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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?
Ice Cube: It's not a religion; it is a way of life. The way your body works is Islam. The way the Earth works with the sky and rain, all that is Islam. It's kinda hard to just spit out in a couple of words. Islam is not Sunday; it's not like, "Okay, I'm going to go to church on Sunday." It's every day; all things within that day are Islamic.
NT: What would you tell a white kid inquiring about the Nation?
Ice Cube: The Nation of Islam is an organization built, focused on and running on the will of the Almighty God.
NT: What was your life like before you joined the Nation?
Ice Cube: I was mad, and I was angry. I was the pissed-off young person that you hear on my records.
NT: So you feel that the Nation has given you peace of mind?
Ice Cube: Yeah! Because once you understand something, you can physically deal with it better than confrontation. Confrontation isn't always the best way to deal with your problems or your enemies.
NT: So you're gaining wisdom in your old age?
Ice Cube: I have got wise on how everything works. Like, why are black people in the condition we are in? Why is it so hard for us to get out? Why are we here in America? All these type of things I have found the answer to, and I am able to sit back and understand. Most black people say we are in a sad situation. But most people never, ever think about, well, maybe we are in this situation for a reason. We never ask ourselves what the reason is.
NT: So what is the reason?
Ice Cube: The reason, in my opinion, is we are in [a situation] that will be as deep as slavery was to past generations. Because it is happening now, we are too close to see it. Like when a football player is playing on the field; sometimes he calls to the booth where they are watching the game from upstairs, and they can tell them strategically the best plays to run. We, as black people, are on the field, so we can't see. But by people being able to travel the world and see the same things happen in other places, I see myself kind of like in the booth.
I can say, "Do this" and "Do that." Now, I think before we can start moving up as a community, we all must have the same reality. Black people are divided in all kinds of ways. Some people think that dark-skin black people are worse than light-skin black people. Some people figure, "When I make money, I'm going to move to the suburbs"; others will stay where they are. So we have to say, "Well, look, goddamn it, here is what the situation is. We need to do this. How do we get from this to that?" Because if you don't see the problem, you are never looking for a solution.
NT: Speaking of the skin-color differences, there seems to be a lot of jungle fever going on out there, primarily brothers dating white girls. How do you feel about this?
Ice Cube: All that jungle fever comes from self-hatred. We need to learn how to love ourselves. The white man holds the white woman on a pedestal, and on all his forms of media: newspapers, television, magazines and so on. The black man sees that, and then he thinks that's what he needs to have. It's kinda like, if the white man likes it, we'll like it.
NT: Is it because African Americans don't have a sense of identity?
Ice Cube: We think we have an identity, which is really worse. We really don't know what it is to be free, but we think we are. What we are really doing is a smaller version of what the white man does. The white man says Lexus are the shit. Go and buy one. Now we got every motherfucker trying to buy one. Or he'll say you shouldn't like this man, because he is not good for America. You got people believing it, too. You see, he is so tricky with his media, which is basically his information distributor, that he can make you love Michael Jackson or he can make you hate Michael Jackson. And all in the matter of one day. We really don't know our identity. NT: So you think the media hold all the cards?
Ice Cube: Yes. Information is the total key. Whoever has the information and whoever is able to distribute the information is able to control the people. Because information runs the world. You pay a plumber to come fix your pipes, because he has the information and knowledge to do it, and you don't.
NT: You get a lot of pressure to set a positive example. Do you see yourself as a role model?
Ice Cube: Yeah, of course I do, but I see myself as me. Kids don't like to be told what to do and who to like and what not to like. Kids don't want to hear that fluffy shit. People don't understand that the power I have just by being straight up with the kids is stronger than the people who are trying to cover the kids' eyes and ears.
NT: What would you look back on as your greatest learning experience?
Ice Cube: My greatest learning experience, hmmm, damn . . . I don't know. Maybe I haven't run across it yet.
NT: You talk positive stuff about uplifting the black race, yet you call black women "hoes" and "bitches." What's up with that?
Ice Cube: Women don't realize how much control they have over men just with sex. To a man, sex is basically one of the best parts of life. For real. A man has it hard out here. A black man has it extremely hard. One of the ways he shows his manhood is to make love to a woman. Now, when you have a woman who uses the power of sex to get things, she is negotiating. I'm talking about the woman who says, "If you cut the grass, maybe we can do something." That's a negotiator. All the way down to the woman who has the attitude that says, "If you can't give me what this white lady has on TV, I don't want you."
NT: Were you ever incarcerated?
Ice Cube: Yeah.
NT: For what?
Ice Cube: It was a misunderstanding, and it has something to do with Phoenix. I will not delve into it until after I've left Phoenix. You can call me back and talk; I don't want them motherfuckers bugging me.
NT: Did it have anything to do with you experiencing racism here in Phoenix?
Ice Cube: Well, I lived in Phoenix for a year. I lived in Tempe, and then I couldn't stand not seeing a black person, so I moved to the south side, around by South Mountain; Baseline and the Broadway area. I was here in the fall of 1987 to the summer of 1988.
NT: What are your thoughts on the recent death of former N.W.A member Eazy-E from AIDS?
Ice Cube: It's just unbelievable. I was only recently talking with him. We were just kicking it and laughing and having a good time. I can't believe the shit went down like that. It was sad, because we were just starting to all put our shit together where we could add some more flavor to hip-hop with an N.W.A reunion. And for that shit to happen--damn, it's still unbelievable.
NT: What do you think about that female rap group by the name of H.W.A (Hoes Wit Attitude)?
Ice Cube: I don't know too much about them. That's their business. Ya know, people just take the things we say way too seriously. Rappers are not politicians. We are not preachers. We are simply telling stories, and they have to be entertaining. We all have spinned yarn on our records at one time or another. Meaning we've all lied on our records.
NT: Would you admit to a lie that you told on one of your records?
Ice Cube: Yeah. Me running from the ghetto bird. It was a total lie. The whole record was a lie.
NT: What is a ghetto bird?
Ice Cube: A ghetto bird is a police helicopter that flies over the neighborhood at night scoping for criminals. Running from the ghetto bird is a lie. The whole "Lethal Injection" record was a lie. But it was fun; it's entertainment.
Ice Cube: All the time. They can listen to anything they want to listen to. My kids are 8, 4 and 1 years old. Whatever they want to listen to, they can listen to. 'Cause I am there to ask them what they like about the song and what they think about it. NT: What if they start cursing and repeating the vulgar lyrics we hear on most rap cuts?
Ice Cube: They can if they want to. As a kid, we've all cursed. Everybody curses, and there ain't nothing wrong with that. It's wrong when you don't know the appropriate time to do it. We all know that when you're sitting on the bus when you have older people around, you don't want your kid in the back screaming, "Motherfucker this and that." You just teach them when it is the right time to express yourself like that and when it's the wrong time to express yourself like that. And your kid won't look at you like some dictator or some motherfucker trying to control them. There is a time and a place for cursing. Ice Cube is scheduled to perform on Tuesday, April 11, at Club Rio in Tempe, with Da Brat. Showtime is 8 p.m.