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Actor and Musician Ice Cube: 'Are We There Yet?'

The new film Are We There Yet? stars Ice Cube as a man so eager to get close to a woman that he offers to travel many miles to reunite her children with their mother. The film was made by his production company, Cube Vision, which also developed Friday, as well as Barbershop.

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Transcript

DATE January 10, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Ice Cube discusses his new film, "Are We There Yet?"
and his career as a recording artist
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Ice Cube became famous in the late '80s as one of the originators of gangsta
rap. Many of his lyrics were about gangs, drive-bys and confrontations with
the police in South Central LA. So it might surprise you to hear that the new
movie he stars in and produced is a family comedy. Cube made his movie debut
in "Boyz 'N the Hood." Now he has his own production company which has made
several hit films that he also starred in, including "Friday" and
"Barbershop." He also co-starred with George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg in
"Three Kings."

In his new family comedy, "Are We There Yet?" he plays a single man who falls
in love with a recently divorced mother of two children. He hates kids, but
in the hopes of winning her over, he agrees to escort them on a 300-mile trip
so that they can spend New Year's Eve in Vancouver, where their mother has to
be on business. The kids are hoping their mother will reunite with their
father, so they do everything imaginable to scare off Cube, and he does
everything in his power to prevent that from happening. After they destroy
his car and get thrown off their plane, the kids board a train and leave him
behind. He mounts a horse and is riding alongside the train when the
children's mother calls his cell phone.

(Soundbite of "Are We There Yet?")

ICE CUBE: Hey, how you doin', baby?

Unidentified Actress: Hi. Is everything OK?

ICE CUBE: Oh, yeah. Everything is cool. Can I call you right back?

Unidentified Actress: Wait. Wait, wait, wait. I want to say hi to the kids.

ICE CUBE: Oh, OK. She want to talk to you guys to make sure everything is
all right.

Unidentified Child #1: Hi, Mom!

Unidentified Child #2: Hi!

Unidentified Actress: I love you.

Unidentified Child #1: Love you, too!

Unidentified Child #2: Bye!

ICE CUBE: Scoot over. I'm coming aboard!

Unidentified Child #1: That's a bad idea.

ICE CUBE: Says who?

Unidentified Child #2: Says the guy who put all that junk there.

ICE CUBE: Oh, man! Whooooa! Ugh!

(Soundbite of children laughing)

GROSS: Ice Cube, welcome to FRESH AIR.

ICE CUBE: Thank you.

GROSS: If someone said to you, in the 1980s, when you were first getting
famous as a gangsta rapper, that in 2005 you were going to be producing and
starring in a movie in which you got subjected to every indignity imaginable
by a couple of really obnoxious children, what would you say?

ICE CUBE: I would have told them they was crazy, you know. All I wanted to
do was rap back then. You know, I had no other ambitions but to, you know,
get my songs played on the radio, you know. And here I am. You know, it's
been a roller-coaster ride of a career for me, and you know, it's fun. And
it's still kind of evolving, so you know, I wouldn't have believed you back
then.

GROSS: Now something that's a kind of in joke about you, there's a scene
where you have to get an off-duty pharmacist to give you a prescription,
because one of the kids has asthma, and he needs his inhaler really badly.

ICE CUBE: Yeah.

GROSS: So you give the pharmacist your famous scowl...

ICE CUBE: Yeah.

GROSS: ...your sneer, in which one corner of your lip is raised, and, I mean,
it's a look we were familiar with from, you know, back to the '80s.

ICE CUBE: Yeah. Yeah. Definitely.

GROSS: And you also teach one of the kids how to do it so if he ever needs to
intimidate somebody, he can, too. And it's a funny scene.

ICE CUBE: Yeah, it's a pretty cool scene. You know, I've been known for that
for the longest--you know, if you look at a lot of my early pictures, you
know, all I did was frown...

GROSS: That's right.

ICE CUBE: ...and make to scowl, but, you know, so to--you know, to teach a
youngster--and he had it pretty good.

GROSS: And how did you first use that look? How did that become such a part
of your persona?

ICE CUBE: I mean, it's just a natural look. I mean, it's just...

GROSS: The scowl?

ICE CUBE: I've always had it. You know, I've always been accused of looking
mean, you know, in school, you know, as an adult. It's just a look that I
have is kind of a natural look, and, you know, now it's a famous look for me,
you know.

GROSS: So what are some of the films that you saw as a child that made a big
impression on you?

ICE CUBE: Oh, man, I've seen everything. There was a movie theater that
wasn't too far from my house, and I was--you know, a time in my life where,
you know, I didn't need my family. I could just go, you know. I was 12, 13
years old, and we would live at the movie theaters every week, you know, and
see from, you know, "Grease" to "Meatballs" to "Jaws" to "Star Wars" to, you
know, "Uptown Saturday Night" to "Car Wash." And, you know, we would see
everything that came through there and see it more than once, you know. I
remember seeing, like, "Saturday Night Fever" at the movies. You know, back
then, movies stayed out 12 weeks, you know. They didn't just stay in the
theaters two or three weeks and were out of there. So, you know, you go there
every week and "Saturday Night Fever" is playing. `Let's go see that again.'
You know what I mean? So, you know, I got a chance to see a lot of these
movies over and over again.

GROSS: My guest is Ice Cube, and he produced and stars in a new family comedy
called "Are We There Yet?" That opens a little later in January.

When was the first time you heard rap? I mean, how old were you, what were
you listening to when you first heard it?

ICE CUBE: The first rap song I heard was "Rapper's Delight" by the Sugar Hill
Gang, 1979.

GROSS: That's pretty much the beginning of recorded rap.

ICE CUBE: Pretty much, yeah. I was 10 years old, and I was on my way to the
dentist. My uncle was taking me, and he had a big radio that he would play,
'cause his car radio didn't work. And he had this one song on there. He had,
you know, the Ohio Players. He had Rick James, The Commodores, and then this
one song came on which was "Rapper's Delight," and it just blew my mind that,
you know, people were saying what I considered nursery school rhymes to music,
and it was something that just captivated me. I listened to that tape over
and over and over again till my uncle said, `Look, we can't listen to this
song no more, you know. Get you in to this dentist. We can't listen to this
song no more.' But I was caught from then, and I was always seeking it out
and always looking forward, you know, where could we find rap, you know.

GROSS: And how did you start writing your own rhymes?

ICE CUBE: I was a big fan of the music, would try to find it on every
station, you know, and there wasn't a lot of rap around, period, you know. It
was kind of like, if you didn't catch it, you missed it, 'cause it was nowhere
to be found. And I was about 14, and I was taking a typing class, which I
hated, but, you know, it was the best thing for me now that I...

GROSS: Yeah, little did you know you'd be writing screenplays.

ICE CUBE: ...write scripts and do--yeah. And I was in the class and I
finished my work and a guy named Kiddo turned around and said, `Have you ever
wrote a rap before?' And I said, `No.' And he said, `You write one, I'll
write one, and we'll see which one's the best at the end of the class.' And I
just never stopped writing from there.

GROSS: And when did you actually take the mike?

ICE CUBE: It was a while. You know, I used to go down to a guy named Sir
Jinx. He's one of my early first producers, and he's actually Dr. Dre's
cousin. That's how I met Dr. Dre, through him. But I went, and he had deejay
equipment, you know, and, you know, back then, you know, for Christmas, you'd
have your mother buy a turntable, his mother buy a microphone, that guy buy
some records, you know, and we'd kind of piece it together. And we had enough
pieces to just start messing around. So, you know, finally I got a mike in my
hand. And, you know, he really actually helped me with my flow and how to
really bring it across, you know. And that's where it started, so...

GROSS: Now did you do parties first?

ICE CUBE: We did everything. You know, when we met Dre, Dre was well
established in Los Angeles hip-hop as a party-thrower. And he told us, `Yo,
you know, I'm throwing a party here in Compton if you want to come and get on
the mike. You better be good, 'cause if you're not, they gonna boo you out
the building.' So we geared up and went and did that, and that just kind of
turned us on and sparked us. And, you know, I always had to hit the stage
after that.

GROSS: Did you ever get booed out of the building?

ICE CUBE: Yeah, we've been booed before. I mean, as NWA, we've been booed
out the Apollo when we first, first came on the scene. We went to the Apollo,
and they had kind of like a rap convention. So we were one of the guests on
there. So we got up there, and, you know, they just wasn't ready for these
dudes from the West Coast with all this profanity and, you know, these Jheri
curls and Raider hats and all this. They just--they wasn't ready for it, you
know. But the next time we came back, which was actually a few months later,
the record was big, and they loved us.

GROSS: So how did you personally deal with being rejected by the audience?
Were you angry? Was your ego bruised? Did you feel like, `Well, now I'm a
failure'? Or did you feel like, `I'll show them. I'll come back and I'll be
a star,' you know?

ICE CUBE: Well, you know, we always felt like, `Well, damn, you know. This
is the Mecca of hip-hop in New York, but they seem slow, 'cause the rest of
the country love us.' So we always looked at that as strange, because we
always thought New York was the forefront, and here they were behind on a
genre of the music, you know, gangsta rap. It was a step behind. And now we
recognize that. We recognize that, you know, they'll catch up sooner or
later, and they did.

GROSS: Before you started doing gangsta rap, did you ever do just, you know,
party rap?

ICE CUBE: Yeah. We tried that. You know, we tried to sound like all the
groups that we loved, you know, from Run-DMC to Beastie Boys, you know.
Everybody that was out at the time when we started, which was about '84 or
'85, '86, we were emulating those groups. But it wasn't until we started
doing, like, offbeat mix tapes for the neighborhood--like we would make a tape
for a guy in the neighborhood, and he'd want you to rap on it, and then we
started making raps about the neighborhood for the guys in the neighborhood.
And that got a bigger response than anything, because people seemed to be able
to connect, and nobody was talking about the things that we were talking
about. And we found our niche and kind of never looked back.

GROSS: What were some of the early things about the neighborhood that you
started talking about?

ICE CUBE: I mean, '80s Los Angeles, a lot of crack, a lot of gang-banging, a
lot of unseen police brutality before the Rodney King stuff. I mean, a lot of
stuff we was going through in those neighborhoods, man, that the world had
never even talked about or, you know, acknowledged.

GROSS: My guest is Ice Cube. He stars in the new family comedy "Are We There
Yet?" We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Ice Cube. He stars in the new family comedy "Are We There
Yet?" which opens later this month. Although the movie is PG-13, his music,
which we'll soon hear, is not, but we did bleep it for broadcast.

Now you grew up in South Central.

ICE CUBE: Yeah.

GROSS: What was the neighborhood you were from like when you were a kid?

ICE CUBE: My neighborhood was--you know, the thing about Los Angeles is very
unpredictable, and it's--you know, the streets are nice, the lawns are
manicured, you know, and there's this big gang culture that always was, you
know, like a bad storm that never kind of went away, that was kind of always
looming, you know. Whether it was raining or not, it was still looming. So
you always had a mixture of talented people, sports people, you know,
gangsters. You know, it was always that mix. And, you know, 80 percent of
the time it was cool, but 20 percent of the time, you know, it was hell. So
as a kid, you always thought about that 20 percent of the time, no matter how
much fun you was having. So in looking back at it, you know, it's really only
added to my life, you know. It's only added to my character and my strength,
growing up in South Central Los Angeles.

GROSS: I want to play one of the famous NWA records. And this is "Straight
Outta Compton."

ICE CUBE: Yeah.

GROSS: You were rapping, you wrote it. Do you want to say anything about it
before we hear it? This became, like, a signature rap.

ICE CUBE: Yeah. I mean, "Straight Outta Compton" was--I was trying to scream
to the world kind of what we were living, going through, how we felt. You
know, for rappers, a lot of rappers will say that doing the music is a great
stress reliever. It relieves tension. It's a way to take your anger,
frustrations, your ego and kind of give it a forum. And, you know, that's
what it was for us. It's kind of us kind of screaming at the top of our lungs
not only what was going on in the neighborhood but the ego that's a part of
rap, you know. A lot of people don't realize ego, bravado is a part of the
music. You really, you know--it's as essential as rhyming to a certain
extent. So, you know, that's what this is. This is to tell the world where
we're coming from and how we're coming and to be warned, because we were the
world's most dangerous group.

GROSS: Here it is, "Straight Outta Compton." This is NWA with my guest, Ice
Cube.

(Soundbite of "Straight Outta Compton")

ICE CUBE: (Singing) I'm coming straight outta Compton. Compton. When
something happens in South Central Los Angeles, nothing happens. It's just
another nigger dead.

Straight outta Compton, crazy mother (censored) named Ice Cube from the gang
called Niggaz With Attitudes. When I'm called off, I got a sawed-off.
Squeeze the trigger and bodies are hauled off. You, too, boy, if you
(censored) with me. The police are gonna have to come and get me. Off your
ass. That's how I'm goin' out. For the punk mother (censored) that's showin'
out. Niggers start to mumble. They want to rumble. Mix 'em and cook 'em in
a pot like gumbo. Going off on a mother (censored) like that with a gat
that's pointed at your ass. So give it up smooth. Ain't no telling when I'm
down for a jack move. Here's a murder rap to keep ya dancing, with a crime
record like Charles Manson. AK-47 is the tool. Don't make me act the mother
(censored) fool. Me and you can go toe to toe, no maybe. I'm knocking
niggers out the box...

NWA: (Singing) ...daily.

ICE CUBE: ...yo, weekly, monthly and yearly, until them dumb mother
(censored) see clearly that I'm down with a capital CPT. Boy, you can't
(censored) with me. So when I'm in your neighborhood, you better duck, 'cause
Ice Cube is crazy as (censored). As I leave, believe I'm stomping. But when
I come back, boy, I'm coming straight outta Compton.

(Soundbite of fighting; explosion)

NWA: City of Compton, city of Compton.

EAZY-E: Yo, Ren.

MC REN: What's up?

EAZY-E: Tell 'em where you're from.

MC REN: Straight outta Compton.

GROSS: That's Ice Cube in his days with NWA. That's from the late 1980s,
"Straight Outta Compton." And Ice Cube is starring in a movie that he just
produced, which is called "Are We There Yet?" It's a family comedy that's
about to open.

You sang about the gangster lifestyle. How much did you become an actual part
of that?

ICE CUBE: You know, I don't think you can grow up in a neighborhood without
being a part of it to a certain extent, especially in Los Angeles, because
wherever you're from, wherever your mother's house was, was the gang you were
from, whether you wanted to or not. You know, I'm going to put it like this:
Every day you never knew what degree you was going to participate, 'cause
every day was different. So some days, you know, I was heavily involved.
Some days I just wasn't feeling it. The older I got, the less I wanted to
deal with that, because there was so many other things that I was into, which
was music, sports, you know. But it was just all around. You know, my
neighborhood was kind of saturated with gangsta gang-banging, crack, but it
was also saturated with family living, good times, playing ball on the street.
It was, like, both.

GROSS: So you were in a gang?

ICE CUBE: I don't like to say that because, you know, me, I wasn't an active
gang member. I didn't go out and kill nobody, shoot nobody or rob nobody,
because that wasn't what I was about. And in the neighborhood, you know, I
picked up an AK before and was willing to use it. Thank God I didn't have to.
So, you know, it was just kind of a situation where you had to be ready to do
anything.

GROSS: When you say you were willing to use it, what was the circumstance?

ICE CUBE: You know, it was a circumstance where somebody had kind of tricked
my mother out of some money, you know, and I knew that, you know, this person
was heavily on drugs and they kind of used her kindness. And him knowing me
as a way to, you know, get money. And it was a small amount of money, but it
was the principle behind it. And, you know, at that time in my life, you
know, I really didn't think about the big picture and, you know, we was pretty
mad, you know, looking for the guy. And, you know, we went to his house; he
wasn't there. And, you know, I'm glad he wasn't there, 'cause my whole life
would have been different. So...

GROSS: What'd your mother think of all this? What'd your mother think of
knowing that you were willing to take a gun to...

ICE CUBE: Oh, she didn't know. She didn't know nothing about it.

GROSS: What'd she think about the kind of rapping you were doing? Did she
feel like this is a bad influence on you? You're singing about things that
are dangerous; you're hanging out with the wrong people.

ICE CUBE: No.

GROSS: Did she worry that this was leading you in the wrong direction?

ICE CUBE: No. She was happy that I was rapping and not...

GROSS: Doing it.

ICE CUBE: ...killing...

GROSS: Right.

ICE CUBE: ...hanging out on the corner doing what all my friends was doing.
She was glad that I had something other to do, to go to the studio. And, you
know, so the profanity and the lyrics and everything that we were saying, you
know, that was a piece of cake, you know, compared to what other mothers was
going through in the neighborhood, funerals, prison visits, school--you know,
just bad things happening at school or just mothers who were going--with kids
with a big bad drug problem. So, you know, she didn't care what I was rapping
about, just as long as I had a mike in my hand and not a gun.

GROSS: Now I've read that when you were young, your father was very strict.

ICE CUBE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Did he not allow you to curse in the house?

ICE CUBE: Well, you know, he was the only one that could curse in the house.
He just demanded a lot of respect, and he demanded for kids to respect adults.
And we did. You know, thank God he was still there. You know, I got a story
that, you know, a lot of people don't have, which is the story of a mother and
father raising 'em. And I was just glad he was there. So he's the biggest
influence on my life to this day, as far as how to be a man, how to handle
your business, how to play with the cards that's dealt, don't complain about
it.

GROSS: Did your parents work at UCLA?

ICE CUBE: Yeah, they were custodians at UCLA, both my parents. And my father
was a groundskeeper.

GROSS: Ice Cube stars in the new movie "Are We There Yet?" He'll be back in
the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

(Announcements)

(Soundbite of "Bop Gun")

Mr. GEORGE CLINTON: (Singing) Ready or not, here we come...

GROSS: Coming up, becoming famous for rap records whose lyrics virtually
guaranteed they couldn't get played on the radio. We continue our
conversation with Ice Cube.

(Soundbite of "Bop Gun")

ICE CUBE: 1993, much more ba-ee-a-ee-ounce, Ice Cube comin' with the
half-ounce, not just knee-deep, jeep full o' smog. Atomic dog. Like your
behind, heard it through the grapevine. How much longer will you be mine?
And I'm a tell you I don't like trauma, so do I have to put my handcuffs on
your mama? 'Cause nothin' but did her damn boogie with my crew, but I'd
rather be with you, boo, and make you say humdrum, tweedle-dee dum. Humdrum
don't succumb when I'm done, fuckin' hicks. One nation under a groove gettin'
down for the funk of it. Tear the roof off this mother like we did last
night, son, and hit you with the bop gun.

Mr. GEORGE CLINTON: (Singing) Here's my chance to dance my way, out of my
constriction. Gonna be freakin' up and down, hang up really late with the
groove I only got, wish you all be moved, hey, yeah. Ready or not, here we
come, getting down...

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Ice Cube. In the late
'80s he became famous as a gangster rapper with the group NWA. Now he has
his own movie production company that's made several films he's starred in,
including the comedies "Friday" and "Barbershop," as well as their sequels.
His new film is the family comedy "Are We There Yet?" which opens later this
month. Although the movie is PG-13, his records are not. This is one of his
best-known songs as a solo performer. It's called "It Was a Good Day." We've
bleeped it for broadcast.

(Soundbite of "It Was a Good Day")

ICE CUBE: (Singing) Just waking up in the morning. Gotta thank God. I don't
know, but today seems kinda odd. No barking from the dog, no smog. And Momma
cooked a breakfast with no hog. I got my grub on, but didn't pig out.
Finally got a call from my girl I want to dig out. I hooked it up for later
as I hit the door thinking, `Will I live another 24?' I gotta go 'cause I got
me a drop-top, and if I hit the switch, I can make the ass drop. Had to stop
at a red light. Looking in my mirror, not a jacker in sight, and everything
is all right. I gotta beep from Kim, and she can (censored) all night.
Called up the homies and I'm asking, `Yo, which park are y'all playing
basketball?' Get me on the court, and I'm trouble. Last week (censored)
around and got a triple-double. Freaking niggers everyway like MJ. I can't
believe today was a good day (censored).

GROSS: Now the NWA music and your own music when you went solo had a lot of
profanity in it. So you knew that unless there was, like, a radio remix, it
couldn't get played on the radio. What were some of the ways you got heard
when it came to records that couldn't get record air play because of the
profanity?

ICE CUBE: You know, that's the phenomenon of it. We, you know, sold double
platinum without, you know, any radio support. Our records just couldn't get
played, and even if we cleaned them up, the content just wasn't--radio wasn't
ready for it. MTV wasn't ready for it. And our first video that we ever
did, which was straight out of Compton, was banned on MTV, and to this day
they still won't play it, you know. And it's kind of tame.

GROSS: What was on the--what was the image part?

ICE CUBE: They just didn't like, you know, young black kids just trying to
get away from the police, and, you know, just the images, and, you know, they
just didn't want to see that. And so it kind of, you know, struck people and
kind of took them back, and, you know, we got a lot of resistance. Going on
tour--you know, we went on tour in the summer--well, not in the summer, but
the spring-summer '89, we went on tour. And we would have the chief of police
show up with an ordinance. You know, `If you say this, if you do this, you'll
be going to jail. If you'--you know, we couldn't perform our most famous
song, which was "F the Police." We couldn't perform that because they just
said, `If you perform that, the tour's over.' So, you know, it was just all
kind of things we were going through, but, you know, we love...

GROSS: Did you always comply with the police orders you were given?

ICE CUBE: No. No. Nah. You know, we did it how we felt it. You know, we
would tell the kids out in the audience what just happened to us backstage,
you know, and all kind of stuff because we loved it because--we had got a
letter even from the FBI, you know.

GROSS: What did it say?

ICE CUBE: It just said that we were the cause of, you know, cop killings all
over the country, and, you know, our music was, you know, the worst thing that
could ever be produced and we should stop, basically. But, you know, growing
up where we was from, with the LAPD and the sheriffs and how they really put
their hands on you, a letter, chief of police reading an ordinance, none of
that--all that was a walk in the park compared to how we grew up every day.
So this was, like, you know--we didn't take any of it serious.

GROSS: Were you ever arrested after a concert?

ICE CUBE: Yeah, we was--we never went downtown, but we were detained and
cited in Cincinnati. And in Detroit, the police jumped on stage to get us
off. They actually during a performance, like, jumped on the stage and...

GROSS: Does that all...

ICE CUBE: ...escorted us off.

GROSS: ...ultimately, like, add to the legend and lore surrounding NWA?

ICE CUBE: You know, you would have to ask the fan. I think so because just
like the music, it was things that we didn't plan. You know, we never planned
for the music to take us to these heights. We always thought that we would be
superstars in the neighborhood, you know. We always thought that as long as
they loved us around our neighborhood, where else would you rather be, you
know?

GROSS: Do you feel the same way about the police that you did when you
recorded "F the Police"?

ICE CUBE: Some of them, yeah.

GROSS: But not all of them.

ICE CUBE: You can't say all about anything and be right, you know.

GROSS: So no regrets about the record.

ICE CUBE: No. I don't regret any record that I've done because a record is
kind of like a time capsule. You know, it's how you're feeling at that point
and at that time, you know. So you--regretting it is kind of regretting
living, you know.

GROSS: Among the things that made NWA controversial was "F the Police,"
comments about women, Koreans, one line in particular about somebody who was
Jewish. And I'm wondering, now that you're older, if you have any second
thoughts about some--any of the things that you said that struck people at the
time as either being misogynist or anti-Korean or anti-Semitic?

ICE CUBE: Well, you know, nobody wants to be misunderstood, and, you know,
the only thing I regret in any of those cases is if I ever had my facts mixed
up 'cause it--when you're young, you have a picture of the world, and when you
get older, you realize, `OK, it's a different picture than what I thought.'
So--but, you know, everybody got attacked on NWA records, you know, black
people the most. So, you know, everybody gets it. Nobody's exempt from the
truth, and nobody's exempt from reality. And just because it's not done in a
so-called, I guess, diplomatic way and it's kind of...

GROSS: Well, I'll give an example. Like, `Pay your respect to the black
fist'--this is an anti-Korean thing. `Pay your respect to the black fist, or
we'll burn your store right down to a crisp. And then we'll see you because
you can't turn the ghetto into black Korea.'

ICE CUBE: Yeah, that's a song called "Black Korea" that I did, and it was a
song which really talked about the relationship between black people in their
own community and Koreans who come in and set up shop, which is not a problem.
But when you set up shop and then disrespect your patrons and disrespect the
people who are coming in to shop at your store, then that's a problem. Nobody
would address that, so I addressed it the best way I can see fit, which was to
make a record about it. And if you go back and look at the whole record, not
just those few lyrics, then the record is kind of self-explanatory on what the
black community was feeling, including myself.

And, you know, that record was done in 1991, and just a year later the riot
showed the people that this is how the community was really feeling. People
didn't attack Korean stores doing the riots of '92 because of my record. They
did it because there was a sentiment, feeling, there was, you know, a hurt
going through our community. We used to talk about going to the stores and
how everybody, from your momma to your grandmomma to your daughter to your
son, is getting disrespected.

GROSS: My guest is Ice Cube. He stars in the new family comedy "Are We There
Yet?" We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Ice Cube. He stars in the new family comedy "Are We There
Yet?" He made his movie debut in "Boyz N the Hood" playing a young man in
South Central LA, whose brother was killed by a gang. Here's a scene in which
he's talking to a friend shortly after the murder.

(Soundbite of "Boyz N the Hood")

ICE CUBE: I ain't been up this early in a long time. Turned on the TV this
morning. I had to (censored) on the pot. Tired of living in a violent, a
violent world. Showed all these foreign places. Foreigners live in--started
thinking, man. Either they don't know, don't show or don't care about what's
going on in the hood. They had all this foreign (censored). They don't have
(censored) for my brother and I.

Unidentified Man: I ain't got no brother.

GROSS: You have a performing career as well as a music career. And, you
know, a lot of rappers, kind of like a lot of people in every genre of music,
are kind of one-hit wonders, or they have their moment of fame and then it's
kind of over. And they have to get a day job, or, you know, you just lose
track of what's happened to them. But you've been one of the really
successful people. You have your own production company. You've starred in a
lot of movies. I mean, you're doing terrifically. And it sounds like you
have a lot of creative control, too, which I'm sure is very gratifying. How
did you start making movies? I mean, how did you first make that transition
from rap to film?

ICE CUBE: It was about 1989, NWA--we had just released our records. They
were big. I was on tour and just kind of engulfed in the moment. And a
little kid--I mean, I say little kid, but a youngster a couple years younger
than me kind of walked up and said, `Hey, yo, you know'--I think we might be
the same age, but he said, `Yo, man, I got this movie. You'll be perfect for
it. And I'm a junior at USC, and I'm going to try to get it made, man, and I
want you to star in it. I want...'

GROSS: This would be John Singleton?

ICE CUBE: This is John Singleton. You know, I'm looking at him. I'm like,
`Yeah, yeah, right. Whatever. Whatever, man.' So he sees me a year later;
this is after I broke out with NWA, broke off the group and was kind of going
solo. And he said, `Yo, I'm a senior at USC, man, and I still got that
movie.' And I'm like, `Yeah, I remember you.' Blew him off again. And then
a year--you know, later on that year, I got a script. And my manager said, `A
script came in for you. They want you to read for it.' I said, `So what is
it?' `Some script called "Boyz N the Hood."' I said, `All right, whatever.'
She gave it to me. I just put it up. And I said, `When do you want me to
read?' And, you know, I'm trying to make a long story short. Said, `Go on in
Wednesday.' So I went in, and I saw the guy. I'm like, `Oh, this is your
movie.' He said, `Yeah. Did you read it?' I said, `No.'

(Soundbite of laughter)

ICE CUBE: He said, `Man, go read my movie and come back, and, you know, I'm
going to give you a shot. If you don't want to do it, tell me you don't want
to do it.' So I went and read it, got it. You know, this was my
neighborhood. This is the history of our--my life in Los Angeles. I have to
do this. So, you know, from then on, this kind of kicked it off, and "Boyz N
the Hood" was the first movie I ever did and, you know, got nominated for an
Oscar. And, you know, it was just a hell of a ride. We went to Cannes Film
Festival, and I just got bit by the bug there and kind of wanted to be a part
of good movies.

GROSS: Now you've done every kind of movie. You did, you know, "Boyz N the
Hood," which is a drama about growing up in South Central LA. You did "Three
Kings," which is a war movie set in Iraq.

ICE CUBE: Yes.

GROSS: "Trespass," which is a kind of crime movie.

ICE CUBE: Yeah.

GROSS: You've produced and starred in a bunch of comedies: the "Barbershop"
film, the "Friday" film. Now you're producing and starring in a family
comedy, "Are We There Yet?" So it's kind of, you know, a bunch of different
genres. But you seem to be heading more and more toward comedy.

ICE CUBE: You know, it's just in Hollywood, it seems like the path of least
resistance.

GROSS: Why is that?

ICE CUBE: You know, people rather laugh than cry, and that's the philosophy
of Hollywood, especially when it comes to black films. They just seem to
support the comedies more than the dramas about experiences. So starting my
company and trying to gain respect, we kind of went the path of least
resistance, which was to make the comedies, get them made and, you know, show
that they can generate money, you know, to--hopefully later on in my career to
bring some dramas to the front of our experiences.

GROSS: Talk about the "Friday" films; there's been three of them. Can you
describe a little bit about how the idea got started and how you decided to do
it?

ICE CUBE: A few movies had came out, like the "Boyz N the Hood," the "Menace
II Societies," a movie called "South Central"--these were movies that showed
our neighborhood as just kind of a hellhole, you know. And in growing up in
South Central, you know, you realize that it's bad, but you're feel--I mean,
it's home, you know. Home is never all bad. So I just said, you know,
growing up man, you know, the neighborhood felt a little funner than was being
depicted, you know.

So the "Friday" movies, if you really look at them--it's a lighthearted look
at kind of all the bad things that happen in the neighborhood, but a
lighthearted look like a look of it through youngsters' eyes or teen-agers'
eyes or even a kid's eyes, how they would see these same situations, which is
how we saw them growing up, you know. You know, it was easier--and we laughed
at the neighborhood crackhead, and he wasn't like this tragic figure that, you
know, they'll show on "20/20," you know. He was like, you know, a funny
dude--a tragic figure but a funny dude in the neighborhood. So I just kind of
thought that that kind of take had never been shown in America, really, about
South Central and that kind of spin off of it. And, you know, people love it.
It's like a cult classic now.

GROSS: My guest is Ice Cube. He stars in the new family comedy "Are We There
Yet?" We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is rap star, actor and producer Ice Cube.

Let's hear a scene from the film "Three Kings," which he starred in with Mark
Wahlberg, Spike Jones and George Clooney. They play American soldiers in Iraq
shortly after the first Gulf War. One of them finds a map hidden on a
captured Iraqi soldier. Cube is looking at the map, which they believe will
lead to a bunker where Saddam Hussein has hidden expensive goods stolen from
Kuwait.

(Soundbite of "Three Kings")

ICE CUBE: Now these have got to be Saddam's bunkers right here between
Karbala and Nasiriyah.

Unidentified Man #1: What's inside?

ICE CUBE: According to intel, Picasso, Sony, Armani, Rolex. Kuwait was like
the Air Beverly Hills, and Saddam jacked them for it.

Unidentified Man #1: Be nice to bring something home besides samples.

Unidentified Man #2: One gold Rolex will get me a very nice split-level house
outside of Garland.

Unidentified Man #1: Five Rolexes would get my family that Lexus convertible.

ICE CUBE: I told you Lexus doesn't make a convertible.

Unidentified Man #2: Yes, they do. It has room in the back for a kid's seat.

Unidentified Man #3: Infiniti has a convertible but not Lexus.

Unidentified Man #2: Wrong.

ICE CUBE: Either way, the good Lord has put this map in our path, and I
believe we're going to find something.

Unidentified Man #1: Yeah, well, he could also put a landmine in our path if
we go out there.

ICE CUBE: I don't think so. I've been fire baptizing this one. Feel safe.

Unidentified Man #3: What the hell are you talking about?

ICE CUBE: Look, I have a ring of Jesus fire to guide my decisions.

Unidentified Man #3: You're putting me on, right?

ICE CUBE: Do I look like I'm putting you on?

Unidentified Man #3: OK. Ring of Jesus fire.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #4: Halt!

GROSS: That's Ice Cube in a scene from "Three Kings." We're talking about
his film career and his career as a rapper.

What was it like for you to watch suburban kids, who were middle class and
often white, copying the kind of gangster image of the gangster rapper?

ICE CUBE: (Laughs) You know, people are gonna copy what they feel's cool, you
know. Whatever, you know, somebody feels cool, they're going to copy. It
doesn't bother me. I didn't mind it all. And I definitely understand where
they're coming from.

GROSS: Which is where?

ICE CUBE: Which is a lot of kids are unhappy with the way the world is being
ran, you know, and when you talk about white kids, it seems like they're
directly in conflict with how their parents, their grandparents or their
generations have run things, not only in the world but in their lives. And
our music is what all kids kind of, you know, gravitate to, which is being
kind of anti-authority and, you know, being a rebel and saying what's on your
mind, saying it how you feel, expressing yourself. And, you know, a lot of
kids do it as trying to find an identity, trying to rebel against what their
parents is kind of leading them to. And, you know, just in that--they're at
that age where they want to rebel, and our music is that kind of music. And
it's--to me, is just the perfect match, so to speak.

GROSS: Now obviously you've become something of a businessman, too, because
if you have your own production company, that's having to deal with the
business end. A lot of people who become suddenly famous and wealthy when
they're young can't deal with it. They spend their money foolishly, lose a
lot of it or all of it; don't know how to handle the money or themselves with
their newfound fame. You managed to get through that pretty well, and as I
say, you've got your own production company. It's doing really well. What
was that early period like for you when you were hit with fame and money and
you had to figure out how to handle it?

ICE CUBE: You know, you go through the point where you're happy that you can
do some of the things that you always wanted to do, buy some of the things you
always wanted to buy. And then I think you hit a point where you feel that
people are using you, you know, even close to you, you know: family members,
friends, you know. Everybody wants to borrow, everybody wants to use. And
you get to a point where you feel like, `I'm helping everybody. Nobody's
helping me.' And if I sink, then I'm going to be the one that everybody talk
about, `Oh, he had money, and he lost all his money,' but never talk about how
they contribute to you losing your money. So I just started, you know, making
people come correct and be genuine, and if they wasn't, they wasn't getting
nothing from me. And, you know, you just have to kind of, you know, back
people off, you know, to be able to breathe and to be able to kind of see
clear and figure out who's really in your corner, you know.

GROSS: Did you go through a period of being, like, really ostentatious with
the money? Were you just, like, buying things to show--that would show your
success?

ICE CUBE: Nah. I was never like that, you know. You know, my father
instilled in me that, you know, the car don't make the man, the clothes don't
make the man, the jewelry don't make the man. The man make the man, you know.
Why would you have somebody looking at your car more than they're looking at
you, you know? So those kind of things always stuck with me. Don't--you
know, you are the shining light, you know, not what trinkets you can buy.

GROSS: Is your father still alive?

ICE CUBE: Yeah.

GROSS: He must be pretty proud of you (laughs)?

ICE CUBE: He say, `I'm living the life of Riley.' That's what he say about
hisself. So he pretty, you know. He's been working all his life, you know,
hardworking man, just retired, you know. And, you know, I've been spoiling
him rotten, you know, 'cause, hey, why not? You know, I got it. He shouldn't
have to worry about it. So, yeah, I've been trying to spoil my father right.

GROSS: Now one of the many controversies surrounding gangster rap has been:
Is it bad for young people to be exposed to this? Are gangster rappers bad
role models and so on? As a father--and you have children ranging from four
to 17 now. Do I have the ages right?

ICE CUBE: Yes. Four to 18.

GROSS: How--to 18. What was your approach to how much you should expose them
to gangster rap and to your own records?

ICE CUBE: Well, you know, I believe you're not going to be there with your
kids through everything they hear and everything they listen to, you know.
What's worked for me is instilling in my kids a level of self-respect, and in
doing that, it's kind of helped them through all these situations, through all
this--you know, to weed through the music, the movies, the magazines, the
news, you know, because there's some horrific stuff that's even shown on the
news. So I've just kind of given them a balance of not hiding anything from
them but trying to explain everything to them, explain to them show business,
writing songs, producing songs, what it's really all about.

GROSS: How did you explain profanity to them?

ICE CUBE: I explain profanity as language. There's good language, so-called,
and there's so-called bad language, but it's all expression of people. And
there's appropriate times to use any kind of language. You know, kids--if you
tell them don't use profanity, they'll say, `OK,' but when they get on the
playground with their kids, you know, cuss like sailors, just like I did when
I was a kid and you probably did when you were. So that's unrealistic.
What's realistic is have respect, you know. And adults should never hear you
say these words, you know. If you're going to use these words around your
friends, you know, that's really on you.

GROSS: Can I ask you one dumb question?

ICE CUBE: Please.

GROSS: This is very dumb.

ICE CUBE: OK.

GROSS: Do you think of yourself as being Ice Cube or Ice Cube, or does it--I
don't know what's--does it matter?

(Soundbite of laughter)

ICE CUBE: I don't know that--what is the difference between Ice Cube and Ice
Cube?

GROSS: Well, where the emphasis is, on the first or the last word? And if
it's Ice Cube, it really sounds like the ice cube, and if it's Ice Cube--I
don't know. I've never...

ICE CUBE: All my friends call me Cube.

GROSS: OK.

ICE CUBE: You know, if you know me real good, call me Cube, I'll respond to
that. But I don't know. I think I'll debate that whether...

GROSS: I'm overthinking this.

ICE CUBE: ...I'm Ice Cube or I'm Ice Cube.

GROSS: I've obviously overthought this. Thank you so much.

ICE CUBE: All right.

GROSS: Ice Cube stars in the new movie "Are We There Yet?" It opens later
this month.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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