Ice Cube on Police Brutality, Rapping for David Bowie and Trump
Lately, it seems like pretty much every day is a good day for Ice Cube. In the past five months, he’s seen his old group, N.W.A, elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; watched Straight Outta Compton, the movie he co-produced about the groundbreaking gangsta-rap act’s late-Eighties rise, rake in a $200 million payday worldwide; and booked his first-ever spot at Coachella — which will take place just a week after the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in April.
“Of all those, making the Hall of Fame has to be the tip-top,” says the rapper-actor. “That’s a big accomplishment for me, but it’s also a big accomplishment for the Hall of Fame to let the world know they’re about more than just rock & roll.” In the meantime, he’s focused on promoting Ride Along 2, a sequel to the 2014 buddy comedy with Kevin Hart in which Cube plays an Atlanta detective. “The Oscar-movie phase is over — time to get back to some real fun,” he says. “Me and Kevin are the best duo out there.”
Which would have seemed more unlikely to you back in 1988: That one day you’d be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or that you’d play a cop in the movies?
That I’d be playing a cop. I never even thought about doing movies back then. In ’88, I was just trying to be the best rapper in the world. Music was a hobby that became a full-time job. I didn’t know if we were going to be a blip on the radar or have staying power, or where my life was going to go from there.
What if someone had said to you, “I’m a visitor from the future, and this is where you’ll be in 2016”? Would you have believed them?
I would have said, “Dope. Let’s make it happen.”
You were a powerful voice against police brutality back then with songs like “Fuck tha Police.” How does it make you feel to see so many stories about cops killing unarmed black people in the news all these years later?
Makes me feel like a black man. That’s what it makes me feel like — same as always. As a black person, it’s always seemed like it’s a war on us. It’s just terrible. They wonder what I’ve got to complain about at this point in my life. I’ll tell you: People are only nice to me because they know who I am and they like my work. It shouldn’t have to be like that to get people to respect you.
Do you think things are getting any better?
No. The problem is that they’re just the same. People don’t change their stripes. That’s just what it is. It ain’t changed.
What’s your take on the presidential race? Are there any candidates you like?
Not really. You can elect, but you can never select. That’s the dilemma. It’s the difference between bad and worse.
What do you think of Donald Trump?
I think he’s a rich white man. He can’t possibly know the pain of poor people.
You’re playing Coachella the same night as Guns N’ Roses. Are you planning to stick around for their set?
Yeah, I’m interested to see how that goes. Just to see them together again will be cool. I thought they were the cream of the crop back then — I always liked Slash’s style. And then, like a lot of good bands, they broke up too soon.
Speaking of reunions, there were some rumors last year about the surviving members of N.W.A getting together for a new tour. What’s the status on that? Is it happening?
Well, I don’t really know the status. Making the movie was a monster, and we had to really concentrate on that. Some things are easier said than done, and I don’t know where everybody’s head is at. I hope people will see us out on that stage together soon, but it’s really up to Dre and Ren and Yella. You might see some of us; you might not see all of us.
You worked on a remix of David Bowie’s “I’m Afraid of Americans” in 1997. Was that a big deal for you?
It was. He was such an innovator, and his songs were phenomenal. I remember when I first heard “Fame” on the radio, I thought he was black. It was so funky!
What was your favorite movie last year that you weren’t involved in?
I love Spotlight — the story about Boston politics was well-told, and it had that All the President’s Men feel, just investigating what’s going on. It felt real. I liked The Revenant, too, but it felt real long to me.
One of your most beloved songs is “It Was a Good Day,” from 1992. What’s your idea of a good day now?
Going out to breakfast with my wife, hanging out with her. Go to the Staples Center, check out the Lakers. Come home and eat good, or go out to eat. Go kick it with some of the homies. It’s the simple things that really are cool. That other stuff is work.
Sounds like it hasn’t changed that much since ’92.
Yep. That’s what I like to do.
Straight Outta Compton got people talking again about the 1991 incident in which Dr. Dre assaulted journalist Dee Barnes over an interview she did with you after you quit N.W.A. What did you think about that situation at the time?
I felt sorry for Dee. And I wasn’t too friendly with Dre — I was mad at Dre at the time. I really didn’t have too much sympathy for him.
Then why didn’t that incident make it into the movie? Many people were disappointed to see it left out.
Go make your own movie about N.W.A. Then you can put in anything you want to. It’s like a thousand different incidents that happened with us. There’s no way we could have got them all into the movie.
Your son gave a great performance in the film as your younger self. What was it like watching him in that role?
It was wonderful to see my son do his thing and get busy. I knew he could do it. As a father, that’s what I get off on.
He looked pretty cool in your old Jheri curl. Did it make you think about bringing that look back?
Uh, no [laughs]. I’ll let you bring back the Jheri curl.
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