actor, director, documentarian, producer, writer and pitchman. The man even once saw the lights of the Goodyear Blimp and it read, well, you know.
The only thing he hasn't done is paint. Fittingly, his latest venture is a collaboration with Rareink to release a limited-edition line of autographed prints, each featuring an artist's interpretation of a classic Ice Cube album cover.
Which is the occasion of our penetration of the sixth-floor compound of Cubevision, located on the Sunset Strip across from the Roxy. There you see posters of the dozen-plus films he has produced, including Sindwir Schonda? — Are We There Yet? in German. His personal office is crowded with mementos, awards and symbolic gestures. Not one, but two Scarface posters.
Even if his current world is more lunches at the Grill than ice-grills, when you meet O'Shea Jackson, in his Westside Connection T-shirt, you will instantly remember that this is motherfucking Ice Cube. You're forced to genuflect before the poisonous pen behind N.W.A, arguably the most imaginative and greatest rapper in gangsta-rap history.
Cube has stockpiled enough street cred to sustain four lifetimes' worth of Janky Promoters and Coors Light commercials. He started this gangsta shit. The least we can do is pay attention.
With hip-hop in its fifth decade and Jay-Z and Kanye West name-dropping Picasso and Basquiat, did your decision to do the Rareink project stem from where the genre and its fans are at now?
I was watching Nightline or 20/20 and saw an artist who could put on a Mick Jagger song and paint Mick before the song was over. I knew that if I was a Mick Jagger fan, that's something that I'd want. I'd want one for George Clinton. If you're an entertainer who wants longevity, you want to get to the point where your fans cherish not only your work but you as an artist. You want to provide them with something authentic.
We're at the 20th anniversary of Death Certificate. Do you think an album that outwardly political could get released on a major label today?
If the artist was hot enough. Eminem's released some controversial albums, so I don't think there's a limit. Would it get accepted by the mainstream music community? Probably not. They thought it was the worst shit at the time, so why would they think differently today?
It's also the 20th anniversary of Boyz n the Hood. Today, every rapper wants to diversify, but you and Ice-T were the first. Did you know even then that it was important for your longevity?
It struck me after the opportunity was presented. When you're engulfed in hip-hop, especially as I was in the late 1980s and early '90s, you're just trying to be the best rapper in the world. But when I had the chance to do Boyz, I saw everything on a whole other level. Working with John Singleton showed me that if he could do it, so could I. I wrote the song “Boyz-n-the-Hood,” I did the movie and I was in N.W.A. It was the universe saying, “You've got to expand on this.”
How hard would it be to get a movie like that made today?
It's not easy. Hollywood doesn't want to fund those movies, they want comedies. And if they do a drama, it won't deal with race issues, it will deal with family issues, like Precious. I was trying to make a movie and I spoke with a dude who was, like, “I think the movie's cool, but I don't like the killing in the end. I don't want sad shit in the film.” It's, like, are we trying to depict reality or make this fantasy bullshit? But with DVD sales down, Hollywood cares more about the foreign market. You'd have to make Harry Potter meets Boyz n the Hood to get some hard-core shit made today.
Is that why you've gravitated toward comedy?
It's the path of least resistance. The thing is to work on good projects. I don't want to be a dude like Stanley Kubrick, pop out every five or six years because I'm waiting for the perfect one. They know I can make comedies work, so that's what they want. It's not like you go to McDonald's and ask for a taco.
How did those Coors Light commercials come about?
They wanted to sell more beer. I told them, “It took y'all long enough to get me.”
You have two sons rapping, Doughboy and OMG. Have you given them any advice about the rap game?
I told them to fall in love with the music and not the industry, and you'll be fine. —Jeff Weiss