A conspicuous Ice Cube stretches out a black T-shirt draped across his compact, stocky frame as he sits inside a regal room at the opulent London Hotel in Manhattan. The bold proclamation I AM THE WEST nearly jump off his chest. To be sure, there are few individuals who could make such a claim. But when you were the chief lyricist for infamous gangsta rap pioneers N.W.A., the personification of West Coast hip hop royalty, it’s hardly an outlandish statement. Indeed, Cube—who went on to release two of the genre’s most praiseworthy achievements AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (1990) and Death Certificate (1991) as well as lead rap super group Westside Connection to platinum plus heights—has credentials. And still his detractors will point to the fact that for much of the last decade, Ice Cube has flexed more power in Hollywood than on the mic. By now he has tired of the narrative. The rapper, actor, director and producer raises an eyebrow when asked if his latest family-aimed offering Are We There Yet?, a fluffy TBS sitcom (premiering on June 2) based on his 2005 hit film, is further proof that he is as gangsta as Woody Allen driving a Lexus Hybrid sedan in South Central, Los Angeles. But Cube may just have the last word on the matter. His eighth studio album entitled (surprise!) I Am The West, featuring the first single “I Rep That West,” promises to be a stripped down, back-to-basics work featuring production from throwback collaborator Sir Jinx, Bangladesh, and most intriguing former N.W.A. comrade and hip hop royalty Dr. Dre. When the iconic MC tells you he’s set to appear on the good doctor’s epically long-in-the-making album Detox, the plot thickens. A defiant Ice Cube is ready to take on his critics—middle finger and all. —Keith Murphy
VIBE: TBS has benefited from the ratings success of Tyler Perry’s House of Payne and Meet The Browns. Did the fact that both shows are aimed at African-American audiences play a role in you signing the deal for Are We There Yet?
It definitely helped lubricate the situation. Tyler Perry has set up a great foundation. They have knocked out all the bugs and the kinks. [TBS] has the game down and they were looking to expand and keep the black audience. Hopefully we can get a little more crossover audience, too. I think all those things helped them make the decision to go with Are We There Yet? And it helped us to make the decision that TBS was the perfect place. They have done everything they said they were going to do.
Does it make you a little apprehensive that some critics will say, “Not another family vehicle from Ice Cube.” What about another adult comedy like Friday or an action movie like XXX?
Well, people will criticize a birthday cake. So you are not going to make everybody happy. My whole philosophy is to give the people what they want, but also give them what they don’t expect. If you are just being that same one-trick pony everybody will be like, “I’ve seen that before…” I have a long career ahead of me, so I’m going to do all those kind of movies. You’ll get the hard stuff. Just because you do [a certain] movie that doesn’t mean that’s the direction you are in. I just did a movie with Bow Wow called Lottery Ticket, and that’s just a supporting role. I have another supporting role in this movie called Rampart, which stars Woody Harrelson. I play a homicide detective on his case and I’m trying to lock him up. It’s a cool twist.
“When me and Dr. Dre get together, it’s magic. I expect us to do some of the best songs on [Detox]. “
Rampart is especially intriguing given that for years West Coast rappers were trying to bring to light the massive scale of corruption and police brutality happening within the LAPD in the ‘90s. Do you feel any vindication that this story is finally being told?
I know the only difference between a cop and crook is a badge. It’s funny when the world finds that out. It’s funny that the world don’t see that as clear as I can see it. It’s a little gratifying when the truth and some of the things that were done in the dark, comes to light. To play a good cop trying to get a bad cop is cool. That’s right up my alley…that’s what I’ve been trying to do in real life through my music—to expose the bad cops.
Do you still have the director’s bug?
I’m trying to find a project that I want to put a year of my life into. That’s a big decision. Producing gives me a lot more flexibility to do a lot of projects. Directing is tough.
May 16 marked the 20-year anniversary of your landmark solo debut AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. How much heat did you receive from your West Coast contemporaries for aligning yourself with an East Coast production crew like the Bomb Squad?
I didn’t get [any beef] from nobody but N.W.A. I always got love. People didn’t care who you made music with, especially back then. Our favorite groups were from the East. Back then it was just Ice T, N.W.A., Compton’s Most Wanted, Sir Mix-A-Lot, and Too Short…we were all making a surge. But most of the bigger groups were out here in New York. Even the West Coast fans’ biggest groups were New York groups. Me working with the same people who produced Public Enemy was more like a match made in heaven for the West Coast than a “What are you doing?” It was N.W.A. that I had a problem with, but everybody else was with it.
Were you worried that you had to tone down some of the more gangsta lyricism you were known for as a member of NWA given that Chuck D and P.E. were seen in a much more socially conscious light?