This is an installment in The Posse Project, a 12-day series in which www.PHXmusic.com catches up with all 12 guys pictured on the cover of N.W.A's first album, N.W.A. and the Posse. Today, we continue with Ice Cube, N.W.A's main lyricist who went on to become a superstar solo rapper and later an actor.
Also Known As: O'Shea Jackson, Purple Ice.
Before the Picture: The product of a middle-class nuclear family, Ice Cube started rapping in high school and former a group called C.I.A (Cru' In Action) with Sir Jinx and Kid Disaster. He was tapped by Eric "Eazy E" Wright to write rhymes for Ruthless Records' acts and wrote classics like "Boyz-n-The-Hood" before leaving Los Angeles to attend technical school in Phoenix for a year. Cube earned a degree in architectural drafting at the Phoenix Institute of Technology, a school at the corner of 24th Street and University, south of the airport, which closed in 1993 without being absorbed by another institution. Unfortunately, the only records the state maintains on the school are student files protected by federal privacy laws.
"The rap game wasn't looking too solid at that time so I decided to go ahead and go to school," he was quoted as saying.
In the Photo: Details about Cube's early career are hard enough to come by without adding on the extra challenge of sorting out the minutia involved in an old record cover. For example, even Joel McIver, the author of Ice Cube: Attitude, a biography of the rapper, has details about the photo wrong.
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McIver, a Brit more famous for his best-seller, Justice For All: The Truth About Metallica, writes that "the cover was a generic shot of the band, plus the other rappers who appeared on the record (Dr Rock, the Fila Fresh Crew, Ron-De-Vu - a sometime rapping partner of Eazy-E in his early days - among them) in a typically urban graffiti-wall setting."
Not only is not one of the artists McIver namechecks in the photo, hopefully the past 10 days of The Posse Project have shown this photo is anything but "generic," though it was seemingly designed to appear that way. That's less a reflection on McIver's book, which is very good, than on difficulty tracking these guys down, and on the myths developed around N.W.A in the following years. No one has more to gain from those myths than Ice Cube, who is probably N.W.A's most image-conscious member.
However, if a guy who wrote a 270-page book on Cube can't sort out the rapper's role in the photo, I won't try to do it here. Cube's publicist declined an interview request so his part in The Posse will remain a mystery a little longer.
After the Photo: After returning from school Cube stuck with N.W.A through Straight Outta Compton before leaving over a financial dispute with the group's manager, Jerry Heller, and with Eazy E.
"Heller gave me this contract, and I said I wanted a lawyer to see it. He almost fell out of his chair. I guess he figured, how this young muthafucka turn down all this money? Everybody else signed," McIver quotes him as saying. "I told them I wanted to make sure my shit was right first."
Cube quickly established himself as a huge solo star. His first four solo records became classics as he dropped tracks like the intensely controversial "Cave Bitch," the famous N.W.A diss track "No Vaseline" and "It Was A Good Day," possibly the greatest rap song ever recorded.
Now: Ice Cube's career could be a series in itself. Though his music career has fallen off over the years, he wrote the classic Friday films and has starred in flicks like Higher Learning, Three Kings, and Barbershop.
Just last week Cube announced he'll be releasing a new album, called I Am The West in July. Interestingly, he's said to be using beats from fellow Posse photo veteran Sir Jinx for the first time in nearly 20 years.
People Don't Know: Some of Ice Cube's most famous songs are 'parodies' of a sort.
Though he says the idea to wear clocks didn't come from Public Enemy, Sir Jinx also says N.W.A's habit of parodying songs rubbed off on Cube's writing process. Listen to the cadence of some of Cube's best work and you'll hear clear influences, Jinx says.
"Now, those songs played a part in Cube's career. [PE's] 'So-phisticated'] is 'Dopeman.' It's the same song... "I Ain't Tha 1' is [Boogie Down Production's] 'My Philosophy.' ...that's coming from the parody thing. But the number one parody that went across the motherfucking world was 'Boyz N The Hood', it was a parody of [Schoolly D's] 'PSK.' Listen and you can hear it."
People Don't Know: Ice Cube's street cred is a hot topic of debate. Some people think his acting career started earlier than IMDB indicates; others says he legitimately picked up his stories of street life from people he knew.
How real is Ice Cube? Here are three perspectives on him from people interviewed for this series.
Krazy D: "He grew up in a bad area but that still didn't make him authentic. He lived in an upper-class neighborhood, nice home, parents had money, he's always had it made. Not to take anything away from him but he's an actor, right? He was acting like a gangster and he was good at it. You can't take anything away from it, he's an incredible talent, but just he ain't the real deal."
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Jerry Heller: "Eazy had the ability to influence you to be better than you were. Even though Ice Cube went to a really good upper middle class high school in the San Fernando Valley, and was a great lyricist, he would write the verse and Eric would say to him, 'You know, that's really corny.' He would make him change it to where it had some street credibility."
MC Ren: "Cube grew up around a lot of people like Eric so he saw that shit too. Even though they didn't live that shit, they lived in that shit."
Check out the other installments in the Posse Project Here: