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To his parents, he is O'Shea Jackson. To certain members of the population, he is the "Nigga America Loves to Hate." But to thousands of rap fans, he is simply known as Ice Cube. Once a greasy, Jheri-curl-wearing homeboy straight outta Compton and a member of the controversial group N.W.A (Niggaz Wit Attitude), 25-year-old Ice Cube has changed not only his hairstyle but his outlook, as well.
Though Cube is known for dishing out heaping mounds of black rage, it's been five years since his searing, post-N.W.A solo debut, and his life has progressed significantly during that interregnum. He's graduated from marriage to baby carriages to music videos to motion pictures to membership in the Nation of Islam, evolving from the bad boy next door to the progressive family man around the corner. But that's not to say he's an African-American version of Ward Cleaver; Cube's tongue is as sharp as ever, albeit a bit wiser. He shares his views on race relations, the future of hip-hop and why the children of Generation X--regardless of color--are listening to what he has to say.
New Times: What runs through your mind when you see nothing but white faces at your performances? Has the face of rap changed?
Ice Cube: Not at all. Hip-hop has still, from day one, been a music straight from the street. Straight from the heart. It's a music where new artists rule and old artists fall off. That's the nature of the business. It's forever young. I do shows and see all black faces, too. If you're a fan of the music, that's cool with me, no matter who you are.
NT: What do you say when you see wanna-be rappers like Vanilla Ice cashing in?
Ice Cube: The beauty in some of that is that they can't make a career off of it. You might edge by one year, but the next year, you're nowhere to be found. It's a music based on talent.
NT: Can a talented white rap group break into hip-hop and go over with a predominantly black audience? Ice Cube: Oh, yeah, they'll survive. You got groups like House of Pain. Groups who try to get a foundation in skills. Skills are the root of the music. Once you lose your skills or don't brush up on your skills and sharpen your pencils, you're bound to take a fall. White or black.
NT: What's the next phase for rap?
Ice Cube: It's so unpredictable. Rap music is rhyming words, but it's what you do with it from there. You have people taking rap to another, higher level. One thing about that is that you have a lot of the fakers and people who are not really true to the game chasing after the originals, and the audience can always see through it. Someone is gonna come out with an original style or original music, and it'll blow up like it should, and then you're gonna have all the fakes following. NT: You don't think hip-hop will fall off like disco did?
Ice Cube: Nah. Disco wasn't from the street. Disco came from the club scene. When the clubs closed down, so did disco. Rap music is from the soul, 'cause it's basically storytelling. It ain't going nowhere.
NT: What influenced you to join the Nation of Islam?
Ice Cube: Well, the Nation was showing me a truth about my life and putting everything into perspective more than the church ever did. If I take a look, I see the government of the U.S. as one of my biggest enemies as far as black people are concerned. NT: Do you honestly believe the U.S. government is your enemy?
Ice Cube: This is what I feel. I feel that the government has done nothing to help our situation, even after they were the ones who put us in this situation. So I have to call them the enemy. If you're not helping, you're hurting. Then I look at the Nation of Islam, who are not violent, who don't carry weapons, whose members dress about as respectful as any man or woman in the world. Why is the government so against them? What is the Nation of Islam saying to us that the government doesn't want us to hear? So when you start investigating, you find out, and you can never go back. NT: What was it that you found out?
Ice Cube: I found out that the truth can set you free, mentally. I feel that I am mentally free. I am able to look at a different side of the coin. You don't know how much water you have in your glass until you can measure it up against another glass. But we all get the same shit, and we have nothing to compare it to. The Nation gives you something to compare it to. The knowledge that you have learned in America to the knowledge you learned in the Nation is like night and day, and you can't go back.
NT: For those who don't understand what the Nation of Islam is all about, how would you briefly describe it?