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Ice Cube

A founding member of inflammatory, highly-influential hip hop crew N.W.A, and a man whose big screen multi-tasking has sat handgun-in-glove with his MC’ing, ICE CUBE is one mean gangsta rapper not to be messed with. Just one look at his impenetrable coupon on most of his album sleeves represented hardcore to the max; trouble is – by definition of his paradoxical latter-day movie acting (e.g. the “Friday” franchise) – one knew he could raise a smile or two: his cover blown to bits. Holding an unprecedented record of consistent high-end chart albums (the controversial `AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted’ debut kick-starting the 90s in classic style), ICE CUBE still commanded respect among his peers, his fans and just about everyone else in his vitriolic firing line.
Born O’Shea Jackson, June 15, 1969, Baldwin Hills, Los Angeles, California; the son of a hospital clerk mother and groundskeeper father, his half-sister was murdered at a young age. O’Shea indeed grew up on the rough “south” side of the tracks in Van Wick Street, where he developed his explicit rap style after being challenged by class mate, Kiddo. Abandoning his studies after earning a diploma as an architect at Phoenix Institute of Technology, and having sold a rap to future fellow N.W.A playa EAZY-E, his return to home-soil was almost inevitable.
Like every other hip hopper in the ‘hood, a nom de plume was an essential tool to express oneself among a growing legion of newbies sprouting out from every street corner. Remembering a heated argument he’d had with his older brother, the name ICE CUBE sort of stuck in his mind. His first port of call was hooking up with a like-minded group, and in Cru’ In Action (aka C.I.A.) – formed with buddy Sir Jinx and K-Dee – there was a chance to rub shoulders at parties with DR. DRE and his WORLD CLASS WRECKIN’ CRU contingent. As well as assisting the group as wordsmith on their `Cabbage Patch’ track, the pair would moonlight as Stereo Crew for a single, `She’s A Skag’; dropped by Epic Records in 1986.
C.I.A. arrived at a time when RUN-D.M.C. and BEASTIE BOYS were the toast of the movement, so their derivative d.i.y. “Cru’ In Action!’ 12-inch EP (produced by DR. DRE in 1987) didn’t quite crossover to the mainstream as expected.
As a result of Cube showing EAZY-E the rhymes to his “Boyz-n-the-Hood” track, an invitation to provide material for the eponymous “N.W.A and the Posse” album of 1987 was next on the cards. When EAZY-E, DR. DRE, MC REN and DJ YELLA wanted to turn the project into a bona fide gangsta rap group, ICE CUBE answered the call, thus N.W.A were founded.
In August 1988, Ice became a pivotal figure in the posse, having supplied and sung six songs on their ground-breaking and controversial “Straight Outta Compton” set, including notable pieces `Fuck Tha Police’ (one that attracted the scrutiny of the LAPD and FBI), `Gangsta Gangsta’ and the title track.
But then after touring the record, the rapper had a dispute with group manager Jerry Heller over unpaid royalties (which were later settled in court), and left N.W.A under a cloud. Subsequently working alongside Sir Jinx and PUBLIC ENEMY producers The Bomb Squad, ICE CUBE’s debut AmeriKKKa’s MOST WANTED (1990) {*9} soared into the Top 20. The album was as uncompromising – both lyrically and musically – as his best work for N.W.A. And following the same gangsta rap blueprint, he never budged from his old adage that “life ain’t nothing but bitches and money”. Consistently controversial and contradictory, the cocksure ICE CUBE put down women at every opportunity, yet offers female rapper YO-YO a chance to have her say on `It’s A Man’s World’ (sampling in part JAMES BROWN); and say it she does, in fine style. In essence, the record was an honest depiction of gang/gunslinger violence in L.A. and elsewhere, and with acute sampling from AVERAGE WHITE BAND’s “The Jugglers” on `What They Hittin’ Foe?’ to a guest spot for CHUCK D on `Endangered Species (Tales From The Darkside)’, it would certainly be a guessing game to name the plethora of his idols in the grooves.
KILL AT WILL (1990) {*6} was by and large a cash-in EP of seven tracks – incorporating a pair of remixes – that constituted an album chart entry. But it had its moments in `Dead Homiez’ (an ode to the everyday black-on-black shootings) and a full re-hash of the misogynist `Get Off My Dick And Tell Yo Bitch To Come Here’.
1991’s near chart-topping DEATH CERTIFICATE {*8} was an even more vicious verbal attack; ICE CUBE railing against the usual targets like the police and the media, although the tracks `No Vaseline’ and `Black Korea’ brought about the most criticism. The former was an anti-Semitic outburst against his aforementioned former boss, Heller, whilst the latter advocated setting fire to Korean-owned grocery stores. IC didn’t stop there though; going on to include white “devils”, middle-class blacks and gay men in his litany of hate. Inevitably, the album brought widespread condemnation; the only thanks the rapper received for his troubles was from the oppositional Ku Klux Klan. Unlike his previous releases receiving the optional “censored version” approach, only the attendant singles (`Steady Mobbin’’, `True To The Game’ and `Givin’ Up The Nappy Dug Out’) breathed a sigh of relief for radio pluggers.
Meanwhile that summer, ICE CUBE couldn’t have hoped for a more auspicious movie debut than 1991’s “Boyz N The Hood” . Although drawing generous notices for his magnetic portrayal of an ex-con, as well as contributing to the soundtrack a la opener, `How To Survive In South Central’, the newbie actor was just getting started. Duly using the John Singleton landmark as proof of his ability to face down his near namesake ICE-T in Walter Hill’s “Trespass”, this movie exposure earned him a top slot for million-seller, THE PREDATOR (1992) {*7}. His anger more focused (in the wake of the brutal police killing of Rodney King), it spawned his biggest hit to date in the deceptively mellow and classy `It Was A Good Day’ (a melting of The ISLEY BROTHERS’ “Footsteps In The Dark” and The MOMENTS’ `Sexy Mama”), while there was also room in the singles chart for `Wicked’ (listen out for SLY & THE FAMILY STONE, OHIO PLAYERS, PUBLIC ENEMY and DAS EFX) and `Check Yo Self’ (ft. DAS EFX and not “The Message” bonus version).
The rapper’s P-Funk preoccupation continued with the slow-burning LETHAL INJECTION (1993) {*4}, wherein he sparred with GEORGE CLINTON on the 11-minute “One Nation Under A Groove”-sampling `Bop Gun (One Nation)’, and a single edit that reached the Top 30 in both the US and UK. Despite its Top 50 showing, sharp-tongued reviewers had a field day lambasting the rapper’s rabble-rousing, albeit with the exception of hits, `Really Doe’ and `You Know How We Do It’.
Having taking up a cameo role (next to ICE-T, FLAVOUR FLAV, EAZY-Z and BUTTHOLE SURFERS) in hip hop send-up, “CB4”, ICE CUBE decided to gravitate toward the movie world by working with credible Afro-American directors. He continued to excel in roles concerning the wrong side of the law; as with Charles Burnett’s “The Glass Shield” (1994), before taking on a subtler, more ambiguous role as an eternal student in Singleton’s “Higher Learning” (1995), as well as contributing a couple of songs to the stylistically educational soundtrack.
Limiting his musical resources with a sole contribution, `Natural Born Killaz’ (alongside old mucker DR. DRE) to SNOOP DOGG’s video vehicle, “Murder Was The Case” soundtrack, ICE CUBE’s penchant for comedy situations asserted itself on the spliff-fragranced “Friday” (1995); indeed his first, highly successful shot at scriptwriting whilst sketching another wry role for himself and honing his increasingly impressive acting chops into the bargain.
In the interim and almost swept under the rug if one couldn’t keep up with all the gangsta rap records coming out of the woodwork, the hip hop supergroup WESTSIDE CONNECTION – aka ICE CUBE, MACK 10 and WC – drove home their street observations via Top 3 set, `Bow Down’ (1996).
O’Shea’s production debut was just as impressive: Darrell James Roodt’s “Dangerous Ground” (1997); the movie furnished an even more politically slanted part than the Burnett film, witnessing ICE CUBE – alongside Elizabeth Hurley – imagining himself into the role of a long-time exile returning to post-apartheid South Africa. He also graced the (strictly hip hop) soundtrack’s cover art and penned its lead cut, `The World Is Mine’. Less promising was jungle farce, “Anaconda” (1997), playing a serpent-baiting cameraman for a pre-J.LO Jennifer Lopez.
In what was by this point becoming an established pattern, he swung back to grittier material for his directorial debut (which he also wrote and produced), dabbling in Spike Lee-patented sexual politics with “The Players Club” (1998), to the soundtrack of which he contributed his usual handful of thematic rhymes alongside the likes of MASTER P. The latter rapper returned the favour with his own production/writing vehicle, “I Got The Hook-Up” (1998), giving him a cameo and gracing the soundtrack with `Ghetto Vet’, one of the best tracks from ICE CUBE’s Top 10 comeback album, WAR & PEACE VOL.1 (THE WAR DISC) (1998) {*5}.
Running at an ambitious 70 minutes worth of jam-rap to nu-metal fusions (from hit single `Pushin’ Weight’ – ft. Mr. Short Khop – to `Fuck Dying’ ft. KORN), there were no shortage of production mixers and further guests, including MACK 10, but after a 5-year wait absence had made the heart grow fonder.
The second instalment in this double-whammy of sorts, WAR & PEACE VOL.2 (THE PEACE DISC) {*5} was long overdue when it hit the Top 3 in March 2000; he’d been busy on location for David O. Russell’s acclaimed “Three Kings” (1999), which cast him in a real-life (Gulf) war role alongside George Clooney, while the hip hop themed “Thicker Than Water” (1999), focused on war closer to the streets he grew up on. Once again there were the usual suspect accusations of hateful rhetoric, but to counterbalance any talk of gun-toting violence (e.g. `Hello’ ft. DR. DRE & MC REN), there was the gangsta’s make-love-not-war peace ethos by way of `Until We Rich’ and signature Top 40 hit, `You Can Do It’, showcasing Ms. Toi.
Back on the Hollywood trail, the new millennium saw the release of O’Shea’s belated franchise follow-up to “Next Friday” (2000); he even wrote the script and took a starring role though relinquishing the director’s chair. For the soundtrack, he lifted the aforesaid `You Can Do It’, a song which went on to have an unlikely remixed wind as a near UK No.1 in 2004.
Having mastered earthbound gangstas, O’Shea went on to star as a criminal in outer space in John Carpenter’s “Ghosts Of Mars” (2001), a role which presaged the more action-orientated bent of some of his parts in the years to come. While “Friday After Next” (2002) milked a third film from his comedy sideline; with the rapper again credited as writer and producer while leaving the direction to music video maestro Marcus Raboy, a braided ICE CUBE put a bit more Hollywood largesse into his next writing/acting/producing project, “All About The Benjamins” (2002); also directed by a music video expert in Kevin Bray. ICE CUBE’s talent for homespun comedy was again underlined with a gregarious starring role in neighbourhood ensemble piece, “Barbershop” (2002), while a PAUL OAKENFOLD link-up for the same years `Blade II’ soundtrack predicted the aforementioned club makeover of `You Can Do It’.
With a little time on his hands once again, Ice was back as major contributor to WESTSIDE CONNECTION’s second Top 20 long-player, `Terrorist Threat’ (2003).
Yet another music video player, Joseph Khan, was O’shea’s director on unapologetically high-octane actioner, “Torque” (2004), while “XXX: State Of The Union” (2005) finally saw him line up (once again as a dangerous con) with Samuel L. Jackson, taking up where Vin Diesel left off and contributing his mandatory lyric (`Anybody Seen The PoPo’s?’) to the soundtrack. Punctuating the rough stuff was a second volume of “Barbershop 2: Back In Business”, an executive production credit on the concept’s QUEEN LATIFAH spin-off, “Beauty Shop” (2005), and a role as a de facto father in family comedy, “Are We There Yet?” (2005).
ICE CUBE only returned to “solo” recording with LAUGH NOW, CRY LATER (2006) {*6}, a Top 5 album for Virgin-EMI welcomed back with open arms by fans and several critics alike. Whilst the derivative beats played out like newbie 50 CENT and aforesaid buddy MACK 10 (the blame lay squarely at the production values), the ‘Cube took swipes at `Child Support’, the upper class pseudo-elite and the George Bush’s in office via `Guns And Drugs’ and a whole smorgasbord of stars on `Smoke Some Weed’. On the collaboration/guest-list front, SNOOP DOGG made his mark on `Go To Church’ and `You Gotta Lotta That’, won the day over KOKANE & WC’s joint effort, `Spittin’ Pollaseeds’.
2006 also saw O’Shea link-up with award-winning documentarian R.J. Cutler, a reality TV project putting an experimental, sociological spin on the time-honoured concept of a white person (in this case a whole family) living – with the help of modern make-up techniques – in the guise of a black person, and vice versa. And as a dude who liked a good sequel, the actor took up the domestic baton once more on 2007 follow-up, “Are We Done Yet?”, perhaps signalling a mellowing of one of hip hop’s original – and most successful – gangstas; a man long since a dotting father in real life. It’s worth mentioning that the movie branched out into a TV series between 2010 and 2013.
Running up to this stage in his career, ICE CUBE had managed to incorporate both acting and music vocations, and while the former occasionally added film producer duties to his CV (for “First Sunday”, “The Longshots”, “Janky Promoters” and “Lottery Ticket”), chart albums RAW FOOTAGE (2008) {*5} and I AM THE WEST (2010) {*6} saw diminishing returns.
The first of these albums projected a blend of explicit hardcore rap or R&B-inflected common denominators (`Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It’ and `Why Me?’ prime examples), whilst the second session/guest fest set introduced his sons OMG and Doughboy; `Nothing Like L.A.’ was a tribute to their mother, his wife of 18 years, Kimberly Woodruff.
Major movie roles in “Rampart” (2011), “21 Jump Street” (2012), “Ride Along” (2014), “22 Jump Street” (2014) and a voice part in “The Book Of Life” (2014) all kept ICE CUBE’s profile high, whilst there was a poignant production job in the N.W.A bio-pic “Straight Outta Compton” (2015); his part played by his real-life son, O’Shea Jackson Jr.
Sequel films, “Ride Along 2” (2016), “Barbershop: The Next Cut” (2016), “XXX: Return Of Xander Cage” (2017) and the comedy “First Fight” (2017), preceded yet another long wait for 10th full album, EVERYTHANGS CORRUPT (2018) {*7}. If critical appraisal had not matched tidy sales returns on ICE CUBE’s previous pair of sets, the polar opposite could be said for this album as it registered a lowly hp of #62 despite glowing reviews. If there was a reason for the iconic rapper to weigh-in with this comeback set of sorts, maybe it gave him his platform to fire across the bow at the state of politics in the current climate of Trump’s White House a la `Arrest The President’, `Chase Down The Bully’ and `Ain’t Got No Haters’ (ft. TOO $HORT). On a positive note, there was indeed a tribute to a certain GEORGE CLINTON via `That New Funkadelic’ and as always a raft of producers.
© MC Strong 1994-2009/GRD-LCS/BG // rev-up MCS Sep2019

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