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Hip-hop legend Ice Cube has led a dual career as a controversial rapper and a wholesome film star. As one of the dominant lyrical forces behind N.W.A., he played a huge role in defining the sound, attitude, and ideology of West Coast gangsta rap. After leaving the group for financial reasons, he released a series of riveting, controversial solo albums, most notably his Bomb Squad-produced debut, 1990’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, before stepping back from hip-hop to concentrate on acting. In recent years, he’s emerged as a huge, bankable player as an actor, screenwriter, and producer in the world of family entertainment. Cube enjoyed enormous success with the raunchy Friday series, which he co-wrote, before winning over a sizable mainstream audience with 2002’s Barbershop and its sequel. The family hits kept coming, as Cube acted opposite a pair of misbehaving young people in Are We There Yet? and Are We Done Yet? Recently, he helped adapt Are We There Yet? for TBS as a vehicle for his friend and former bodyguard Terry Crews. Crews and Cube also co-star in Lottery Ticket, a winning new comedy-drama about a young man (Bow Wow) who wins a $370 million lottery, sparking a series of neighborhood shenanigans. The A.V. Club recently spoke with Cube about the upcoming N.W.A. movie, why gangsta rap allowed Ike Turner to be himself, and the Weinstein brothers doing some crackhead shit with the distribution of Cube’s Janky Promoters.
The A.V. Club: Lottery Ticket is a bit like Friday and Barbershop—a slice-of-life comedy with a nice neighborhood feel. Is that one of the things that appealed to you about it?
Ice Cube: Uh… Not really. But you know, we got young directors and writers who are fans of the Barbershop and Friday movies. So I understand the similarities in the writing and the shooting. I definitely want these dudes to express themselves, because we work with a lot of first-time directors. So that ain’t really what appealed to me the most. What appealed to me was just the upbeat neighborhood comedy. I think that’s straight in our wheelhouse. We’re one of the best out there that do this kind of movie. And you know, it’s smart business to do it.
AVC: You’ve said that you do more comedies than dramas because those are the films that get made and those are the films that make money. Why do you think that is?
IC: I think you know we went through a wave in the ’90s of some hardcore films. From Boyz N The Hood to Menace II Society and South Central. If you remember, there was always little incidents in those theaters. So I really think the theaters went to the movie studios and basically said they didn’t really want the hard dramas. [Laughs.] You know what I mean? So I think it was a shift of “Yo, let’s do more comedies.” It’s really no incidents, no issues, you know. People enjoy ’em, and they go see ’em all the time. So I think that just became the black Hollywood fare, so to speak.
AVC: Do you think there’s also an escapist element, where people would rather forget about their problems than confront them?
IC: Of course. I think on the consumer tip, of course. And that’s why I do more of these type movies. Simply because my records are hard. My records talk about what people are going through most of the time. And these movies—when people go out to the movies, they wanna escape the reality, or see an upbeat reality, you know, that’s not so drab. They respond to these movies and watch them over and over again.
AVC: Speaking of dramas, there’s going to be a N.W.A. movie. What’s your involvement in that?
IC: I’ve been working close with New Line and Tomica Wright, Eazy-E’s widow, on just kind of getting our ducks in a row on this movie. Right now, we’re going into the scriptwriting phase. It’s a lot of outlines. What’s tricky is, it’s five different stories that have to come together and make one linear movie. We can’t put everything in there, or it turns into a miniseries. We’re trying to figure out what stays, what goes, what the movie’s gonna be.
AVC: Is it going to be surreal seeing Ice Cube as a character in a movie?
IC: It’s crazy. When I did Boyz N The Hood, I never thought how we grew up in South Central was interesting enough for a movie. And I never would think that my life would be interesting enough for a movie. So it’s just one surprise after another. Really, after N.W.A., it’s been constant growth and surprise.
AVC: But your life is definitely part of history. You’re a major part of history of the last 30 years.
IC: Yeah. Which is cool, you know? I guess when you first set out to do something, that’s what you wanna be. You wanna be remembered for making an impact and changing things. I guess for the good or for the bad, it don’t matter. But I guess you just wanna be remembered when it’s all said and done.
AVC: Do you think on the whole, you’ve changed things for the good?
IC: I think so. I think, to me, reality is better than being fake. N.W.A. was so real, it changed the trajectory of pop culture in a lot of ways. Because before, you would have… Take somebody like Ike Turner, who… [Punches his palm.] You know what kind of kid he is, but on TV, he’s a nice guy. Now, Ike Turner could be Ike Turner. [Laughs.] You know what I mean? Nowadays, you can be yourself. You don’t have to put on this façade. You can be who you are and still be just as successful as the ones who put on the fake façade. You know, it’s like reality is just as important as fiction.
AVC: But it seems like with gangsta rap, there’s a lot of non-reality and posturing.
IC: At a certain point, the lines start to blur and crisscross from reality to fantasy. It’s kind of being in a dream world and being in the real world at the same time. That tends to happen with anything. You can take movie-reel shots of the Iraq War, or a comic book of the Iraq War. One of ’em is totally fiction, but it still stems from reality. And it’s kind of the world we live in. You go from reality to damn near comic book on any subject you can think of.
AVC: Do you think gangsta rap would be the cultural force that it is if were not for N.W.A.?
IC: I don’t think so. I think we made it more than just gangsta rap. We made it a political statement. We’re most famous for our most political record, “Fuck Tha Police.” It’s a message a lot of people around the world wanted to say for so long, and it’s kind of like we released the floodgates, you know what I mean?
AVC: It was cathartic for an entire community.
IC: Not only for a community, but for—all over the world, you have people basically loving this song, because it fights the authority that everybody faces all around the world, which is the police and police brutality. You know, I think by that song alone, it sets us apart from the rest.
AVC: It can be about any type of corrupt authority.
IC: Yeah. I mean, it stems from there and can go on to bigger and better agencies, you know what I’m sayin’? We started off talking about our oppressor, our overseer, which was the sheriffs, the police department, L.A.P.D. But from that song, you can stem all the way up the ladder. I think people feel that.
AVC: You were bused to school as a kid. How do you think that affected the way you see the world?
IC: Well, I know that it is a world out there. Sometimes when you’re relegated to your neighborhood, you forget that there’s more important things than your neighborhood going on out in the world. And that just gave me a chance to see how life could be. And it gave me a chance to interact with everybody, not just black people or Mexicans. It made me just a little more worldly.
AVC: It broadened your horizons?
IC: Yeah. No doubt. You know, just being on the freeway. [Laughs.] Going through all these different neighborhoods just broadens your horizons.
AVC: A lot of people were pretty excited about your direct-to-DVD comedy Janky Promoters—
IC: I was too!
AVC: —and were surprised that it didn’t receive a big release, like a lot of your other films with Mike Epps. What happened?
IC: The Weinsteins fucked me. [Laughs.] Yeah, basically, they fucked me. They was runnin’ through financial problems, so they couldn’t put the movie out on wide release. And they told us we could sell the movie to another company, give them their money back—I had money tied in that movie—and then release it wide. While we were making the deal over here, they put it out on DVD over there. And I found out because somebody told me, “I just got the DVD for Janky Promoters.” I went through the roof.
AVC: So you didn’t know that was going on?
IC: Nah. It was the shadiest shit that ever happened to me in the movie business.
AVC: And that’s surreal, because that’s what the plot of the film is about: people getting fucked over in business.
IC: Exactly. So it’s real ironic. And the movie was unfinished. We still had a few days of reshoots we had to do to shore up the end. It had a lot of loose ends. The music wasn’t right. And they just basically snuck over here, edited it, finished it, and put it out. It was like crackhead shit. Stealing the microwave out your grandmamma’s house and selling it on the street. [Laughs.] So you know, I learned a lesson. But that’s what happened with that movie. That movie would’ve made money. People would’ve went to go see it. They just tanked it.
AVC: It sounds like you aren’t happy with how it turned out.
IC: No! Nah, I’m not happy. ’Cause it could have been, I think, at least 25 percent better. And you know, you want to finish the movie. You don’t want people to see a rough draft, you know what I’m sayin’? So it was kind of wack.
AVC: Who was the jankiest promoter experience you can recall?
IC: I mean, I ain’t gonna say their names. [Laughs.] But it’s some dudes out of Ohio. They’re the ones who came back there, didn’t have no money. [Laughs.] And they came back with jewelry, and they wanted to pay me in jewelry. So that’s a part I put in the movie: “Gimme that watch.” [Laughs.] So you know, we broke down the equipment, and it was a riot, just like it was in the movie. People went crazy when they saw my DJ taking equipment down. They just went crazy. Guns was pulled out.