Ice Cube
If You Ain’t Gangsta

82Cube1.jpg

Upstairs, in the studios that house New York radio station Hot 97, a small knot of people await this afternoon’s special guest. Downstairs, in the lobby of the building—also home to N.Y.C.’s carpenter union—the man they’re waiting for is wearing exactly what you’d expect: black. Black jacket, black sneakers, black-on-black Dodgers cap.

He looks exactly like he did six years ago, when he dropped his last solo joint. In fact, he looks exactly like he did 15 years ago, when he said, “I can cut that Jheri juice and get a bald head.” The only real difference, the only thing that says 2006, is his black T-shirt. It reads, in big silver letters, “CRUNK!!!” Below that, in smaller print, are the words “energy drink.”

But because the 36-year-old Ice Cube looks exactly like he always has, people walking by invariably notice him.

“Cuuuuuube.” This from a squad of four.

“Ayo, Cube!” This from a young cat with his peoples. He doesn’t look old enough to vote yet, let alone drink legally, but he’s smiling as his head swivels, his attention’s on the man in black.

Ice Cube looks up, nods and smiles back. “Ay, man.”

Young Cat With His Peoples says, “I like that show, baby! That show is tight!” Black.White., the whose-race-is-it-anyway reality TV series that Cube executive produced, premiered last night, and New York’s been buzzing about it all day.

“Thanks, man. ’Preciate it.” Despite the smile, this last bit sounds like straight Doughboy, straight outta Singleton, straight outta Compton.

“Cube!” This from two fortysomething White dudes with old-school outer-borough accents: Ireland by way of Queens, N.Y. “Cube! You gonna join Carpenters Local 608 or what?”

“Fa sho’, man. I’ma…” He pauses. Just for the barest split second. Enough time to read his audience and know what they want to hear. “I’ma teach y’all how to DROP THE FUCKIN’ HAMMER!”

The White guys cackle. They love it. “Keepin’ it real!” one of them exclaims.

“I’m the father of this gangsta shit/Never thought that I’d have a bunch of bastard kids” —Ice Cube, “Child Support”

There aren’t many pedigrees in hip-hop to rival that of the man born O’Shea Jackson. He was 14 when he met Dr. Dre, 16 when he wrote the song “Boyz-N-the Hood.” He was a founding member of N.W.A, responsible for Eazy-E’s lyrics, then bounced after a bitter dispute over money. (Famously, he received only $30,000 for the 1989 double-platinum Straight Outta Compton.) He headed to New York and linked up with the Bomb Squad for 1990’s mind-blowing AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, and followed it up with the equally skull-crushing West Coast classics Kill at Will and Death Certificate. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of his contribution to rap. He took the political consciousness of KRS-One and Chuck D and injected the clear-eyed menace of L.A. gang culture, merging the heady with the hard core more successfully than any MC before or since. His trademark scowl is one of the most enduring images in hip-hop’s short history.

“Cube’s always been my favorite rapper,” says Atlanta party-starter Lil Jon, who’s featured him on a couple of songs recently, and produced three tracks on Cube’s new album, Laugh Now, Cry Later. “I used to listen to that N.W.A album every fuckin’ day. Leavin’ high school, me and my boy in his Toyota Tercel with the house speakers in the back bumpin’ N.W.A.”

Looking back, the years around 1990 belonged to no one else. Inarguably, Cube’s artistic achievement, and his subsequent foray into the movie game, paved the way for the cultural dominance hip-hop enjoys today. It’s been a long time, though. As painful as it is, the question stands: Is Ice Cube still relevant? Thanks in large part to the success he’s found in Hollywood, it’s been six years since his last solo record, War & Peace: Vol. 2 (The Peace Disc). (Westside Connection, Cube’s supergroup with WC and Mack 10, issued Terrorist Threats in ’03). And honestly, it’s been closer to a decade since the streets were really talking about Cube the rapper.

Legend status isn’t an insurance policy in hip-hop: Chuck, Rakim and too many others have struggled to connect with listeners who consider 1996 “old school.” In Cube’s case, some of what he represented—hard beats, harder lyrics—is still in vogue, but some of what he represented—Nation of Islam knowledge of self, politically righteous rage—is not. And he’s not one to bend to trends like talking about a bank account or jewels. “That shit is cool,” he says. “But I grew up in an era when the music I was listenin’ to was relevant to what I was goin’ through, regardless who was doin’ it. I didn’t care how much money rappers had.”

82Cube2.jpgBut whether hip-hop has stagnated isn’t the issue. Rather, it’s whether Cube can reach a generation who knows him more from the multiplex than the 106th & Park countdown. “It’s a harder game,” Cube allows. “But I come in it just worried about Ice Cube fans. That’s it. If I get my fan base, the record is a success to me. I’ve always been around a million, million two, million three. So that’s my goal, to get my fans, and then from there we’ll see what the record do.” The response shows a bracing realism. Over his career, Cube’s gone platinum six times out of seven albums, but he’s only broken 2 million once, with 1992’s The Predator—and that one took nine years to do it.

Laugh Now, Cry Later
takes aim at those 1.3 million fans. For the most part, it’s a close-knit Cali affair. Snoop, WC and Kokane show up; Mike Epps throws in a lil’ interlude; and there’s only a few boldfaced names behind the boards—notably, Scott Storch, Lil Jon and Swizz Beatz. The album eschews the ruled-by-committee, let’s-appeal-to-every-region ethos so prevalent today. It’s some West Coast shit, basically. Some spare, bouncing, hard-knock shit, perfect for Cube’s deliberate baritone. Even the imported megaproducers bring tracks that are tailor-made to an L.A. sound. “Cube is a triple-triple OG,” Swizz says. “I just tried to put myself in the consumer’s place. What the fuck would I wanna hear from Cube? So ‘Stop Snitchin’,’ which I did, you can definitely Cripwalk to that one.”

Then there’s the Storch-helmed single “Why We Thugs.” It’s got those hand-clap snares reminiscent of the Sir Jinx era, like “Steady Mobbin’” recast for the ’06, and it has Cube doing what Cube does best: politicized hard core. “Call me an animal up in the system/But who’s the animal who built this prison?/…I got caught by 5-0/Grandmother came to court with her Bible/But when the judge hit the gavel/Now I’m too far for my family to travel/I just came unraveled/Socked the D.A. before I got gaffled/Owned by CA, state property/Just like the year 1553.”

“We ain’t tryin’ to reinvent the wheel,” says Cube. “The album is very West Coast. Just bein’ true to myself, and let the chips fall where they may.”

Continue reading this feature in the July 2006 issue of XXL (#82).

  • lee

    BEEF UP THIS INTERVIEW. dude did not say anything new about Ice Cube next time do a REAL interview with a TRU west coast legend.

  • lee

    what i meant to say is when you interview a legend like ice cube you better ask better questions or do a more detailed interview thats what i ment.

  • leo

    lee u stupid dumbass, it says buy the magazine to read the full interview, dat was a baser move. of course xxl isnt going to put the whole thing on the website they wanna make money like everyone else u know

  • L.A. FOE LIFE

    Big ups 2 Cube, definitely a OG in this rap game cuzz. Niggas betta pay some respect to a West Coast legend. Cube’s Amerikkkaz Most Wanted is still one of tha hardest mothafuckin’ albums dat eva came out and dat’s foe real cuzz.

  • XuluKing

    Gotta wait for tha day when Cube steps up on Dre’s beats again…

  • THIC MADAM

    THATS MY BRO KEEPING IT WEST COAST TILL THE CASKET DROP. CUBE IS STILL RELEVANT TO THIS DAY. I DON’T KNOW IF ANYBODY REMEMBERS BACK IN THE DAY WHEN N.W.A CAME OUT, NEW YORK WAS LIKE THEY’RE CURSING, GUN TOTING, AND BITCH CALLING. NY WAS LIKE L.A. IS MESSING UP THE RAP GAME. NOW LOOK AT EVERYWHERE YOU GO,KEEP IT GANGSTA! EVERY OTHER STATE COPIED FROM THIS MAN AND THIS IS THE THANKS HE GETS. FUCK A 50 CENT AND ALL THAT SHIT. 50 AIN’T POLITICAL BLACK PANTHER DEAD PREZ TYPE SHIT. AS FAR AS I’M CONCERNED THE BEST RAPPERS ARE CUBE, PAC, & KRS-ONE. THESE BLACK MEN ARE POLITICAL, BLACK, AND RIGHTEOUS, NOT TO MENTION STRONG. OH YEAH CHUCK D TOO. THESE RAPPERS UPLIFT THE BLACK RACE NOT THESE OTHER RAPPERS THAT DO IT FOR THE MONEY. DO IT FOR THE BLACK RACE AND THE MONEY. MAKE SENSE OF WHAT YOUR SAYING LIKE THESE BROTHERS. CUBE IS THE HARDEST TO EVA EVA PUT IT DOWN. HIS ALBUMS SPEAK OF REAL TALK, ALL OF HIS ALBUMS. HE’S NOT AFRAID TO SPEAK ON REAL TOPICS THAT MOST OF THESE RAPPERS NEED TO DO. THESE RAPPERS ARE LIKE CUBE SAY, “BASTARDS” WITH NO RESPECT FOR THE DON MEGA. CUBE IS A MEGASTRUCTURE!

  • john cochran

    A while ago I didnt understand cube and I thought he was corny. But me being only 19, I was in pampers when this nigga paved the way for alot of these rappers today. I copped Amerikkas most and now I fuck wit em. He hard but he can still say important shit for the community too.

  • DJ Xcalibur

    It is nice to hear from Cube again musically. I listened grew up on the West Coast shit. Like when Dre, Cube, N.W.A were runnin’ shit and when those two went out on their own I was a permanate fan. I’m still waiting on that Dr. Dre and Ice Cube album and can we get a N.W.A. reunion album? Please? I guess I would not be the same without Eazy. Even though they fell out with him they are all still Niggaz Wit Attitude!

  • ReDiCuLouS

    Me personally, I think Cube fell off after the War disc, but he tears shit up over those Lil’ Jon beats man. I said it before & I’ll say it again, the South is the new West. & Yo a new NWA album would be off the chain!! I could produce some tracks off that right now…sample some old Eazy Duz It shit, and I’ll even ghostwrite for ya too (Dre,Cube,Ren,& Snoop) for free…well maybe for a lil bit of c.r.e.a.m. ya heard. ~Holla~

  • mathew

    ^^^^
    lol…the South will NEVER be the West!! keep dreamin. no one can bang(musically) like the West. Just wait till DPG n Detox drop then you’ll see wot i’m sayin. the South is aiight, but not everyone can feel their style like the West style.

  • nile kid

    fuck the south they are clownz wit grillz in their pussies neva heard any southern punk been on alist of the top doggz in this rapshit except scarface ans he even havent got a scar on his face all what they do is scream and tall like bitchez all their namez like hoez weezy jeezy lilthis lilthat nelly only rapping about bitches who they are nigga respect tha don mega the father of the gangsta shit his name ICE CUBE can any body of yo tell me what the fuck t.i means tha east coast are the most intelligent niggaz on the mic the west coast are some crips and bloods niggaz on the mic the south niggaz are the most soft and funny niggaz on the mic

  • PALACIOS

    APPLAUSES PLEASE , HE IS 3x OG, THE TRUE FATHER OF THIS GANGSTA SHIT

  • http://XXLMAG.COM PMFD

    THANKS CUBE….ONE OF THE BEST EVER!!!

  • OG

    After the WEST COAST Albums Drop, Dre’s, Cube’s, Game’s, DPG’s,
    Gonna Change the whole rap game
    No More Bubble Gum Shit
    West Coast Stand Up & keep it Gangsta

  • http://mixtapekings.com Big RASKO 213

    without Cube there is no Pac, no BIggie, no Snoop, no DipSet, No Jigga, no Ruff Rydaz, no Cash MOney, half of the niggas on Def Jam and sure ass hell no NWA, period!

    definitely no Gay-Unit!

  • JUNIOR

    ICE CUBE IS THE MUTHAFUCKIN MAN PERIOD!!!!!!!

  • EFIL4ZAGGIN

    Cube kept it real thru hiz whole career

  • JERSEY BOY

    Cube is a legend !! Paid his dues

  • http://Hotmail YA-BOI-FRESH

    MAN CUBE IZ DA REALEST IN IT

    FRESH

  • laci

    Hey man i think no matter wat cube does he always gonna be the shit… NWA, man that was so awesome.i think ice cube is one of the top doggs in hip hop.. except for pac and them lol cant forget the legends.. but cube is a legend too..

    Just like YA-BOI-FRESH he is the realist in it..
    peace, laci

  • http://www.betarecords.com/chillz Chillz

    Wad up Gangsta! Ice Cube’s da illest since 2Pac. No dis to Snoop & em but this niggaz got da West on his back yo. Love his movies & his music. Check my shit out……….Jamaica’s Finest @ http://www.betarecords.com/chillz. A&R’s yah’ll gotta come holla at me.

  • http://www.espn.com big d

    lookin good there cube, def this album’s off tha hook baby, keep doin whatcha doin. one

  • http://www.yahoo.com Jarlile36

    XXL thanx 4 interview with Ice Cube because he just tight and bringing the west coast back were they was,Ice Cube is a Hip Hop legend point blank,His New Album Laugh Now Cry Later is a Banger tight beats and lyrics by him I Hope he be on Detox.

  • 110hauler

    what happened to the racially charged lynch mob

  • http://dteddybearatmyspace.com mike

    two members of the lench mob are in prison. and as for ice cube. he will always be one of the best. it’s just too bad times have changed and the sytles are different not like the days when rapping made senses. for the record my favorite song by cube is wicked.

  • http://XXL Fonz

    Any time u hear bout the west coast Ice Cube names mention cubes a legend…..Dont get that shit twisted….and that New Album Laugh Now Cry later is the shit……….

  • http://TheDirtyCountry Southern Alumnist

    Cube manye you dat nigga foe real. You held da west together and tore it apart when it needed fixin. I just wished you and Pac could have colaborated before he passed. If Pac would have been featured on that “Bow Down” single, their wouldn’t be no east coast rap today. Ya Digg

  • moswif

    west up! we takin the game bacc those who dont like it eat a dicc cube is the king of the west side you bitches.

  • http://XXLmag.com westside money

    Man I been trying to cop Cubes album at Target but everytime im there its not there.I wanted to support Cube but now I gotta burn the CD,sorry Cube.Anyway Cube is a monster on this album I heard.West till I die!!OCEANSIDE CALIFORNIA=760

  • BLACK GANGSTAS UNITED

    ICE CUBE WEST COAST ORIGINAL …ICON , ONE OF THE BEST FROM THE WEST….UNITING ALL BLACK SOLDIERS TOGETHER , UNITY ON WAX ..CRIP BLOOD BLACK P STONE , BGD , VICELORDS , BGF ….TRUCE & UNITY …SUPPORT THE EAST & SOUTH & WEST BLACK MUSIC….POINT BLANK.

  • http://www.ewles.piczo.com scarface

    go to my site

  • http://xxlmag.com kevaughn freckleton

    ice cube is a west coast legend one of the greatest rapper ever with albums such as amerikkkas most wanted,Death certificate plus others other great classics.peace Ice Cube west coast forever

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