Hip-Hop Renaissance Man: Ice Cube
Known today equally as a musician and actor, Ice Cube was born O'Shea Jackson. He first gained notoriety in the late 1980s with the revolutionary group N.W.A. He now also acts in and produces movies, including this year's comedy Are We There Yet? (This interview originally aired Jan. 10, 2005.)
Other segments from the episode on August 31, 2005
DATE August 31, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript
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Interview: Ice Cube discusses his career as a recording artist,
actor and producer
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Ice Cube was one of the originators of gangsta rap. As part of the group NWA,
he made one of the most influential albums in rap history, "Straight Outta
Compton." Many of Cube's lyrics were about gangs, drive-bys and
confrontations with the police in South Central LA. Ice Cube's career has
since taken some unpredictable turns. He now has a film production company
that made the family comedy "Are We There Yet?" which he starred in. His
company also made the "Friday" movies and the "Barbershop" movies.
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
GROSS: 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
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.
GROSS: 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, it's
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
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 us 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, frustration,
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
GROSS: Here it is, "Straight Outta Compton." This is NWA with my guest, Ice
(Soundbite of "Straight Outta Compton")
ICE CUBE: (Rapping) 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) called 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.
You sang about the gangster lifestyle. How much did you become an actual part
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 if 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
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 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...
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.
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 you know, 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
GROSS: Did your parents work at UCLA?
ICE CUBE: Yeah, they were custodians at UCLA, both my parents. And my father
was a groundskeeper.
GROSSS: My guest is Ice Cube. We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Ice Cube, one of the originators of gangsta rap. He
starred in several films and has his own movie production company.
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.' And I said, `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 on
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 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. 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
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
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 cool, 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
GROSS: Now one of the many controversies surrounding gangsta rap has been:
Is it bad for young people to be exposed to this? Are gangsta 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 gangsta 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 (first word stressed) or
Ice Cube (second word stressed), or does it--I don't know what's--does it
(Soundbite of laughter)
ICE CUBE: I don't know that--what is the difference between Ice Cube and Ice
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.
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 recorded last January. Our hip-hop week continues tomorrow.
Coming up, film critic David Edelstein reviews the new adaptation of the John
Le Carre novel "The Constant Gardener."
This is FRESH AIR.
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Review: Film "The Constant Gardener"
TERRY GROSS, host:
The new movie "The Constant Gardener" opened today in time for the holiday
weekend. It stars Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz and was adapted from John Le
Carre's 2001 thriller. Our film critic, David Edelstein, has a review.
If you'd like a long vacation from all the conspiracy theories floating
around, don't see "The Constant Gardener," at least until after Labor Day.
It's based on a novel by John Le Carre, one of his more conventional
melodramas, the story of an apolitical, midlevel British diplomat, a man who'd
rather be gardening, who's essentially radicalized by the murder of his wife.
As the movie begins, Justin Quayle, played by Ralph Fiennes, bids goodbye at
the Nairobi airport to his wife, Tessa, a strident political activist, played
by Rachel Weisz. A few days later, Justin's friend Sandy, played by Danny
Huston, informs him that Tessa's mutilated body has been found in a dry lake
bed. Justin knows that Tessa was going on about something to do with
pharmaceutical companies, which she called `big pharma,' and men, women and
children dying in remote parts of Kenya. He doesn't know the particulars,
though. It wasn't really any of his business.
The Brazilian director of "The Constant Gardener," Fernando Meirelles, is a
big showoff, but then he really has something to show. As he proved in the
hit thriller "City of God," he has an Impressionist's palette. The emotion
is right there in the colors and streaky camera moves, in the way the frame
seems to expand or contract according to the character's moods. There's more
of Tessa in the movie than in the book, and Meirelles weaves in and out of
Justin's memories, dredging up moments of revelation: when Justin stood by
cringing as Tessa posed rude questions to high English and Kenyan
muckety-mucks, and when she confronted him about his true loyalties.
(Soundbite of "The Constant Gardener")
Mr. RALPH FIENNES: (As Justin Quayle) Hi.
Ms. RACHEL WEISZ: (As Tessa) Hi. It's bloody awful weather. You really
shouldn't have waited up. Good. And maybe you should go to bed. I'm safe
home now, sweetheart.
Mr. FIENNES: No, you're drenched.
Ms. WEISZ: Don't.
Mr. FIENNES: Look, take those wet things off, Tess...
Ms. WEISZ: (Sighs)
Mr. FIENNES: ...and come to bed with me, please.
Ms. WEISZ: I will, but there's something I have to do first. It's important.
Mr. FIENNES: Tess, whatever it is that you and Arnold are doing, I'd like it
Ms. WEISZ: Wow. Who've you been talking to?
Mr. FIENNES: No one. These are my concerns, all right? I'm thinking of
Ms. WEISZ: No. No, you're not. They've asked you to rein me in, and you're
EDELSTEIN: Is Fiennes miscast? Perhaps. He's an edgy actor, remote,
emotionally a bit clammy. But he's remarkably good as this mild-mannered
fellow. As he retraces the steps of his wife and her colleague, a Kenyan
named Bluhm, who also turned up dead, he moves into a world of overrun
clinics and dying mothers and children, and the film becomes more and more
swarthy and disoriented. Fiennes' Justin has literally nothing to hold on to.
Le Carre was working from documented cases in which drug companies conducted
secret trials on populations of developing nations. The suspense here is in
how much collusion there is between the pharmaceutical companies and the
British government, and it's in how far Justin will go to learn the truth.
Will he prove just as constant as he is in his back yard and keep pulling out
It's a shame it's Danny Huston in the pivotal role of Sandy, one of Le Carre's
familiar bureaucratic vacillators. As an actor, Huston has no backbone to
begin with, and his bogus English accent doesn't help. But the other actors
playing members of the British high command are perfect; among them, a
skeletally reserved Bill Nighy in a role that's the exact opposite of the
sweetie he played in the recent HBO political drama "The Girl in the Cafe."
This is not one of Le Carre's great mysteries. There's never any doubt where
it's headed. What makes it work is the rage that builds and builds, in Justin
and in the viewer, in the face of the phrase `proper channels.' `Be a good
girl' or `a good chap, and go through proper channels.' `There are proper
channels for this sort of thing, old boy.' How many times Le Carre must have
heard that phrase, and how clearly he demonstrates in "The Constant Gardener"
that the proper channels are the ones with diversionary tributaries and
blockages. That's one thing both gardeners and government bureaucrats know
GROSS: David Edelstein is film critic for the online magazine Slate.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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