by: Tim Galvin
Gangsta rapper and movie star Ice Cube brings his hardcore beats to Canberra.
When the pen hits the paper on Ice Cube’s memoirs, the hefty saga will, like the Bible, be split into two distinct volumes. The old testament will chronicle his youth on the streets of south central Los Angeles where he was revered as a street warrior, an urban gangsta and the outspoken ”Malcolm X with an Afro”. The new testament will tell of his life as a committed father, successful businessman and top Hollywood movie star, producer and director.
Although the life and times of one of America’s most controversial entertainers is presented as a relative social dichotomy, it is clear Ice Cube is still firmly planted on the frontline in the war against authority; you can take the man out of the streets but you can’t take the streets out of the man.
”A few battles have been won but the war is still raging,” he says. ”What the machine has done is to make our kids kinda not care about the war, that’s the f—ing genius of the machine is to put people to sleep with bullshit and escapism.”
The bloody battle for race equality on the streets of America has been led by urban generals like Ice Cube who have used entertainment to shine a light on issues the mainstream media won’t touch. A massive victory for the black community was achieved on January 20, 2009, when Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States, although Ice Cube isn’t confident this will result in the kind of change he preaches about in his rap lyrics.
”I think the people have always wanted to move forward but I think that the institutions and the builders of society invest in people being divided in the pyramid system with the rich people at the top and the poor at the bottom,” he says. ”They have techniques and ways to make sure that this is the standard, no matter what. So I think society always wants to do the right thing in most cases but there will always be the powers that be trying to make the world the way they want it.”
Ice Cube grew up on the streets of Compton, a community with a deadly mix of the poor and the dangerous. His inner fire sparked an idea and with three like-minded souls, Dr Dre, MC Ren and Easy E, he formed the world’s first gangsta rap group NWA. ”I definitely think you can call us architects but the ingredients were in the grocery store, we just cooked the meal. The ingredients were there with Muhammad Ali, with Richard Prior, with Eddie Murphy, even people like Schoolly D and early BDP, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, you had Melle Mel.
”These people set the stage for us to put it all together so I aint gonna say that we invented this out of thin air. All the ingredients was there.”
Singles like Express Yourself, Gangsta Gangsta and the explosive street anthem F— tha Police made NWA the poster-child for black America’s anti-government movement.
”It’s the music of protest, it’s the music of the youth. In our cases it was our only weapon to combat what’s happening to us,” he says.
”I try to present street knowledge, which is talkin’ to the streets about what government is tryin’ to do to them but also talkin’ to government, if they are listening, about what the streets is thinkin’ and if they want to get along then the dialogue is there.”
These four teenagers from the ghetto officially changed the face of modern music when NWA was blacklisted by commercial radio due to their offensive lyrics and hardcore image. They say any publicity is good publicity and a slap in the face from the right wing served only to propel them into international notoriety, albeit this was never their intention.
”The mass media made NWA popular, not NWA. They were like, ‘How you gonna start this gangsta rap shit, you gotta be responsible!’ The music was underground at first and we had no way to make it worldwide so it’s not really our fault that we became commercial even though we were hardcore no matter what,” Ice Cube says, adding, ”Doin’ entertainment without profanity in it is easy.”
Since splitting from the group for ”business reasons” in 1990, Ice Cube has continued as one of the most successful and respected rap artists in history. His nine solo albums, including legendary releases such as Death Certificate, The Predator and Lethal Injection, have sold millions of copies worldwide and he is showing no signs of slowing down in 2012.
”I’m workin’ on a record called So Far, So Good. It’s dope you know, hardcore West Coast hip-hop, ferocious beats, lyrics of fire and still doin’ what I love man.”
Away from the microphone, Ice Cube has developed his skills as an actor, starring in more than 20 movies, most notably Three Kings, 21 Jump Street and the Friday series. His film career began with his portrayal of show-stopping protagonist Darin ”Doughboy” Baker in the classic 1991 urban docudrama Boyz N The Hood. The movie was a window into the early life of Ice Cube which provided an insight into the driving force behind his passion for anarchy.
”My life was every single character, it was Doughboy, it was Ricky and it was the Cuba Gooding jnr character. For most people I grew up with, it was all of ’em you know, a lot of gang bangers play football too. A lot of gang bangers had a father in their home too, so it wasn’t that stereotype where a one parent home was the reason why things went bad,” he says. ”Gang bangin’ was a choice for some people, it wasn’t the result of their life growin’ up.”
His next two projects include an official NWA movie (in collaboration with Easy E’s widow Tomica Wright) and the long-awaited next instalment of the Friday franchise.
”I kinda stopped everything to work on this NWA movie and I’m writin’ a new Friday movie. I mean I got everybody on board for that so far, but we’ll see. Hopefully it all stays glued together. This year is really gonna be dedicated to shootin’ movies which will start comin’ out next year.”
So who does he have in mind to play Ice Cube in the NWA film? ”I want my son … I want G to do it. It’s gonna be real weird seein’ someone playin’ me though!”
Ice Cube is taking a break from his hectic schedule to come back to Australia this month for a series of live shows, including one in Canberra.
”I keep hopin’ I don’t wear my welcome out!” he laughs. ”I’ll come every year if people want me. I’m bringin’ my sons with me this time so people will get a chance to see OMG and Doughboy perform with me.
”I’ve got 25 years of hip-hop to share so I’m gonna try and get it all in.”
WITH: KP Roster, OMG and Doughboy
WHEN: April 19
WHERE: AIS Arena
TICKETS: $91.50 from ticketek.com or at the door
■ Tim Galvin is a Canberra entertainment writer and Club DJ