Ice Cube (Contemporary Musicians)
Rap singer, actor
"With an eye that magnifies brutal characters and violent situations, Ice Cube exposes a world that seems on the brink of exploding in the ear of the listener," wrote Havelock Nelson and Michael Gonzales in their book Bring the Noise: A Guide to Rap Music and Hip-Hop Culture. A native of South Central Los Angeles who recorded with the notorious group N.W.A. before going solo, Ice Cube has often been a lightning rod for controversy; his N.W.A. song "F---tha Police" and solo raps like "Black Korea" have elicited angry denunciations, threats, and protests. Yet Cube has argued repeatedly that his lyrics simply hold a mirror up to the reality of inner-city life. In the meantime, his records have gone platinum, his participation in the 1992 Lollapalooza festival has gained him an avid following among young white rock fans, and his appearances in films and cultivation of other acts have opened up new career avenues.
Ice Cube was born O'Shea Jackson in 1969; his mother, Dorisho like O'Shea's father, Hosea, hailed from the southern United Statesamed him after her favorite football player, O.J. Simpson. A better-than-average student described by Doris as "a very nice young man" in a Rolling Stone profile, Cube attended Hawthorne Christian School for a time and dabbled in sports. He grew up in the shadow of the 1965 Watts Riots, which shook the foundations of Los Angeles and put the race relations crisis in focus for the nation. Like many of his friends, Cube committed a few petty crimes during his youth but was no gangbanger. While funk and soul dominated inner-city radio when he was young, nothing caught his ear quite the way rap did when it arrived toward the end of the seventies. "When I first heard [the Sugarhill Gang's] 'Rapper's Delight,' I couldn't stop rewinding it," he told Art Form. "It did nothing but grab me. By the age of 14,1 was writing my own raps, and seeing [influential 'gangsta' rapper] IceT in concert for the first time."
Hooked Up With Dr. Dre and Eazy E
He was also hanging around with his friend Jinx, who shared his passion for rap. After hearing O'Shea's first rapritten during typing classinx agreed to make a tape with him. Cube told Rolling Stone that this early effort was "pathetic. The beat was going, and I was over in the left corner. The lyrics, they were cool, but they wasn't no exciting type of mind-boggling shit. I was only fifteen, you know." In 1986 Jinx's cousin Dr. Dre hooked Cube up with Eric "Eazy E" Wright, who had financed an independent record labeluthless Recordsith proceeds from his drug dealing. Eazy E asked Cube to write material for a New York group called HBO, which had signed with Ruthless.
Cube collaborated with Dre on a track called "Boyz-n-the-Hood," an uncompromising tune about life on the streets of Compton, an industrial city just south of L.A. HBO didn't want the song, so Eazy E recorded it himself in 1986. Then he, Cube, and Dr. Dre became Niggas With Attitude, or N.W.A. The group's recordsany written and rapped by Cubearnered them a following, and they seemed to be embarking on a lucrative career. But Cube's mother insisted that he get an education, so at age eighteen he headed off for the Phoenix Institute of Technology. After a year-long drafting course, he returned to Los Angeles and started up with the group in earnest.
Cube wrote material for Eazy E's solo effort, Eazy-Duz-It, which came out on Ruthless in 1988. N.W.A.'s first release, Straight Outta Compton, appeared on the Priority label in 1989. Featuring the controversial single "F---tha Police," which prompted a threatening letter to the record company from the FBI, the album went platinum in three months without the benefit of radio airplay. Listening to the album, wrote Nelson and Gonzales in Bring the Noise, "is like sitting in the Theatre of Urban Mojo, staring at rapidly changing images of ghetto angst." While the authors charged that the band received harsh criticism because it told the truth about young black men's lives, they admitted that the songs are an assault on the listener. Yet, they added: "In some way one cannot help but become attracted to the brutal imagest's like staring at an auto accident."
AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted
Despite N.W.A.'s massive success, Ice Cube got into a dispute with the group's manager, Jerry Heller. After a fifty-city tour and record grosses of over $3 million, Cube found he'd earned a mere $32,000. After some negotiation, he was compensated but decided to leave the group. "N.W.A.'s still a strong group without Ice Cube," the rapper remarked to Musician. "But Ice Cube is not as strong with N.W.A. as he is by himself." He went on to form his own production company, Street Knowledge, hiring new talent such as female rapper Yo Yo. His first solo album, AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted/ released in 1990 on Priorityas certified platinum. Produced in collaboration with Public Enemy's Chuck D. and the Bomb Squad, the album convinced many that Cube was the real force behind N.W.A.'s hardest-hitting work and that as a solo artist he would be a major force.
Spin magazine called AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted "a masterpiece." Yo Yo debuted on the track "It's a Man's World," matching Cube's well-known sexism with savvy responses; some listeners viewed the inclusion of Yo Yo as a tempering of Cube's alleged misogyny. Indeed, Ice Cube also produced Yo Yo's 1990 album Make Way for the Motherlode and would serve as executive producer on her 1992 effort, Black Pearl. Still, Nelson and Gonzales declared that "the sexism found on [AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted] is counterproductive to the goals of the struggle" for black liberation.
In 1991 Priority released Cube's Kill at Will EP, another highly successful record that earned strong reviews. Art Form praised the single "Dead Homiez" as "a harrowing and sorrowful tale of a funeral for a friend," and also spoke highly of the song "The Product," about which Cube remarked, "It says a kid is just a product of his social background. Put him around lawyers, he's gonna want to be a lawyer. Put him around gangbangers, he's gonna want to be a gangbanger." That same year, Cube starred in John Singleton's hit movie Boyz N the Hood, playing the haunted, violent Doughboy. He received generally favorable reviews in his film debut.
Attacked as Racist
With the release of his second solo offering, Death Certificate, Ice Cube once again plunged into controversy. Apparently anti-Semitic references in "No Vaseline" and hostile words for Korean grocers in "Black Korea" triggered a wave of protests from organizations like the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; even Billboard magazine condemned the record in an editorial. Cube's apparent racism and misogyny sparked considerable comment, though he and some of his defenders noticed his critics were silent on the subject of black-on-black violence.
At the same time, however, Cube impressed many critics with his prowess as a rapper and observer of life on the streets: Entertainment Weekly called Death Certificate "20 tracks of the most visceral music ever allowed in public," awarding it an "A-" grade. Spin admired the record's "big, slap-happy beats" but took Cube to task for what critic Dimitri Ehrlich deemed racist, sexist, and homophobic material. Side onehe "death" sideegins with the sound of a funeral; the "life" side commences with a birth. "The 'death' side is the condition we're in now," Cube explained to Ehrlich in Interview, adding that "there are more positive records on the 'life' side, because while the 'death' side shows you where we at, 'life' shows you where we going."
Following fellow rapper Ice-T's successful run on the 1991 Lollapalooza rock festival organized by rocker Perry Farrell, Cube appeared on the bill for Lollapalooza 2 in 1992. He shared the stage with funk-rockers the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Seattle grungemeisters Sound-garden and Pearl Jam, among many others. Almost every rock act on the bill heaped praise on Cube, and the Chili Peppers went so far as to appear in a video for his 1992 album, The Predator. But a much more significant event came between Death Certificate and The Predator: the Los Angeles riots in the spring of 1992. After a group of white police officershom the nation had seen beating black motorist Rodney King on videotapeere acquitted by an all-white jury, the city exploded in arson, looting, and random violence. Many listeners looked to Cube for a definitive statement on the riots.
The Predator earned an "A-" from Entertainment Weekly's Greg Sandow, who observed that "what's most striking here are songsce Cube's strongest, most cohesive work yetbout the perils of everyday South Central life." Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times/ who called Cube's first and second efforts "two of the most compelling albums ever in rap"ound the best moments of The Predator make it "essential listening." But Hilburn criticized Cube for "failing to deal more directly with the events of last spring [the riots]." Still, the album faced few obstacles: it debuted at Number One on the Billboard R&B and pop charts simultaneously, the first album to do so since Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life in 1976 and the first rap album ever to debut at Number One on the pop chart. Daily Variety reported in late November that the record seemed destined for platinum sales.
On top of enhanced fame from a new hit record, Cube's face would soon become even better known thanks to another film role and a generous charitable donation that captured additional media attention. He starred with Ice-T in the film Trespass, a crime thriller the working title of which had been Looters but was changed in response to the riots; and according to Reflex magazine's November 1992 issue, the rapper donated $25,000 to the Los Angeles-based Minority AIDS Project.
Rolling Stone noted in late 1992ust as The Predator raided the chartshat N.W.A. had apparently disbanded. Ice Cube, however, despite widespread attacks and calls for censorship of his uncompromising lyrics, promised to be around for quite a while. Part of his longevity would appear to derive from his ability to evolve as an artist. He told Daily Variety that he wanted The Predator to demonstrate, among other things, that "I'm not pissed off 24 hours a day." He noted: "I don't want to be stuck in the same mode. I'm a rapper and I wanted to demonstrate my skills as a rapper." While no one appeared to doubt his skills, he seemed to impress even his harshest critics with the power of his images. As he had told Spin in an earlier interview, "You've got to make the people who are buying your records feel."
"Boyz-n-the-Hood" (single), Priority, 1986.
Straight Outta Compton (includes "F---tha Police"), Priority, 1989.
AmehKKKa's Most Wanted (includes "It's a Man's World"), Priority, 1990.
Kill at Will (EP; includes "Dead Homiez" and "The Product"), Priority, 1991.
Death Certificate (includes "Black Korea" and "No Vaseline"), Priority, 1991.
The Predator, Priority, 1992.
(Contributor; with Ice-T) Trespass (soundtrack), Sire, 1992.
(Contributor) "Get the Fist" (single), 1992.
Producer of Yo Yo's Make Way for the Motherlode, Priority, 1990, and executive producer of Black Pearl, EastWest, 1992.
Nelson, Havelock, and Michael Gonzales, Bring the Noise: A Guide to Rap Music and Hip-Hop Culture, Harmony Books, 1991.
Art Form, No. 17, 1992.
Billboard, April 24, 1993.
Daily Variety, November 23, 1992.
Details, January 1993.
Entertainment Weekly, November 15, 1991 ; November 20, 1992; December 18, 1992.
Interview, December 1991.
Los Angeles Times, November 15, 1992.
Metro Times (Detroit), March 31, 1993.
Musician, March 1991; February 1993.
Newsweek, December 2, 1991.
People, January 11, 1993.
Pulse!, August 1992.
Reflex, November 10, 1992.
Rolling Stone, October 4, 1990; January 7, 1993.
Spin, January 1992; March 1992; January 1993; April 1993.
Time, December 28, 1992.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Priority Records publicity materials, 1992.