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Digital Cover: Vin Diesel Calls 'Furious 7' The Most Important Film Of The Millennium

The leader of this big-screen brotherhood sat with VIBE to retrace his history with The Fast & The Furious, why Furious 7 will go down in history and more.

MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED ACTION FLICK

From the pages of VIBE to theaters around the globe, The Fast & The Furious franchise has become a cinematic juggernaut since its 2001 debut. Vin Diesel shares a personal history of the movie series that made him a superstar

On February 1, 2015, during Super Bowl XLIX, one of the most dramatic nights in sports, our attention was hijacked for a long 60 seconds. After Left Shark flourished and the Seattle Seahawks plummeted (the one-yard line!), there was that single minute during a commercial break that still stuck with you. When the intense, insane trailer for Furious 7 took over your idiot box, it probably evoked some colorful language one way or another.

Maybe the word “Acme” came to mind, for the way a bus hurls itself off a cliff like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon clip, and cars plunge from a freight plane like anvils with parachutes. Or perhaps “unreal,” for how Vin Diesel escapes gunfire by driving a luxury supercar from the upper level of one skyscraper into another, leaping from his red Lykan HyperSport onto the building floor one millisecond before his whip shatters a second glass wall and free falls towards the Earth below. Or how about “costly,” the trailer for the film—shot partially in Dubai—looking like every cent of the reported $250 million spent on production.

But spend a day speaking with the movie’s stars about the latest chapter in The Fast & The Furious franchise and one word resonates most: “sacred.” The emotions here today in Stage 37 at Universal Studio Hollywood are like a tight ball of rubber bands, packing in anticipation and pride and grief and excitement, each alternatively revealing itself. It’s as if the actors left a piece of themselves on the screen, the real-life death of series cornerstone Paul Walker shadowing the senseless stunts and military guns. (Walker, who plays Brian O’Connor in the series, died in a car accident on November 30, 2013, shortly before finishing production on Furious 7).

Tyrese probably captured the sentiment best, basically reciting Webster’s take on “bittersweet”: “I guess we're trying to find a happy medium—you don't want to come off too happy, too excited. Because we know what happened to our brother. But at the same time, you are excited because the overall movie, including Paul, is the best one.”

SEE ALSO: Interview: Michelle Rodriguez Wants Rihanna To Join ‘Furious’ Cast

The leader of this big-screen brotherhood is Vin Diesel, who has watched the global blockbuster zip from zero to 100, at a speedy but totally controlled pace. Since 2001’s The Fast & The Furious, he’s been one of the backbones of the ever-unfolding story, playing on-screen speed demon Dominic Toretto while serving as producer on the latter four films.

Sporting a black muscle shirt (because duh the arms say so), the 47-year-old actor sat down with VIBE to retrace his history with The Fast & The Furious. He shares in his own words what first drew him to the story, how each movie has gotten more epic, and why Furious 7 will go down as one of the greatest films in history. —As told to John Kennedy


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It's really wild that you can trace The Fast & The Furious back to a VIBE article. Very cool. When I first got the call to meet with Rob Cohen, who was an executive at the time at Universal, they got this idea about “Racer X,” a film spotlighting that underground illegal street racing culture. I remember being at the Four Seasons having cranberry and club soda. Rob didn't have a full script to give me, but he pitched me this one scene where a camera was going to somehow go through my eyes and into the gear shifting into the car; he was going to merge man with machine. That had never been done. And that's when I signed on to do the movie, just from that conversation. And from that, the themes of what you know The Fast and The Furious saga to be now were born—most importantly, brotherhood.

"In the ’90s when you did sequels, studios would just slap the title on. They didn’t care about consistency or the films speaking to one another in a way that George Lucas’ or Francis Ford Coppola’s would."

The first title was “Racer X.” Then it was gonna be called “Redline,” and then at the last minute, my producing partner Neal Moritz got this crazy idea to call it The Fast and the Furious. I remember being on set going, “What the fuck?”

I turned down the second one, 2 Fast 2 Furious. The third, Tokyo Drift, I turned down based on script. Because in the ’90s when you did sequels, studios would just slap the title on. They didn’t care about consistency or the films speaking to one another in a way that George Lucas’ or Francis Ford Coppola’s would.

SEE ALSO: This ‘Furious 7? Extended Trailer Will Make You Fall Off The Edge Of Your Seat

After they shot Tokyo Drift, they said if I came in for four hours of work in just the last minute, they can open this picture. Everybody was on the fence about it because they were worried that they were gonna sell the movie with Dom Torretto and Dom Torretto wouldn't be in the whole movie and they would have misled everybody. They said, “We're not sure if we even want to do any more Fast and Furious movies. But if you do this, we'll let you produce the saga.” And I'm a Dungeons & Dragons kid, so I'm into world building. When I wasn't bouncing in your favorite New York City nightclub, I was playing Dungeons & Dragons. So I believed that we could follow these characters in a true saga-like way.

I remember going to this studio right before doing Fast and Furious, the fourth film in the series, and saying, “I have a long enough saga story that we could shoot three movies at the same time.” And then they called security. “Get him outta here!” They thought I was crazy. “You're crazy! you're lucky we're even letting you do one more of these! Get outta here!” And now they want trilogies.

I made a promise to [Paul Walker] that I'd do everything to make [Furious 7] the best movie in history. And here we are with one of the most groundbreaking, important films of the millennium.

Every single time we've released a Fast, I've been kind of stubborn or bullheaded or ambitious about building [a cliffhanger] into the movie with a very clear tag. At the end of Fast & Furious, we end in the middle of a scene of these cars pulling up around a prison bus. Fast 5 ends with a photo of Letty. Furious 6: the introduction of Deckard Shaw. And this movie is so sacred and complete that we will let you just walk away in your own way. That's the best way I can put it into words.

The person that used to challenge me the most was Paul Walker. Every time I'd come out of a movie premiere we'd leave everybody else and it'd just be him and I to the side. And he'd always tell me, “The best one is still in the can.” And when the tragedy happened, I made a promise to him that I would do everything to make this the best movie in history. And everybody that was part of the film did the same thing, because what more could you give him than a film that would be his legacy? And here we are today with one of the most groundbreaking, important films of the millennium: Furious 7. Brace yourself.

Photo Credit: Erik Ian for VIBE Magazine

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Sacha Waldman

Missy Elliott's June 2001 Cover Story: 'Freaky Tales'

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the June 2001 issue of VIBE Magazine.

Missy Elliott blasts back onto the scene with her third album, the innovative and sexy Miss E...So Addictive. Marc Weingarten bonds with the reborn, self-aware woman in charge and discovers her new style of sexual healing.

Written By: Marc Weingarten Photographs By: Sacha Waldman

BET's 106&Park is the kind of hip video show designed to lure the viewer into thinking there's a party going on, when in fact every facet of the production is micro-managed to death. The set's decor, with its glitter and cardboard facade, is strictly high-school prom, and the young crowd is bused in to provide the requisite whoo-whoos and arm-pumpings at the proscribed moments.

Within the context of this plastic, denuded TV landscape, Missy Elliott is a splendorous vision of cool. For her guest appearance on tonight's show, she's busting out her new look, which might be called Casual Fabulous: a purple denim jacket and jeans ensemble with "Missy" emblazoned in studs down the right leg, white tennis shoes with matching studs, spiky short hair, and wonderfully gaudy jewelry on each hand.

Elliott's here to show "Get Ur Freak On," the debut video from her new album, Miss E... So Addictive, for the first time in front of a TV audience, but it's hard to tell if the crowd is buzzing or if it's just the usual puffed-up enthusiasm.

"So, tell us about the video, Missy," host AJ reads from the cue card. Elliott explains that it's the first time she's worked with director Dave Meyers, who also directed music videos for Janet Jackson, Dave Matthews Band, and OutKast. Something is afoot here; what, no Hype Williams? The video rolls. Opening shot: The camera pushes in on a Japanese ninja warrior, rambling incoherently. It's a shot across the bow to her hip hop contemporaries: This is gonna be some new crazy Missy sh*t, nothing at all like the old crazy Missy sh*t. Some of the kids in the crowd are stirring audibly. What exactly is this, anyway?

The next scene is in some godforsaken netherworld, where ghostly cadavers hang down like ivy and booty-bumpers seem to dance in a kind of stop-time suspension. Cut to Missy: No space suits here, no goggles. Just a body shimmy and a whole mess of braggadocio. "Listen to me now, I'm lastin' twenty rounds/And if you want me, come and get me now," Missy barks over a strangely compelling Asian riff that sounds like something from Miss Saigon.

It's hypnotic, ballsy, amazing: The BET kids are head-nodding in approval, elbowing each other in the arm. That phoned-in party vibe is slowly morphing into something genuine. Director Meyers pulls out some visual tricks: Missy's neck extends, twists itself toward the lens. She spits, and the viscous globule flies until it finds its way into the mouth of a male dancer. The audience lets out a collective gasp. It's kind of gross, but it's also cool.

Suddenly, the video segues into another Missy jam called "Lickshots," a steady rolling jeep-thumper equally as good as "Get Ur Freak On." Then it all unceremoniously cuts out. The crowd is going psycho; they're actually on their feet, yelling and stomping their approval. Missy seems a little flummoxed and very appreciative: "Thank you, thank you so much," she says, but it's no use. The peanut gallery has drowned her out.

"Man, I ain't never seen anyone get a standing ovation here before," says James Cruz, vice president of promotions at Elliott's management company, Violator/AMG. It sounds like artist hype, but it turns out this is one of the first times any video has received a standing ovation on 106 & Park. 

Is Missy Elliott back? With a vengeance, yo.

Suddenly, Elliott found her bountiful cash flow hitting rocky shoals. The 'Supa Dupa Fly' clips had cost $2 million a pop, and they say on Elliott's balance sheet like two-ton weights.

"EVERY time I get reaction like that it feels like it's for the first time." It's the morning after her BET guest shot, and Missy is about to make the promotional rounds at MTV with a series of interviews for various shows. She's still thrilled about what went down last night. "It's like a high. It made me think that my work wasn't in vain," she says. "You know, hopefully, I can get three more years of this!"

Three years? Whatever happened to the brash arrogance of youth? Elliott's not even 30, and she's already talking like a weather-beaten cynic. Perhaps she's seen too much too soon. Having worked the music business from every conceivable angle, Elliott's taking stock now, weighing the good with the bad, and making her moves accordingly. She's certainly a different person from the 25-year-old polymath prodigy who spun the hip hop world on its ear with Supa Dupa Fly in 1997. That album, and Elliott's groundbreaking videos for "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)," and "Sock It 2 Me," both of which were directed by Hype Williams, rewrote the rule book for every woman who's ever dreamed of hip hop glory, but who would never dream of compromising herself to achieve it.

Supa Dupa Fly's platinum success, and Elliott's songwriting and producing track record for artists like Aaliyah ("One In A Million," "If Your Girl Only Knew"), 702 ("Steelo"), and SWV ("Can We") among others, enabled the Portsmouth, Va., native to write her own ticket with Elektra. The company gave her a label imprint, The Gold Mind Inc., with a full roster of handpicked talent. At the time, Missy was seemingly bulletproof. She even managed herself. Who needs to give up 20 percent, for Christ's sake, when there's so much money rolling in?

Two years later, Elliott released her follow-up, Da Real World, a darker, less playful album that also sold a million copies, but did so in a much quieter fashion than Supa Dupa Fly (read: negligible media buzz, fewer MTV spins). Gold Mind's inaugural release, Nicole's Make It Hot, sold anemically, despite bearing the freakishly imaginative thumbprint of Elliott's songwriting and production skills.

Suddenly, Elliott found her bountiful cash flow hitting rocky shoals. The Supa Dupa Fly clips with which she had universally raised the standard for video production had cost roughly $2 million a pop, and they sat on Elliott's balance sheet like two-ton weights, dragging down her bottom line. Despite the success of Da Real World's "Hot Boyz," which stayed atop Billboard's rap chart for 18 straight weeks, the album failed to live up to her sales expectations, and she still harbors some residual bitterness about it.

"I was in 'prove your point' mode when I made that album," says Elliott, before heading into the walk-in closet-sized New York City studio where MTV's Direct Effect tapes. "You know, like, can she do it again? I was more intense on that album. I honestly think it could have done a lot better, but Elektra cut my singles off after three, and 'Hot Boyz' broke a record for staying at number one! How can you cut off an album when the last record has done so well?" Sylvia Rhone, chairman/CEO of Elektra Entertainment Group, explains that they were "still able to recover and maintain the kind of sales we achieved with Supa Dupa Fly, and with the tremendous success of 'Hot Boyz,' we thought it was best to end on a high note."

Da Real World's failure to live up to Elliott's expectations has spurred her to be more hands-on with every aspect of Miss E...So Addictive, from marketing to single-street dates. "I'm probably more involved with the business side of things now than I am as an artist," says Elliott. "I spend a lot more time in meetings with my artists and for my own project. I thought I knew a lot then, and you learn more as time goes on, but two years ago, I don't think I was educated about the business." That's why "Get Ur Freak On" is being released now, a full month and a half before the album's release, so it can "marinate in the clubs for a while, get a street buzz going."

Elliott may be more involved with biz than show now, but she isn't spreading herself as thin as she once did—booking massive gobs of studio time, working 24-7 as if her life depended on it. Two years ago, she hired Mona Scott, a partner in Violator, the powerhouse management firm that also handles Nas, LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, and Maxwell, among others. If a decision has to be made, it's done by committee now, not a party of one.

"There were situations where I would go into the studio with an artist to lay down a track, and I wouldn't get a check," says Elliott. "Mona told me, 'Look, you've gotta get the first half of the check before you do any work.' The bills were just piling up. A lot of that pressure is off of me now. If there's a situation where I don't want to do something, I don't have to look like the bad guy."

Elliott was spending too much money and not getting enough back in return. "It was crazy," she says. "I mean, I've got a lot of love for this business, but at the same time, I gotta make sure my mom is taken care of." Her mother, Pat Elliott, helps Missy manage her money, pay her taxes on time, and invest prudently whenever a $500,000 check rolls in. She's Missy's most trusted adviser—the only person, in fact, that she trusts unconditionally. When Pat suffered a massive heart attack in March that required rehabilitative therapy, it cast a black cloud over the prosperous, placid little universe Missy had created for the two of them.

"It really messed with me," says Elliott. "I've always been close to my mother, and it's hard for me now, knowing I have to go overseas for the album and leave her. She's all I've got. If she was gone, they'd have to put me in a strait-jacket. I'd be messed up for a long, long time. Just seeing her in the intensive care unit, it was so hard."

When asked how her father—who Pat Elliott divorced when Missy was 14 years old—reacted to her mother's sickness, Missy says, "I don't think he knows about it."

"MAN, I live to take this makeup off!"

Her promotional chores finished at Direct Effect, Elliott leaves MTV's studios in the Viacom building and hops into a stretch limousine waiting for her on 46th Street by the service entrance. She wipes her glitter mascara off with a box of baby wipes, then fumbles through her pocketbook for a copy of the new

"I'm not saying I'm celibate, but I watch a lot of friends who are unhappy because they feel they have to be with a man.... I decided early on that I would never take [stuff] from a man."

album. Popping it into the stereo system, a strident bass thump rattles the limo's windows, and a strange brew of synth sirens and space-age sound effects begins to cast a spell over Elliott. She's in a trance state: eyes closed, arms akimbo, mouthing the words like any other fan: "If I give you head, you'll never leave," she rhymes on "Lickshots."

Make no mistake: Elliott's astonishing new album Miss E... So Addictive is all about sex—how to get it, how to do it, when to spurn it. While she may have touched upon the subject in the past, this represents a subtle shift in Elliott's persona. Gone are the Supa Dupa Fly days, when Elliott was content to be a jeep-beeping homegirl with a space-age secret identity and leave the heavy breathing to pheromone bombs like Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown. Missy is tired of being, in her words, "a cartoon." It was time to peel off the mask, show the world what Missy was really all about. And, as it turns out, she's all about sex. For virtually any other hip hop performer, this wouldn't be an unusual development, but for Missy, it's a stunner.

Consider her background, which was scarred by sexual trauma at a very early age. A teenage relative sexually abused Elliott beginning when she was eight. This went on frequently over the course of a year. Her father also mercilessly beat her mother for years. "Stuff like that never leaves you," says Elliott. "I'll never forget walking into the house and seeing my mother crouched in the corner with her arm out of the socket. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about all of it."

In high school, Elliott was fast and loose with men. "Did I have relationships? I was bonin'," she says. "I was going through a time when all that stuff kept playing in my head, and, eventually, you begin to seal yourself off from anything that reminds you of that situation." Shunning psychiatry, Elliott instead turned to the church for spiritual sustenance and some degree of comfort. "I believe God healed me from a trauma that, for somebody else, would have made them lose their mind."

As for her attitude toward men today, it's strictly an arms-length proposition. "I have learned to be happy with myself," she says. "I'm not saying I'm celibate, but I watch a lot of friends who are unhappy because they feel they have to be with a man, but then they catch them doing whatever. I'm like, I'm happier than ya'll. I've seen so much, that I decided early on that I would never take any sh*t from any man."

Unlike stars like Madonna, who equate sex with power but really pander to the fantasy life of men, Missy's new sexual frankness truly is a form of empowerment, because it's being done on her own terms. When you're Missy's kind of beautiful—the kind that doesn't fit the standard set by mainstream, white America—you can't be co-opted by a music industry that values the commodification of flesh. When Missy raps "Get Ur Freak On," it sounds less like an invitation and more like a command, and you'd better obey.

"I don't trip, because it doesn't have to be about you getting all butterball naked and singing 'Oops!...I Did It Again," says Elliott. "If you've got talent, you just have to do you. If they want to take their clothes off and sell those records, fine—just call me to do a song on your album!"

There's a newfound boldness on Miss E... So Addictive that was only hinted at on Da Real World, a willingness to seize whatever it is that strikes her fancy with blunt bedroom tactics. Check the song titles: "Dog In Heat," "Ex-sta-sy," "Get Ur Freak On," "One Minute Man" (as in "I don't need no...").

"As females, we went through our anger moment," says Elliott. "Then, it was all about 'Where's my money? We don't want no broke dudes.' Then, before that, it was about love. So for me, it was like, dag, all of the old topics are worn out one way or another! I just wanted to cross the border with this album. When was the last time somebody made records like Prince, or Rick James, or Marvin Gaye's 'Sexual Healing?' I wanted to do what everybody else is scared to do."

Miss E... So Addictive shifts the paradigm in other ways. With Supa Dupa Fly, Elliott and her childhood friend/partner-in-rhyme Timothy "Timbaland" Mosely introduced a new vocabulary of beats the way Chuck Berry introduced a new way of playing guitar into rock'n'roll's lexicon 40 years prior. Elliott refers to them as "double beats," and they do have a kind of double-jointed agility about them. Tim made this bass drum skip and skitter over tracks like a fibrillating heartbeat, liberating hip hop from straitjacketed, four-on-the-floor rhythms.

But admiration soon begat emulation, and countless producers began packing their tracks with rubberband beats. Elliott and Tim started complaining in the press about beat thieves pilfering their stuff and even wrote songs about it (Da Real World's "Beat Biters").

Soon, it got to the point where you couldn't read a Mosely interview without him complaining about being robbed of his rhythms. Those protests quickly grew tiresome. A Spin review of Da Real World began with the pungent line: "Enough about Timbaland's goddamn beats already."

"Tim's bitter," says Elliott. "When people come up to him and say, 'That was a hot track you produced,' when he didn't work on it, that's what agitates him. But I realize that, when something is hot, people are gonna embrace it and gravitate to it."

Then Tim and Elliott read a Prince interview that called out the duo for whining, and it rocked their world. "Prince was wondering why we wouldn't just switch our style if we were so upset, and it kind of hurt me and Tim," says Elliott. The two knew they had to lighten up a bit. Timbaland admits to feeling "animosity" toward biters in the beginning, "but now it's all good," he says. "[People biting] is like them sending me cards saying get well soon. I'm flattered." Missy says, "We knew we couldn't just keep barking about it, we had to switch the sh*t up."

Have they ever. Miss E... So Addictive almost completely abandons the old formula in favor of a new palette of sounds: Indian raga, techno, house, old-school funk. The new album contains within its 15 tracks a multitude of musical worlds, all of which are thrown into Elliott and Timbaland's sonic supercollider and spat out in fascinating new ways. The requisite crew of guest stars—Ludacris, Ginuwine, Da Brat, Eve, Method Man, Redman—are on hand, the male rappers providing gender-specific retorts to the females' sexed-up battle cries. "I wanted the guys to represent for the guys," says Elliott. "I wanted to have both sides in there."

Few hip hop artists are as savvy as Elliott when it comes to strategic alliances, and Missy's got a clutch of synergistic projects that should help fatten her royalty statement at the end of the year. For starters, there's "Lady Marmalade," the Labelle cover from the soundtrack to the new Nicole Kidman film Moulin Rouge. The single features Lil' Kim, Mya, and teen Lolitas Pink and Christina Aguilera singing their hearts out. "I ain't even gonna front, those girls can sing," says Elliott. "I think the competition made Pink and Christina both work a little harder."

The remix of "Get Ur Freak On" features 22-year-old pop phenomenon Nelly Furtado, who adds Jamaican-style chants to the already exotic record. "I saw her on MTV, and I knew she was gonna be big," says Elliott. "I wanted to hook that up, but she's incredible. People are gonna trip on that record. It sounds so different from her own sh*t."

Mick Jagger gave her a call recently, too. The Rolling Stones' frontman wanted to talk to her about writing and producing some songs for his upcoming solo album. "I went to this hotel room here in New York, and he played me some of the songs he already has," says Elliott, "and I'm sitting there thinking, Damn, isn't this a bi**h?! I'm in the room with Mick Jagger, and he's playing his songs for me? This sh*t ain't real! I go from talking to Mariah to working with Whitney then leap to Mick Jagger? Who's next?"

In her attempt to reach white kids, classic-rock baby boomers, soccer moms, and whoever else she can snag, Missy's side projects might be misconstrued as the canny chess moves of a crass opportunist. Does she worry about looking like a big sellout? "You've gotta come with the goods. If a joint is wack, I'm not gonna do it. With the Moulin Rouge thing, I felt like they were into the record 100 percent, so I knew it would be handled correctly."

Missy, Act Three, is firing on all pistons, the only way Elliott knows how to do it. Older, wiser, and more willing to expose her real self to a public whose hunger for the new and the novel grows ever more ravenous, Elliott just might reclaim hip hop from the big-pimping poseurs that threaten to bling bling the genre into creative oblivion. The trick, as she is well aware, is to get everyone to listen. "Things have changed, but that's not gonna stop me," says Elliott. "Keeping it real means keeping it real for myself."

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L-R: La La Anthony, Lela Loren, and Naturi Naughton
Karl Ferguson Jr.

The Truth, The Whole Truth And Nothing But The 'Power'

Originally, Courtney A. Kemp wanted to call her Starz scripted drama The Price. She pulled the name from a teaching associated with Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-step program that proclaims pain is the price of admission to a new life.

“We were going to show coke on a scale and then the dollar amount,” she said. “So, the price would’ve been the price of the drugs, but also the price you have to pay to get a new life.”

It was about a drug dealer in recovery who had a sponsor, but the execs instructed Kemp to take out the recovery aspect. After doing some thinking, she realized her project was less about how much one has to pay and more about how much control one doesn’t actually have.

“At its core, it’s about powerlessness,” she said. “So, I called the show Power.”

Sitting at a cherry wood table inside a plush private dining space at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons Hotel, Kemp reveals her attraction to the pursuit of power stems from her childhood. Growing up in the affluent, white burg of Westport, Connecticut, her ultimate wish was to have complete, ever-elusive dominion.

“I grew up in an abusive household, and all I wanted was to be able to control my parents. All I wanted was to be able to control my [older] brother. I didn’t want him to leave and go to college. I was a black kid in a white town.”

Kemp lets the words “abusive household” roll off her tongue with a sense of normality that denotes she’s accepted the home she was raised in.

There were a few other kids of color in the area, but eventually, they moved, leaving little Courtney by her lonesome, prompting her to escape into a world where she would have the final say, seeking -- and finding -- her power peak in writing and storytelling.

“That’s always the writer’s question: What if? What if? But it also goes to a sense of powerlessness. I can’t make it like I want it to be, and one of my biggest character defects is that I like to control people,” Kemp said. “So, what does that turn into? That turns into writing people because I can actually make them go places. ‘Interior. Ghost’s apartment. Day. Tasha enters.’ I can make them say things. It’s control. Power comes to the essence of control. Controlling your universe, controlling your environment.”

Kemp may have realized early on she likes to control people, but it was before recovery in 2007, when a “shift,” as she calls it, occurred, and she learned she isn’t a puppet master.

“There have been times in my life, not now, when I was much more likely to use deception to get my way. After a certain point in my life, I accepted the fact that I cannot get my way. There’s really no way to control the universe. We’re powerless over what happens next. You can be sitting in your kitchen, and a stray bullet could whiz through the window, and you’re dead, and that’s nothing you did wrong.”

VIBE: What specifically happened in 2007 that made you realize you can’t control anything?

Courtney A. Kemp: I’m probably not going to answer that question.

I don’t push for an explanation or re-work the question in hopes to dupe her into answering. Her no was a full sentence, said with intention and boundary. All she reveals is things changed for her spiritually placing her on the path to where she is now.

And today, Courtney Kemp sits at the top of her Power empire. With the help of executive producer Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Kemp birthed a crime drama about James St. Patrick, also known as Ghost, a man living a dual life as a drug dealer-turned-nightclub owner trying to leave the streets he’s littered with dope for the legitimate world of New York City nightlife. Kemp and the rest of the Power writers boldly explore the ramifications of manipulation, duplicity, and lies.

Kemp is deliberate with her words. She’s survived whatever recovery she’s hush about and, in turn, has become a forthright woman with steadfast conviction. She ferociously defends characters who’ve merited ire from fans, (“I will go toe-to-toe with you about Holly”) and doesn’t show a bit of remorse when discussing beloved characters killed off the show (“If you ask me if I regret killing Raina, no. Period.”)

So, it’s interesting that with all her truth, Kemp finds liars to be “fascinating.”

“They always get caught. No one ever doesn’t get caught,” she said. “It’s such a fool’s errand. It’s amazing to me. If you run a full game, a full deception, eventually, you’ll get caught. That always happens. It never doesn’t. I have to use a double negative. It never doesn’t happen. So, it’s fun for me.”

Premiering in June 2014, Power--which stars Omari Hardwick in the principal role, along with a diverse cast of characters exhibiting unscrupulous and deceitful behavior -- received noticeable fanfare on social media and earned solid ratings during Season One. After being greenlit for a sophomore season, the secret couldn’t be contained any longer, and new fans were curious to learn what the hubbub was about while old fans awaited lustily to see how things would play out. Now, five years later, Kemp is ready to bring this street tale to an end.

“I don’t want to be a show that drags on for nine or 10 seasons, and there’s no story to tell. This story is over. It begets the next story, but this story is over, and I wanted to pay it true homage and give it the respect it needed. When people say ‘Oh, I want more seasons,’ what they’re saying is they want more of the same, but you can’t do the same story over and over again. Some things have to end.”

Kemp is 42, with a round, warm face and shoulder-length black hair. She often tucks a few strands behind her ear when getting into the nitty-gritty of show talk. Her smile is wide, her skin clear. As a busy mother, creator and showrunner of a hit cable-network drama, the bags one would assume should be under her eyes are noticeably not there. She shies away from compliments about her skin, stating she’s wearing great makeup but admits she’s intense about skincare.

As she sits with her legs crossed, Kemp is relaxed yet alert. Donning a calf-length one-sleeved black dress, she’s removed her gold strappy high heels for nude ballet flats. She’s just finished her first VIBE photoshoot, and the excitement of it all begins to settle in.

In 2016, VIBE spoke with Kemp inside her Brooklyn offices about the show’s success prior to its Season Three premiere, the conversation’s focus being its leading men, Ghost (Hardwick), Dre (Rotimi Akinosho), Tommy (Joseph Sikora) and Kanan (50 Cent). Three years later, it’s the women's turn and Kemp is just as eager to give the ladies their well-earned shine: Naturi Naughton, who plays Tasha; Alani “Lala” Anthony, who plays LaKeisha, and Lela Loren, who plays U.S. federal prosecutor Angela Valdes, have all contributed to the delicious mess that is Power.

In past interviews, Kemp has stated Tommy’s character was always supposed to be a white boy. (Interestingly, Andy Bean who played Agent Greg Knox originally tried out for the role. Kemp said “his audition was f**king bananas,” but Knox wasn’t physically on par with Hardwick’s muscular stature making him look more like a little brother than an equal.) I asked her if she, in turn, intentionally envisioned a white Latina to embody the role of Angela, a question that merited furrowed eyebrows and a bristled response.

“Okay, so, first of all, I push back on ‘white Latino.’ I don’t even know what that means. I don’t know what that is. I don’t even know what that’s saying. What is a white Latino? There are people who consider themselves white Latinos; I guess that’s a thing I’ve never heard about before. Being from the East coast, so many people are Afro-Latino, so I don’t know what a white Latino would be.”

“However, [Angela] was always Puerto Rican.” Kemp continued. “One of the people I looked at ... I looked at Elizabeth Rodriguez. We looked at Monique Gabriela Curnen, who played other parts on the show, so we were going after Puerto Rican actresses. That’s what I wanted. Puerto Rican, no matter how they showed up. Again, I really don’t like that term ‘white Latino.’ I don’t even … how does that even work? I’m not going to even ask you those questions; I’m just confused. It was always to try and find someone who was Puerto Rican.”

She describes Angela as a woman with flint to move through the ranks of a masculine work environment, but also a woman who possesses a girly-tenderness. According to Kemp, Lela Loren has both.

“You have to have a certain amount of f**king flint to get through law school, and then you have to have a certain amount of flint to get through what are highly masculine, male-dominated environments when you talk about attorney’s offices and state attorneys and cops and law enforcement. These women are not shy, and I needed someone who could stand up to Omari,” Kemp said.

“When she fought with Omari, you felt her in the room, and we needed someone also with the softness to still have that little-girl sense of love. To still be in love with her first love. Lela had this very specific quality.”

Admittedly, Lela Loren isn’t good with names, but she makes up for her absentmindedness with hugs and cheek kisses. “I’m sorry, what’s your name again?” she asks while offering an embrace without leaving hints of red lipstick on the side of my face. The 39-year-old who grew up in northern California and Mexico is all smiles this Saturday afternoon. The Beverly Hills sun is kind, and a faint breeze blows through her newly cut shoulder-length bob. Loren runs her fingers through her mocha hair, confessing she wanted it shorter, but instead exercised restraint.

On Power, AUSA Angela Valdes knows nothing of holding back. Loren describes her character as a woman ultimately led by her heart, so much so, her tenacity and ability to color outside of the lines have caused many to question what ethics if any, she abides by. Loren said she understands the methodology behind Angela, but never personally subscribed to it.

“How you get something done is as important as getting it done. Ultimately, for me, it’s about the process. Keeping your integrity, who you are as an individual, how you achieve your goals, is as important as achieving your goals,” she said.

Loren is laid back and present. After posing with co-stars Naughton and Anthony, she kicks off her white Sergio Rossi pumps and wiggles her toes a bit before sitting pretzel-style on lawn furniture outside of the Four Seasons’ Il Posto Room.

Leaning forward with a glass of champagne in hand, ready for questions, Loren thinks before she speaks, often looking into the distance to draw on words to formulate her response, but after talking with her, it’s not hard to imagine her as a journalist, or an educator like her parents. She describes herself as a little nerdy and a voracious reader who’s found joy in Yuval Noah Harari’s 2015 novel Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind.

Valdes has a badge and a gun; Loren has a cat and a garden. Her real-life doesn’t mimic the one she plays on television, which has been delicious -- and also a bit daunting.

“The best part about playing Angela has been all of her wonderful contradictions. It’s so fun to try to find the through-line of someone that has such extremes. She can be so defensive and so manipulative. Then, at the same time, she can be so soft and fragile and almost pathetic,” she said earnestly. “But the hardest part about playing Angela has been realizing that in the outer world, there’s still a very narrow lane for women. As soon as a woman steps outside of that lane, fictional or otherwise, a lot comes at you.”

For five seasons, Angela was the woman partly responsible for breaking up the St. Patrick household, and for some viewers, that’s all they can see. They don’t see Angela’s ambition or persistence or that while leading a drug task force, she’s also caring for her sick father. If Angela’s reputation plucks at Loren’s nerve, she doesn’t show it.

“I think what playing Angela or being on Power really helps me understand is how you can only tell half the story because the audience inevitably brings the other half. No matter how clear you try to make that story, how it resonates with them or how they interpret it, they’re really feeling the narrative. Even times when people would take a scene and how I believe Courtney intended it, how I intended to play it and how it landed on them are so different. In some ways, you have to surrender to this lack of control because we’re only telling half the narrative. The other half is from the viewer.“

Kemp knows things may be changing, but when casting the show, she intentionally wanted a woman to play opposite Hardwick who wouldn’t traditionally be thought of for the role.

“I did look for a brown-skinned woman to play Tasha because at that time -- this is not relevant as much -- but at that time, there were no brown-skinned women on TV playing the beautiful, sexy part. Now, if you remember from the beginning, Tasha was always smart, but Tasha was the gorgeous one,” Kemp said. “I wanted that beauty, sensuality, responsibility and that partnership. Ghost and Tasha were partners, and I wanted all of that from a brown-chocolatey person.”

Naturi Naughton is an even five-feet high, but she has a six-foot-tall personality. On set, the 35-year-old doesn’t wait for direction from photographer Karl Ferguson Jr.; instead, she narrows her eyes during one frame, purses her lips in the next or crosses her ankles, leans forward and with her body says: “I’m here.” Beyonce’s “Formation” plays in the dimly lit 1,000-square-foot room, and Naughton -- in her figure-hugging, red velvet Galvan London dress -- pops against the slate-grey seamless backdrop. The singer-actress oozes confidence with every flash from Ferguson’s camera.

The assurance booming from Naughton is a far cry from when fans are introduced to Tasha during the Season One opener. As Mrs. St. Patrick walks into Club Truth with Ghost on her arm, the first time Tasha opens her mouth, she needs to be affirmed by her husband.

“Tell me I’m beautiful,” she says as she leans her head onto Ghost’s shoulder. He replies: “You already know you are.” But in later seasons, viewers realize Tasha actually didn’t know.

“Tasha was looking for Ghost to validate her, which is why she says, ‘Tell me I’m beautiful.’ The truth is she doesn’t know she’s beautiful. She doesn’t know who she is without him,” Naughton said. “In Season One, she was lacking a bit of self-confidence. She was lacking maturity. I feel like over the seasons, to now, she grew up. Six seasons later, she’s now like: ‘Okay, who am I without you?’ I think she’s gained self-confidence, and she’s unapologetic about the kind of woman she is. As opposed to looking for him to tell her she’s enough, Tasha now knows she’s enough.”

Her character’s new confidence runs parallel with where Naughton is in her own life. As a single mom to her two-year-old daughter, Zuri, Naughton has weathered her own storms, however, the new layer of thick skin didn’t come easy.

“I’m a woman now,” Naughton reflects. “A lot of it had to do with motherhood and relationships that I’ve been in, break-ups and heartbreak. I feel I learned a lot through some of those hardships and about what it’s like to love and not love, to be in love, to fall out of love, to have a child, to be raising a two-year-old. It’s a lot of work. You’ve got to be a strong woman to do that.”

“I’ve grown up because the show gave me an opportunity to grow. This character is so complex, and she has so many different dimensions. I’m a big girl now,” Naughton says with a smile. “I’m really proud of myself. I used to be hard on myself. I still am, but I’m proud of myself because I worked hard, and I’ve done it for six seasons. I was breastfeeding while shooting Season Five, and that’s hard work. I think I’ve allowed myself to feel proud of myself. And as a woman, we should do that.”

Tasha’s character received praise for being Ghost’s “ride-or-die” wife, which hasn’t always been easy for the character. Yet after five years of being loyalty-ish -- Tasha was married when she had her affairs with Shawn and Terry Silver -- Naughton says her definition of loyalty has expanded since walking in Tasha’s stilettos.

“There are a lot of different ways to stay loyal or be loyal, but to also see when loyalty is betrayed, how do you come back from that? [In] Season One, Ghost starts cheating on Tasha with Angela, and then lies to her in Season Two and says he’s going to end it, but he continues to lie to her and Tariq and with Kanan,” Naughton said.

“It’s so many different areas where she feels like the loyalty has been lost, but she continues to ride for him. That’s a deep wife-level loyalty that I have yet to experience because Tasha has been riding for Ghost, even when he was in jail, but I admire that in a way. She never jumps ship. She didn’t bail on him when things got tough.”

As Tasha stood by Ghost’s side throughout his philandering, the sole person loyal to Mrs. St. Patrick was LaKeisha. Played by Alani “La La” Anthony, Kemp made it obvious only one woman was truly benefiting from the friendship, while the other may have received a hand-me-down Yves Saint Laurent purse here or there. If loyalty is considered a weakness in the world of Power, Keisha’s back may sport the biggest target.

“I think it’s a very complicated friendship. I think it’s hard to be friends with somebody when you’re jealous or you want their life. That’s why things between the two of them get so tricky as the seasons go on, and especially in this last season because there is a real friendship there, but there is an underbelly of jealousy,” Anthony explains. “I feel like [Tasha has] never been a real friend to Keisha the way Keisha’s been to her.”

Anthony dissects the push-and-pull of LaKeisha and Tasha’s relationship donning an Area gunmetal cocktail dress and strappy Gusseppie Zanotti open-toe heels. While walking to a quiet location away from the chatter of the photoshoot, the sun hits her dress, and she sparkles. Her hazel-green eyes shimmer and her hair is the perfect amalgamation of blonde, honey and brown streaks. Before the interview begins, she requests an iced tea. La La, as she’s professionally known, or La, as she’s called by close friends, can best be described as the homie -- the very gorgeous, humble homie -- who’s just as comfortable in full glam as she is in a pair of Air Force Ones.

Kemp maintains every character on Power has agency and always has a chance to leave the situation. She especially underscores this when speaking about LaKeisha.

“We’ve given LaKeisha a lot of opportunities not to double down with Tommy. She can peel off at any moment, and she doesn’t. In [Episode] 409, he comes, and he begs her: ‘Can I run my money through your shop again?’ She mushes him and says ‘Tommy, get out of my face!’ And then she goes back to him.”

For Anthony, the most challenging part about bringing Keisha to life wasn’t her unwavering allegiance: It was her ignorance’s marriage to it. How could she not see or feel she was receiving the short end of the stick while offering friends and lovers the rod?

“I think Keisha can be naive at times. You just want to slap her,” Anthony said smacking the air. “Even that scene when she told Tommy: ‘You’ve never killed anyone, right?’ It’s those moments. It doesn’t make it difficult; it’s just understanding her perspective and why she thinks like that. I think we all know a LaKeisha. We’ve had a LaKeisha as a friend or we know somebody [like her].”

Anthony sips her tea and ponders some more about LaKeisha’s obedience to the game and to Tasha. She knows that’s where she and her character differ.

“[LaKeisha] is a loyal friend, and I consider myself a loyal friend. I think a lot of times, her kindness gets taken for granted because she is willing to do anything to help friends and to help Tommy. I don’t want to take that in my life. I don’t like for kindness to be taken for weakness, but I definitely want to be a loyal friend. I am the type of person to be that for the people I love.”

Anthony’s voice is raspy but welcoming. She’s professional and personal. Her legs are crossed and her back is straight. She offers nothing about her personal life. I also don’t ask. The only tea she spilled is that she doesn’t allow her 12-year-old son, Kiyan, to watch Power.

“He’s tried a million times but he’s not allowed to watch. He’s 12. I don’t think a 12-year old should be watching Power. People can disagree with me, but that’s how I feel.”

Portraying LaKeisha has given Anthony a perspective she didn’t have prior to landing the role. Now she has a clearer understanding of relationships and why people do what they do.

“Playing Keisha has given me more of an understanding of women, relationships and friendships. Not that I was ever judgemental, but we’re always so quick to say, ‘Well, that will never be me,’ and the next thing you know it is you.” she said flatly. “I always say everyone doesn’t know what they’ll do until they’re in that situation. Keisha is giving me more of an understanding. You have to look at someone’s background, why they think the way they do, why they function the way they do. This is all from childhood or how we were raised. It gives me more understanding when I’m talking to other women.”

***

Thirty-five minutes have passed since the start of the interview with Kemp. I push for two more questions and her publicist pushes back with two more minutes. When we began, Kemp hesitantly accepted compliments on the show’s run, noting that despite the hard work, long hours on set and the writing, she credits its success to something bigger.

“It’s hard because people keep saying that to me, and I don’t know what they’re congratulating me for, in a way, because it’s God’s will how many people watch the show,” she said. “I cannot compel that.”

Viewers have been tuning in -- on Sundays in the summer, no less -- because they’re that invested in the lives of the characters Kemp created. As a byproduct of that, life is no longer the same.

“Everything’s different,” she said somberly. “Everything is different. I think maturity and experience put lines on your face and grays in your hair for a reason, and I’ll leave it like that.”

As the woman penning the scenes portrayed onscreen, Kemp’s work is more recognizable than she is. When out and about in New York with series regular and boyfriend Michael J. Ferguson, she jokes she’s often asked by fans to take pictures of him with them. In California, they’re even more aloof.

“In L.A, nobody knows. In fact, sometimes it’s like, ‘Hey, Courtney, have you been working?' ”

After five seasons, Power’s mountain of manipulations and powdered substance will collapse and crash in the series’ final run, normally a 10-show stretch that Kemp and Co. are splitting into two: Part One whets appetites with 10 hour-long episodes that premiere Sunday, Aug. 25, and the remaining five arrive in January 2020. Anyone left standing at the onset of this new season may be in a body bag by the end of it all. Kemp has proven in the past that her loyalty is to the story, not to any singular character. So, all bets -- if they were ever on -- are truly off.

Eager fans will see how it all plays out when we tune into Starz to hear those three scrumptious words we’ve been waiting for all year:

“Previously on Power…”

***

Photographer: Karl Ferguson Jr.

Art Designer: Nicole Tereza

Videographers: Vince Patrick and Jason Chandler

Makeup Artists: Vanessa Scali (Lela Loren), AJ Crimson (Naturi Naughton), and Sheika Daley (La La Anthony)

Hair Stylists: Aviva Perea (Lela Loren), Alexander Armand (Naturi Naughton), and Ray Dodson (La La Anthony)

Wardrobe Stylists: Alyssa Sutter Studios (Lela Loren), Brian Mcphatter (Naturi Naughton), and Maeve Reilly (La La Anthony)

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Vibe

Ice Cube's March 1994 Cover Story: 'The Devil Made Me Do It'

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the March 1994 issue of VIBE Magazine.

“Four years ago, he was “the nigga ya love to hate.” Now Ice Cube has a wife and family and has embraced the Nation of Islam. The original Boy N the Hood has finally moved out of South Central. He says he’s older, wiser, and still true to the game. But, asks Joan Morgan, has hip hop’s leading prophet of rage lost his edge.

Written By: Joan Morgan

It’s a beautiful day in Encino, California. A good day, if you will, in the spanking new offices of Ice Cube’s fledgling company, Lench Mob Records. Cube’s wife, Kim—a very pretty, very pregnant woman—drifts by every once in a while to tell him about an important call he needs to take or affectionately chide him about the growing piles of clutter on his new desk. He says it isn’t messy; she says it is. Their wedding picture occupies the one spot on the desk that is relatively clear, a constant in a pile that seems to be ever-shifting, ever-shuffling.

It’s been almost four years since Cube’s debut solo album, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, marked his graduation from a mere nigga wit attitude to the nigga America loved to hate. Lookin’ back, we were ripe for it. Cube broke out at a time when hip hop was definitely on some ol’ “I feel pretty” shit. Nubians had discovered the elixir of self-love; Afrocentria abounded—sometimes ad nauseum. But as Langston Hughes once wrote, “We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs….”

Cube came ready to serve heaping mounds of ugly. On AmeriKKKa, Cube emerged as the sonic personification of unmitigated black rage. It was violent, sexist, powerful, relentless, funny, and painful. It was also seductive as all hell. For white America, it was a voyeuristic look into the world where racism causes its equality-starved victims to feed upon themselves. For black folks, it was a long, cold, hard look in the mirror. There we were, ass-out for the world to see, and all the Brooks Brothers/kente cloths, relaxers/dreadlocks, embarrassment/denial in the world were not going to change the fact that these “negative” characters were very real fixtures in the black community. In the pain and insane.

On his second full-length album, 1991’s Death Certificate, Cube stripped away the comforts of voyeurism and showed white America what real unmitigated black rage would look like if it ever made its way out of the ghetto. The picture was not pretty. Jews, gays, and Asians were the newest victims to get caught in the cross fire. And many of the oh-so-liberal observers who sang Cube’s praises when he was rhyming about niggas killing niggas and smackin’ up bitches (read: black) were now demanding he be silenced by any means necessary. In 1992, Cube gave his critics the definitive “fuck you” when The Predator premiered at number one on the charts.

A lot has happened in Cube’s life in the last two years. He’s happily married, a follower of the beliefs of the Nation of Islam, and the father of a little namesake (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), with a baby girl on the way. Fans and detractors alike will tell you that Cube seems a lot less angry these days. His new album, Lethal Injection—funky, melodic, and relatively laid-back—has left some listeners grumbling, “the Nation and married life done got to Cube,” and others wondering if the absence of ire means that they need to find a new vehicle for catharsis.

Over the course of several hours in his office, Cube spoke—full of riveting insights and maddening contractions—about work, life, family, relationships, and how he intends to survive the pressures of being the world’s most celebrated angry black man.

How conscious were you of your audience when you were making this record? On Death Certificate, for example, the concept was that side A would say one thing to your audience, and side B would say another thing.

Well, from Death Certificate to now, my audience is totally different. From the little white kid that’s nine years old to the old grandmother who likes “It Was a Good Day.” That’s my whole audience. So I really don’t have a pinpoint idea, even though I still do my records directly for black teenagers and young adults.

But I was getting feedback, some people saying, “well, Ice Cube lost his edge.” So I have to do records that you expect and records that you don’t expect. With The Predator, I really wanted to show that Ice Cube has skills—do “Now I Gotta Wet’cha” or “Wicked,” and show that I can do just a rap record with no social message. That was the main focus on The Predator. And one thing that’s never been consistent on any of my records is the music. There’s never been a certain musical feel to the whole record. So on Lethal Injection, I tried to keep the music consistent, and then throw the raps in for messages. My next record will be real put together, more like Death Certificate.

There was a time when you had to go to the ‘hood to hear rap, plain and simple. There are pros and cons to its commercial success, but do you think that the expanding audience affects its ability to really be a voice of young black people?

No, because the good thing is that the hardcore records are still respected more than the pop records. Once the pop records get more respect than a hardcore street group, that’s when the music will hurt. But any kind of pop, bubblegum, sugar-toast group out there, the hardcore still gets more respect, and that’s where it started from. So as long as we keep that base, I don’t think the music is hurting at all.

What about the people who front being hardcore, but really aren’t—who don’t come from where they say they come from. Those records aren’t pop, but they have a pop thing about them in the sense that people don’t know, so they buy it and eat it up. Do you think that waters it down at all?

If you’re black and live in this country, it’s an experience. You got a story to tell, and you’re legit in telling it. Because no matter how rich you are, how poor you are, this country sees black and white. You’re going to get treated pretty much the same way. I think what matters is what a group is saying: Nobody is harder than a bullet. I don’t consider myself a hard individual; I can’t step through the earth, I can’t stop a bullet with my bare flesh. I consider myself real, and that’s a difference.

We have generals out there that have never shot a gun in a war, but they could tell you about war because they know how to look at it. I know a lot of killers, but they’re in the pen now, so they can’t rap. And I know people who have witnessed things and can explain it. I don’t think that makes them less legit than a person who has—quote, unquote—been through it, because we all have been through it. Unless you’re black, you don’t know. Period. So no matter who you are, I don’t think it waters it down.

Some people are comic books, and some people are newspapers. Comic books have a whole lot of shooting and killing, but you ain’t getting nothing out of it. The newspaper maybe has less of that, but it’s true, or somewhat true. I think the audience can pick out who is the comic books and who’s the newspaper.

How do you think the mainstream media is handling rap right now?

Well, rap is the only thing where information is distributed that don’t go through these channels that information usually has to go through. Without a newspaper, Ice Cube could still sell records. Without a magazine, without a video, without the radio, Ice Cube could sell records. So there’s no way to control that. That’s scary to the ones who control this all. Because if you distribute information, you can teach the people.

Everybody else—movies, TV shows—has to go through certain channels, and music used to be the same way. If you didn’t get played on the radio, you didn’t sell. Nowadays, that’s not even an issue. Radio play can damn near hurt you. That scares the media, so they have to attack the media, so they have to attack rap and make it not so powerful. Public Enemy, Ice Cube, Ice-T, whoever is saying something, that’s the main threat, and their main focus is to try to bring us down. And they use different ways, they see exactly what tempts you. Some groups they watch and try to bury from the start—let you blow up fast, then get you buried.

Is Arrested Development an example of that? They got written up in places like The Wall Street Journal.

They saw that the group had some conscience. Let’s see what happens with their next record. It’s going to be like, damn, they was all over MTV last year. I didn’t hear nothing about them this year. It looks like you failed, because most of the people that’s watching don’t know the game. You look like you’re on top of the world, and next year, you ain’t nothing. So it looked like you just took a nose dive. And that can kill a group, if you play into that game.

People try to play that game with me. See, I know that game; I’ll take the long route. Don’t give me the short route. I don’t want to do that. They played “Good Day” all over the place, then they want me to play on the Rock and Jock basketball games. But, I’ll play with my homeboys, you know, because those people don’t love me. They don’t love what I’m saying, and I know it. So before you take the gift of the devil, you’ve gotta see exactly what’s in it for him.

Would you say that from the mid-’80s to now is the first time that young black men have had control over their public image?

No. Until we can control networks, movie studios, theaters, the only image that we really control is our image through rap. We are open people so the hell that we’re going through is all in the streets. The suburbs are going through hell, too, but you don’t see it in the streets. But you go in the household, and it’s all hell inside the household. The streets look quiet, because white people are really not open, emotional people. Their neighborhoods reflect that. But if you go inside each door, each household is going through a crisis. The tripped thing about it is, they’re going through a crisis, and they got all the damn money.

READ MORE: Interview: The 'Straight Outta Compton' Cast Shares What Made The Movie's Success Possible

What do you think of that crisis—the dissatisfaction that’s affecting not just black families but white families in particular?

In America, for any people to be powerful, they have to ride on the backs of the poor. How do you keep people poor? You keep them ignorant. So if you want people to be slaves, or have a slave mentality, you keep them from knowing those things that will set them free. That’s the aim of the government, to keep people ignorant, and I think what you have is people fighting to gain some kind of knowledge of who they are and where they’re going. It’s like they’re pushing down and we’re pushing up. And we’re going to meet somewhere in the middle, and I think that’s what tearing America up right now.

So pretty soon, it’s got to change, because I can’t see myself sitting on the back of nobody’s bus. And my sons probably can’t see themselves putting their hands up in the air when the police pull them over. If the government thinks they’ve got to worry about Ice Cube… it’s that 14-, 15-year-old, who’s buck wild and feels invincible—that’s the one you’ve got to worry about. And the ones coming after him are going to be worse, until we have freedom, justice, and equality.

Given the realities of poverty in this country, that there are poor people who are white, who are Asian, who are Latino, do you think economic conditions could ever unify people? Do you think that there could ever be a unified movement of blacks and other oppressed people?

It could be, and it should be. But when it comes to oppressed people, the black man is always at the bottom of the totem pole. The closer you are to white, the more arrogant you are. A certain kind of arrogance is breeded into people. White folks are snotty towards black people. Orientals are snobby, all the way down the line, ‘till you have lighter black folks more snobby than darker black folks. It comes all the way down the line to the blackest, blackest, blackest man, who’s everybody’s an enemy of.

Once we learn how to love each other, then we can reach out for other people. But how am I going to help you build your house when mine’s not finished? It don’t make no sense. I think we have to stop looking for so much outside help, and start to help ourselves.

I really wish we would build a wall {laughs}— not a physical wall, but a wall around our community—till we get our thing together. It’s like a football team just going straight up to the line of scrimmage—no play, no huddle-up, no nothing. Just out there doing plays, running into each other. You have to huddle up, get your shit together, and then you can go and attack the other team with a play. We refuse to do that. We refuse to huddle up and get our shit together. Then we can challenge the world.

There was an article that we did in the magazine about Japan. Right now, Koreans in Japan are really treated badly. They have something that’s almost the equivalent of a pass system. They make you take a Japanese name, and if you’re Korean, there are certain jobs you’re not eligible for. Just a lot of discrimination. And a lot of the kids are really big rap fans, because they say that they really identify with the oppression in the music. One kid said, even when you don’t understand the words, you understand the feeling and the anger behind it.

Do you know what I think about that? If Japan is for the Japanese, I ain’t got no problem with that. At all. Japan is for Japanese. Korea is Koreans. Now, the problem I have is, America is for Americans. But they tell you that America is for everybody. See, to me, that’s worse. Because you’re looking for something that you ain’t never, ever going to get. If they said, “Look {snaps his fingers}, America is for white folks. Black folks, here’s yours.” I ain’t got no problem with that. The problem is America saying, “oh, this is love, the melting pot.” But America is for fucking white Americans. Straight up—no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

I went to Japan. And in some places, it was like, ah, you can’t come in here. I had no problem with that. Because I knew that, up front. They didn’t disrespect me. Japan is for Japanese. You ain’t going to come over here, you ain’t going to get no Japanese job. But that’s honest; what you see is what you get. What I hate is the motherfuckers sitting behind a desk at the record company, with a tie on. Bigger crooks than my homeboys. To me, that’s worse. Deception is worse than the truth.

So if America is for white Americans, cool. But America owes us a spot, a piece of this country that should be just for black folks. And they ain’t got to worry about me ever going into that part of the airport, to where they are. I’m content.

Let’s change the subject a little bit. I want to talk about you as a family man. You got married. You had a son. You have another kid—a daughter, this time—on the way. You moved out of South Central. How do you think being a family man has changed your life?

It’s made me more of a man. Not as reckless as I used to be. I thought I’d never move. Never, man— this is me, right here. But when you’ve got a family, and you’ve got motherfuckers going, “We’re going to kidnap your wife,” and you’re in Baltimore...damn, how do I protect my family? When you’ve got niggas driving by your house that you don’t know: “Yo, Cube, man come outside.” So I said, let’s get to a place where I’m not as popular. Or a place where nobody knows where I live.

I used to think, how could you make money and then move out? But it’s like having a piece of meat in the jungle. All the lions and tigers want that piece of meat, too, ‘cause they don’t have none. So, what you’ve got to do is take your meat in your den, or your tree, or wherever you are and eat it. And then show everybody else how to get some meat, too. So you won’t become prey, sitting in a land of predators. I used to be a predator, and I never want to be the prey, but that’s how it is. You can’t fight off everything.

My family made me more cautious. I’m old and I lock my doors and all that stupid stuff that I never used to do. But, you know, you got somebody that’s your blood, that’s your purpose on earth, so you want to make sure your offspring survives. Some people say, “I’m never having kids”—well, fool, your history stops right there. I want to be able to sit grandkids on my lap, and tell them stories about how it was: “They burnt the city down in 1992, or was it ‘93?” That type of thing. I want to be able to play with my kids. You know, if my kids start running with the gangs, I’m able to relate to the things that they’re going to have to go through, so I’m cool with it. I think that’s my purpose, to instruct the youth—not only my own, but other youth— on how to keep out of this self-destructive cycle.

I think that people who just know your media image would be surprised that you’re married. You have this image of being a raving misogynist. So I want to know what was it that you were looking for in a wife?

Somebody that was strong. Just like I hate yes-men, I hate yes-women. I hate that. Because I don’t know everything, so I need somebody to tell me, “Yo, you’re fucking up over here.”

You always knew she’d be a sister?

A black woman?

Uh-huh.

Oh please. Please. Man. Nothing but. White woman took me to the store one day during a video shoot…. I felt so uncomfortable, just riding in the car. Just terrible. It’s true: the truth is true.

You mentioned yes-women. Do you think black women, in particular, have problems with self-esteem?

I think black men have problems with self-esteem. I think black women know what they want. And they make no bones about it, and they hold you up to that. But for black men, there’s extra, added pressure. That’s why black men are more likely to die of high blood pressure and all these types of things, because of all the pressure that comes from not being the man of your house—being a man physically, but not mentally. I think that’s why a lot of men beat their women, feeling like, “I’m not living up to what I am, and I can’t take it out on the one that’s oppressing me, so I’m going to take it out on a woman.”

I think you’re right—I think it is about lack of power. So what do you do? I know a lot of black women who are intelligent, and beautiful, and strong. And lonely as hell. Don’t really want to date white men, you know, not trying to do that. I guess I’m asking how can we heal as a community if we can’t come together and have positive relationships?

Well, I can’t answer that. Um...damn. That’s a heavy one {laughs}. The black man is going through a plight, and we are—oh, here we go: we are like children, the whole black community. Whatever the white man does, we want to do. Just like the child wants to do what the adult wants to do. And the white man disrespects his women on all levels.

So I think everything that he does, we do on a smaller level. Even killing each other. Yeah, we do Crips and Bloods, but then you look at Bosnia and Herzegovina. You take car-jacking, and then you take Panama—you know, country-jacking. He hates his woman, and he’s been our only teacher for 437 years, so we hate our women. He erased all of our knowledge and replaced it with his own. And his own evidently, is not good for us. We will continue to do what we’ve been taught, until we decide not to follow that way. Children follow their mother or father to a certain extent, and then they have too break off and do their own thing. That’s what our community has to do.

So ultimately, what you’re talking about is the need for us to develop a value system that’s not based on the materialistic, or sexist, or patriarchal, or racist ideas…

We need not just a value system, but a whole national system. We need to become a nation within a nation. We need to have our own everything inside this culture. That’s how we survive. Because this world is the devil’s world. You have to break from that, make a new reality, in your own way. And become something other than what this world is producing, which is shit, hell, destruction. And I trip off the preachers, because if this world is of the devil, you should be trying your damnedest to get away from this world. But you’re trying to fit in, you want to be there with Clinton, shaking hands. What the hell is that?

A friend of mine was in this position recently, and I want to know what you think of it. She was in the car with her baby’s father, and he was listening to The Chronic, and she was like, “I don’t really care when you play it in the house; I don’t like it, but you have every right to play it. But around our daughter, I don’t really think she should have to hear that.” And he was like, “This is my experience, my reality, this is a part of where I come from, she should hear it.” So I want to know, what are you going to do when your little girl comes, and she wants to know whether it’s okay to play the year 2000’s version of The Chronic or AeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, for that matter.

Now, why would I shield my daughter from anything that I can explain to her, inside the house? Why would I say, “No, don’t listen to that,” so she can go outside and hear it with no explanation, nothing behind it but what people her age know about it? I’d rather pick my child’s brain, to give her the right medicine, because I can shield her from it while she’s in here, until she steps out that door. And nobody’s shielded from nothing when they walk out the door. I don’t shut the kids out from nothing they want to look at—nothing. Def Comedy Jam, nothing. They don’t laugh at what we laugh about, because they don’t understand. But just break it down to them.

When parents are in the position to teach their kids, they don’t; and then they get mad when they got rappers teaching their kids, because the rappers don’t shield the kids from nothing. The rappers tell them straight up. And that’s really all the kids want to know. The kids don’t need to know lies, they want to know the truth. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny...how are kids going to grow up with that bullshit?

There’s been a movement, internally, to address a lot of these things in black music, like sex and guns in lyrics. What do you think about that?

I’ve been saying this for years: You can’t change the problem if you don’t got a problem. If rappers didn’t come out with “bitch” and “ho,” we would still not be addressing that issue at all. Now, in 1994, we’re starting to address that. If everybody comes to the conclusion that “bitch” and “ho” aren’t appropriate for the community, they won’t be used. Just like “Negro” is not used no more. It’s not appropriate, it doesn’t fit, it has no meaning. But until somebody brings that to the table—here’s what’s going on, here’s what’s happening—you’re never going to address it. It’s like, if your hair is messed up and I hold a mirror in front of you long enough, you’re going to use a comb. That’s our whole purpose.

You said earlier that there were people who say you got married and got soft. What do you say those detractors when they that your music isn’t as hard as it used to be, that you lost your edge, that you’re not as angry as you used to be?

I ain’t as stupid, that’s basically what it is. We hate ourselves so much that you ain’t hard unless you’re talking about, “I shot this nigga, I got 1,000 AKS, I killed 1,000 niggas.” Motherfuckers would rather hear you say you killed 1,000 niggas than hear you say you smoked one devil. They love that more than they love themselves. So that’s the only thing that’s changed in my music: it’s more focused. I know that killing a nigga down the street ain’t going to solve none of my problems at all. And I don’t put that into my records, unless I’m explaining a situation. I ain’t stupid no more. And some people can’t deal with that. Niggas are scared of evolution, niggas don’t want to be free.

They’re scared because with freedom, you have to make your own decisions. Freedom is responsibility. Shit, I live in my mama’s house, cookies are there every day. Bam—you move out, ain’t no more cookies in there, unless you put them in there. You’re like, “Damn, I got to buy dishwater liquid?” That’s the responsibility you want to take to be free. These are scared Negroes, just like when slavery was over; yeah, you’re free to go. Now what am I going to do? We sharecropped. Still a slave.

What would you say to someone who says, okay, you’re married, you have two, five, maybe eight kids. You got a house, you got a car, you got a business...Cube is really living the American Dream.

It ain’t no dream for me. You can’t compare one man’s wealth to a whole nation of poverty. If they foreclose on my house, I can’t go to my bank and say, “White man, let me get a loan until next month. Give me $20,000.” Until I can go to my people and get help out of any financial situation I’m in, there ain’t nobody rich. I’m as poor as anybody else. I know how to get some money, and my duty is to show people around me how to get it, and how we all can get it.

So might that mean taking a step like directing feature films after all these videos you’ve worked on?

Yeah. Directing is cool, but I need to grow. I’ve been offered films to direct, but I’m not ready. I need to learn this game more. I’m going to be in this movie with John Singleton, Higher Learning. So I’l be looking over his shoulder the whole time. I never went to school, so I really want to sit and learn the game, and not just jump out there and be weak {laughs}. I don’t want to do nothing weak. I want to make sure I win.

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