In the two and a half decades since his thermonuclear breakthrough with pioneering gangsta rap outfit N.W.A., you’d be hard pressed to articulate a time period where Ice Cube has resembled anything close to creatively dormant. At the age of 21, Cube had jettisoned from N.W.A. and released yet another landmark LP in AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted – the first instalment of one of the finest solo rap canons of the ‘90s. Since then, the West Coast icon has gone on to enjoy incredible success in a multitude of facets within the entertainment industry, whether it be as a producer, record label owner, writer, and of course, as a top-billing Hollywood actor. Despite the many pitfalls and trappings associated with the industry, the Ice Cube on the phone today (who, at 42, is a relatively young veteran of the biz) is very much a free man.
After releasing a string of blockbuster major label records throughout the '90s (culminating in the two part opus War & Peace), Cube travelled off the beaten track to release 2006's Laugh Now, Cry Later independently under his own Lench Mob banner – a strategy he has employed every since. “There's definitely a lot more creative freedom because I’m independent,” Cube states. “It’s my own label, it’s my own record. Just not having a corporation looking over your shoulder, not having to please people at a record company. All I gotta do is please myself,” he asserts. “It is freedom, I don’t do records for the radio or for program directors, I do records for Ice Cube fans. That gives me a lot more freedom to pinpoint and do what I feel, not what I think I should do.
“I’ll put it this way, you go to work on someone’s farm everyday, some big corporation with all the equipment you needed, but at the end of the day you’re only getting a little bit of what you do. You’re probably having an easier time there than in you’re backyard where you won’t grow as much – but you get more pleasure growing the food, y’see what I mean?” he elaborates. “It makes it spiritually better. Working with these record companies is like a blind maze, you don’t know which way is up. You’re always explaining your position and your vision, but you’d probably sell a lot more records.”
As for new material, Cube reveals that a new record is already well under way – following on from the 2010 release I Am The West. “Well you know I always go into a record with a pure kind of mentality, I don’t try to go in any direction. I just record a few songs based on how I feel. That’s when the record really starts to take shape, then I know what to hone in on and start to make the record feel like it’s conceptual in a way. I’m about seven songs, six songs into it,” he reveals. “I wrote some hardcore rhymes – I wrote some political records and I wrote a few party records. So we’ll see what direction the record takes and how it starts to take shape.”
Despite a stellar career under his belt and steady role as a family man (two of Cube's sons are rappers in their own right, with OMG and Doughboy appearing alongside their father on I Am The West), Cube isn't shying away from the aggression which defined his earlier material. “I could definitely go there, I just think that style has ran its course in a lot of ways,” he ponders. “I think before the G-funk era, the style of hip hop was much more aggressive – the delivery, the subject matter, even the beats and the sampling. Everything sounded edgier. Coming from the Run-DMC, Public Enemy, N.W.A., Ice-T kind of era, so that style was more prominent to me. After the G-funk era, when music became more original, more melodic, more singing in the hooks – the whole cross between R&B and rap, was where we solidified that style of being that loud kind of played out, in a way. So I think when we do it now, we have to be selective,” he reasons. “You couldn’t do a whole album like that.”
Looking back at the his breakthrough with N.W.A. and his subsequent launch into a solo career, Cube remains philosophical in regards to the somewhat turbulent ascendancy into superstardom. “I look at it as a great time in my career, those are time capsules. To me, records are just taking a piece of time and putting it away and you can go back and look at it and listen to it. I always feel good about it, I have no regrets,“ he reminisces.
The story of N.W.A.'s indelible impact on contemporary culture is soon to be immortalised with a biopic, a project which Cube is heavily involved with. “Well we got the first draft written, so it will take a few more drafts to be ready to be cast and shot,” Cube reveals. “So the movie’s coming along. I wanna do a movie that’s really dealing with the history of N.W.A.. We’re dealing with a lot of different volatile times. We’re dealing with LA when that music came out, we’re dealing with gangs, L.A.P.D., crack cocaine, Reaganomics, and then rap music. There was an intersection of all of that, and that intersection was N.W.A.. I think we need to make sure when people see this story 50 years from now, they’ll be able to feel that.”
As well as the N.W.A. biopic, anticipation is riding high for Cube's return to another filmic project, with rumours circulating that he and Chris Tucker will return for the final instalment in the hugely successful Friday films – the first of which Cube himself penned. “Right now we’re in the process of talking to New Line Cinema for me to write the next Friday movie. Everybody’s invited back, everybody will be written in, and hopefully everybody will be showing up.”
The 'golden age' of hip hop was defined, and eventually diminished, by the East Coast/West Coast dichotomy. As evident in his last album title, Cube remains a steadfast ambassador of LA's prestigious rap history. “Well, you know, at first we were long shots. We were the new toy on the block. But now I think we’re underdogs, that’s the evolution,” he muses. “I still think we underdogs in a lot of ways, because to be a West Coast artist is an uphill battle, because there’s that stigma that goes with it that all we could do is hardcore rap with little substance. It’s just not true.”
Having reigned supreme as one of one of the biggest names of hip hop for the majority of the genre's history, Cube is still very much attuned to the current climate. “I think that the computer and the internet have altered the trajectory of not only rap, but a lot of different industries. I think it’s just gonna have to take time to find out what that trajectory is. But at the moment, rap is always evolving as it has from day one. So this is a music that’s never gonna stand still, so my contemporaries shouldn’t expect it to stand still, and I don’t either,” he pragmatically states. “The young people are always gonna try and find their swagger, and they always gonna find their own flavour. That’s cool, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. What’s important to me, is for me to do what I do. What I do is what I do, and I’ll continue to do it until people don’t want it.”
Though there was a slight false start announcement for an Australian tour last year, Cube is all set to bring his live show to Australia for Supafest. So what can fans expect from his set? “Everything man. It would be sad for me to come out there and all we do is the new records. I’m gonna do the whole history, from N.W.A. through to I Am The West and everything in between – Westside Connection records. I’m gonna have WC with me, so we gonna pull out some of his songs. You’re gonna hear a little bit of everything from throughout my whole career My show is hip hop in its purest form. No band, just two turntables, microphone, and a ferocious MC.”
BY LACHLAN KANONIUK
Ice Cube [USA] plays Supafest alongside Chris Brown [USA], P-Diddy [USA], Missy Elliot [USA], T.Pain [USA] and more at Melbourne Showgrounds on Saturday April 21.