Ice Cube will revisit his gangsta past later this month, when he performs numerous N.W.A songs with MC Ren and DJ Yella at a Los Angeles concert. “It’s just gonna be a great night,” Ice Cube tells Rolling Stone of his BET Experience gig at the Staples Center on June 27th. “We’re gonna be there with Snoop, Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q. It’s just gonna be one of those ‘I wish I were there in L.A. nights.’ And we’re gonna rock that shit, no problem.”
The reunion comes before the release of Straight Outta Compton, the N.W.A biopic he co-produced with Dr. Dre and Eazy-E’s widow Tomica Woods-Wright. The movie, which comes out August 14th, covers the 10-year span between the group’s fornation in the mid-Eighties through Eazy-E’s death in 1995.
“I’m gonna bring out some of the old favorites,” Cube says of the concert, declining to name which specific songs he’ll perform. “We’re gonna bring back some memories up in there for sure.”
The festival, whose official name is the “BET Experience at L.A. Live, Presented by Coca-Cola,” will take place between June 25th and the 28th. Nicki Minaj, Kevin Hart, Bell Biv Devoe, the Roots and others are all slated to perform, with tickets now available. “Not only am I a fan of BET and I’m really grateful that BET is still around and doing events of this magnitude, but for it to be in my hometown, L.A., and for me to perform at the Staples Center, it’s a real cool notch on my belt,” Ice Cube says. “It’s great in so many ways.” The rapper spoke to Rolling Stone about what to expect on the historic night.
When is the last time you got onstage with MC Ren and DJ Yella?
The last time I performed with Yella was 1989. That was a long time, but with Ren, it was the Up in Smoke Tour [in 2000]. It was real cool to be onstage with him again, but that’s still been 15 years ago. So it’s real cool to get up there and with the excitement around Straight Outta Compton, the movie. I think people are going to just be extra excited to get a glimpse of us.
Why wasn’t Yella a part of the Up in Smoke Tour?
That was a tour that was pretty much spearheaded by Dre, so I don’t know. But that tour was fun, and it was big.
So you’ll be doing songs from Straight Outta Compton at the BET Experience. Which ones?
I can’t give up everything [laughs]. You gotta make it to the Staples Center. I want to keep that a secret and just bring back memories, keep it rockin’. You know, old-school hip-hop at its finest.
On your recent tours, you’ve done “Straight Outta Compton” and “Gangsta Gangsta.” How does it feel to revisit those?
I love ’em. It also reminds me of how far I’ve come in entertainment and hip-hop. I always like to give people a taste of my history. I’ve got so many records I could do, so I just want to make sure I spread it out and people get a taste of songs they like. It’s not a bad problem to have.
When you hear your voice on Straight Outta Compton, does it sound like a different person?
It sounds like me. Dre’s productions still hold up and it just sounds like a…I mean, “younger me” ain’t the word ’cause that’s just cliché. But [we were] extremely hungry to be accepted in hip-hop. When we first came out, we was locals. We never really knew our music was going to go this far, so we had our expectations high. It worked out, I’d say.
How do you get back into that N.W.A headspace when you do these songs?
Same shit’s going on. It doesn’t change with the calendar. So it’s easy. The rage is still there because the problems are still there. I’ve always said what I need to say and that ain’t never gonna change. My personal success is irrelevant to the rhymes I write and what I talk about, how I feel about society.
“‘Fuck tha Police’ was a song 400 years in the making.”
With everything going on in the world, do you feel a song like “Fuck tha Police” means more now more than ever?
You know, actually, it don’t. That song is still in the same place before it was made. It’s our legacy here in America with the police department and any kind of authority figures that have to deal with us on a day-to-day basis. There’s usually abuse and violence connected to that interaction, so when “Fuck tha Police” was made in 1989, it was 400 years in the making. And it’s still just as relevant as it was before it was made.
The Straight Outta Compton movie preview shows some tense moments with police. Was there a specific incident that made you write “Fuck tha Police”?
Just harassment. At the time, Daryl Gates, who was the chief of police over at the LAPD, had declared a war on gangs. A war on gangs, to me, is a politically correct word to say a war on anybody you think is a gang member. So the way we dressed and the way we looked and where we come from, you can mistake any kid for a gang member. Any good kid. Some of them dress like gangbangers, and they go to school every day because that’s the fashion in the neighborhood. So to declare that, it meant a war on every black kid with a baseball hat on, with a T-shirt on, some jeans and some tennis shoes. So it was just too much to bear, to be under that kind of occupying force, who was abusive. It’s just, enough is enough. Our music was our only weapon. Nonviolent protest.
And then you heard from the FBI.
Yeah, the “Federal Bureau of Intimidation.”
So much for freedom of speech.
It’s like what Ice-T said, “freedom of speech, just watch what you say.”
In 2000, Dr. Dre told Rolling Stone he was working on an N.W.A album on the road on the Up in Smoke tour. Whatever happened to that music?
That idea probably went up in smoke [laughs].
Will Dre be at the Staples Center, too?
You know, if you wish upon a star, you never know [laughs]. You never know. It’s like, I hope he blesses us with his presence. But if not, I’ve been rockin’ for a long time without anybody. So whoever shows up, I’m still gonna rock. Whoever don’t show up, we still gonna rock.
Are you guys working on new music for the Straight Outta Compton soundtrack?
We’re definitely dibbling and dabbling, so to speak. It’s all about how great it comes out when you’re creating something. We can throw anything together; we can put rhymes and beats together easy. But our expectation level is so high, and if we meet our threshold, the world gets to hear what it is. If we don’t, we still need more time together to make it happen. It’s really some TLC, tender love and care, being put into these records. We’ll see what it is.
What do you think Jerry Heller will make of the Straight Outta Compton movie?
I don’t care.