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AmeriKKKa's Most Cuddly Profane MC
At an age when most rappers are toast, Ice Cube's still got game
More so than most genres, hip-hop is dependent on image. If a rapper begins his or her career as a foul-mouthed, streetwise MC, shedding that approach and becoming a wholesome artist is unlikely—and vice versa. We all loved MC Hammer when he wore big pants and challenged Michael Jackson to a dance-off, but no one cared when pop-rap went kaput and he dropped the MC to become a thug named Hammer. The fact that former N.W.A member Ice Cube shed his Jheri curls and menacing glares for Hollywood proves that real talent rises above genre limitations.
In fact, the man born O'Shea Jackson hasn't just gone from the song "Fuck tha Police" to the family-oriented Are We There Yet? He's somehow managed to remain a hardcore rapper while moms in their SUVs drop kids off at local theaters to see his cinematic endeavors. Let's see any current chart-topping artists try that.
The world could have imploded for both Ice Cube and his N.W.A band mates when he left the group over financial issues in the late '80s. Cube was the quintet's head MC and wrote portions of Eazy-E's solo debut, Eazy-Duz-It. Unlike other MCs who blow their load their initial time on wax, Cube actually came out stronger by maintaining the pace he set for himself in N.W.A. His first solo effort, 1990's AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, with the songs "Endangered Species (Tales from the Darkside)," "The Nigga Ya Love to Hate" and the title track, are hailed by many hip-hop fans as some of the most vicious rhymes on record. Cube's later albums, including Death Certificate, The Predator and Lethal Injection, are pretty damn good, too.
The end of this decade marks Cube's 20th anniversary as a solo artist, and conventional wisdom dictates he'll start to suck. But on his latest disc, Raw Footage, slated for release Aug. 19 on his own Lench Mob Records, the track "Do Ya Thang Dirty" showcases Cube's sandpaper flow, while "Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It" dissects how everything from selling drugs to dying in Iraq can be attributed to a scene he helped create.
One noticeable change in the older Ice Cube is heard on a track called "Why Me," which is written from the perspective of a victim of senseless violence. I attempted to get Cube on the phone, but all I got was a press release, in which the rapper explains the song.
"I was thinking about people who get shot walking down the street and don't know who shot them, who don't even know that they're dead because it happened so fast," the rapper says. "I know they want to at least talk to the person who shot them and ask, 'Why me? What did I do to you?' I wanted people who are into busting on people to think about what they're doing and how you're killing innocent bystanders for nothing."
Ice Cube's grim lyrical obsessions contrast sharply with his movie roles, which often involve humorous portrayals of family men and fun-loving buddies. Perhaps feeling constrained by the public's common perception of him as a gangsta rapper, Ice Cube decided to go against type with his film career.
Obviously, there's a shit-ton of money to be made in Hollywood, so you can't blame Ice Cube for making the leap to the big screen. Besides, his debut as Doughboy in director John Singleton's 1991 classic Boyz N the Hood was as convincing as any of his rhymes. The Friday trilogy and the two Barbershop films were wildly successful and showed a more playful side, while Higher Learning and XXX: State of the Union are evidence of an artist pushing his boundaries. There are also a few clunkers in his filmography (Anaconda and The Players Club come to mind), but any creative person is bound to have a few flops.
Cube is scheduled to perform alongside fellow rappers the Game, Lil Wayne and T-Pain, along with singers Chris Brown and Colby O'Donis at radio station Power 106's annual summer concert, Powerhouse. It's safe to say none of those other artists is venturing into kid-ready films and will still be getting press some 20 years after first hitting the scene. You can question the soundness of some of Ice Cube's career choices, but he's the real deal. Still.
Ice Cube performs with the Game, Lil Wayne, T-Pain, Chris Brown and Colby O'Donis at the Honda Center, 2695 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 704-2400; www.hondacenter.com. Sat., 7:30 p.m. $48-$95.