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Hollywood still has progress to make, says actor-rapper-producer Ice Cube.
“It ain’t cool enough yet,” the Straight Outta Compton filmmaker said Feb. 19. “I mean, it’s still got gatekeepers. It’s got gatekeepers everywhere. Cool people still have a hard time showing what they got in Hollywood. And I’ve been fighting my whole career to show a different side. But there’s not enough Ice Cubes out there. There’s not enough Ice Cubes getting a chance to do their thing.”
Coming off the back-to-back successes of Compton and Ride Along 2, he added: “I’m ready to run a studio. I’m ready to green light movies, and be in it to win it.” He said, however, he had no intention of raising money outside the industry. “Then what you’re doing is fighting with your money to get back into the industry, or for them to use your money instead of their own. So, you got to figure out how to do it within the flow of the industry.”
Cube, who noted he won’t be attending the Feb. 28 Oscars, was speaking at Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film & TV, where he took part in the ongoing Hollywood Masters interview series.
He described working on Compton when Suge Knight allegedly was involved in a hit-and-run that resulted in a man’s death. “I didn’t see it,” he said. “It was at another location. He had came to base camp first and then went to the other location. And then, we ended up leaving, and I heard about it on the freeway… I was just trying to make sense of it, trying to figure out who got hurt, who got hit, what was the facts? It was just fact checking. And, you know, I still didn’t believe what had happened. I just couldn’t believe that the day had started off so cool and somebody was dead.”
Cube also defended the recent, political symbolism of Beyoncé, especially in her Super Bowl appearance. “You’re starting to see people wanting, and artists starting to go back to having socially conscious flavor in their music, which is fine, which is cool,” he said. “You know, everybody’s giving Beyoncé a lot of shit, but she’s black. Who else is she supposed to represent?”
He recalled another black superstar, his friend Tupac Shakur. “Tupac, he was a cool dude. I met Tupac, he was still in Digital Underground. And he was just one of those dudes who’s always having fun. Bouncing off the walls. He was a kid in a candy store… [But] bad stuff kept following him. That’s kind of how he felt. But deep down inside, he was a real just a fun dude.”
Asked where he was when Shakur was killed, he said: “I was at home. Me and my wife turned on the news in the morning and saw it, ’cause we had just watched the fight and we turned everything off and was into something totally different. And then the next morning, we was like, ‘Whoa. Tupac got shot at the fight.’ And it was just crazy. You know, I hear about people getting shot all the time. But most of the guys you hear about getting shot pulled through. You hear about them, like yo, but I thought he was going to do the same thing. So it was crazy that it didn’t happen.”
A full transcript follows.
ICE CUBE: What’s up, man? How you all doing?
STEPHEN GALLOWAY: You got the biggest crowd, including Clint Eastwood. That’s quite something.
CUBE: Oh that’s cool, you know. Clint will catch up sooner or later.
GALLOWAY: So let’s go back. You’re 14 or 15 years old. You’re doing a typing class. And a friend says to you, “Have you ever written a rap lyric?” What did you write and how did that change your life?
CUBE: It was me and this kid named Kiddo. And he was one of the coolest kids in school. And we both found ourselves in this typing class, because we didn’t go to our counselors early enough to get a good elective. Counselor’s like, “You should have come to me. I had great things for you.” She had to find me. And what was left was, like, cooking, typing, classes like that.
GALLOWAY: Can you cook?
CUBE: No. [LAUGHTER] So I was trying to make the most of it. You know, I believe if you’re in school and you got to be there, you might as well get what they have to offer. I always tripped on people who go to school and just hang out and not learn shit. Oh, excuse me!
GALLOWAY: That’s OK.
CUBE: Not learn, just go there to hang out. And I’m like, “You could have done that at home. You didn’t even have to come to school for that.” So I always was like, “Yo, I’m here, I might as well get what I could take.” I was actually up to about 30 words a minute. Which is not great, but it’s good when you don’t think you’re ever going to type again. But Kiddo just turned, he’s like, “Yo, you ever write a rap before?” ‘Cause we were bored. Finished with our little exercise. And I said, “No.” And he said, “OK, you write one, I’ll write one. We’ll see which one’s the best.” So the first line I ever wrote was” “My name is Ice Cube and I want you to know, I’m not Run DMC or Kurtis Blow.”
GALLOWAY: Right. I have it written on this piece of paper.
CUBE: Yeah, that’s the first line I ever wrote.
GALLOWAY: I was going to tease you about it.
CUBE: I don’t know the rest of the rap, but I know that line.
GALLOWAY: So what’s fascinating is, you go from that to within a few years writing extraordinary lyrics, very original lyrics, you know, Boyz-N-The-Hood, other songs. Where did that gift come from?
CUBE: I’ve always gotten good grades, you know, with my teachers and my English teachers, ’cause I was able to — they’d [say], “What did you do for the summer?” I’m able to explain it to them in a written form. And my teachers always patted me on the back for that, being able to take what’s in my mind and put it on paper. So it was a situation where rap was becoming big. It was very vivid. It was a lot of things going on in our neighborhoods that was different. You know, the ’80s was wild compared to my real small childhood, which was late ’70s. But the ’80s was brand new. It was AIDS. It was gangbanging. It was starting to become big dope-dealing, and crack was starting to flood the neighborhoods. And then you had hip hop, which was something new, other than what we were doing, which was sports, playing football, basketball, baseball. And I was excited. But it was only a few people in our neighborhood that was really into hip hop at the time. And it was me and [Sir] Jinx, who was Dr. Dre’s cousin.
GALLOWAY: That’s right.
CUBE: You see him in the movie. I used to go down there and practice, trying to be dope. Trying to be fly. And the homies in the hood would clown me a lot for hanging out with Jinx. It’s like, “OK, here come the Fat Boys. Here come Run DMC.” Any rapper that was out, that was me. Because they just didn’t understand it. But I didn’t care, you know, because hanging out, I had that. That was cool. But this was something new. And I started just writing about what I saw around me. What was going on. That’s what my rhymes were — at their best, explaining what was going on with the people in the neighborhood. And that’s kind of how I started to gain traction and gain people’s attention, ’cause I would rap about the dude across the street, the fight that just happened on the corner. Or whatever happened in the neighborhood. That’s what I was rapping about. And that sparked people’s interest. And that’s what kind of put me on that path.
GALLOWAY: How did you learn to make it better, to be not good but great? How did you go from that simple rap to the song people in our audience were just playing in the line outside?
CUBE: Dope Man?
GALLOWAY: Yes, Dope Man. They all know those lyrics. These have lasted 30 years or more. Did you have a mentor? Did anybody tell you how to improve your writing? Did you read?
CUBE: Not as much as I probably should have back then. It was just being fans of the greats, being fans of people like Melle Mel and Run DMC, and Ice-T was starting to come up, and this style was brewing. I just think we made it as vivid as you possibly could at the time. I think that’s what made it stand out. You know, it was unapologetic. We didn’t care if we got played on the radio. And these were things that were strange to the industry, that a group would come out and be so raw. They thought we were not trying to make it to the top. They thought we were just basically keeping ourselves underground on purpose. And it was just strange for people to approach music that way. And for rap, trying to get recognition, and be seen as a regular form of music like anything else. I mean, the Soul, R&B, Rock ‘N Roll, they would dis the hell out of rap when it first came out.
CUBE: It was like, “This is not real music. What is this?” They said it was a fad. It was always discredited. So groups were trying to come out of that. Run DMC brought us out of that underground-only feel. They brought rap above ground and made it respectable as an art form to mainstream music. But everything else — or mostly everything up until then —was fighting to get recognition, and we were going the opposite way. When everybody was trying to go up, we were trying to go back down.
GALLOWAY: When you looked ahead at your future, what did you think it would be? At some point you actually left NWA and you went to study architectural drafting in Phoenix.
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