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Ice Cube talks about the early days of N.W.A. and how he learned to be the best and get paid

Kam Williams
Ice Cube talks about the early days of N.W.A. and how he learned to be the best and get paid
(Photo: AP)

Ice Cube talks about the early days of N.W.A. and how he learned to be the best and get paid

O’Shea Jackson was born on June 15, 1969, and adopted the cool alias “Ice Cube” before founding N.W.A. in the late 1980s. As the lyrical mastermind behind the legendary group’s “Straight Outta Compton,” he literally launched the gangster rap revolution. And his subsequent solo material, including such early ’90s classics as “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted” and “Death Certificate,” solidified his place in the pantheon of the genre’s more socially aware artists.

Next, the versatile talent began his meteoric ascent in Hollywood as the star in, producer of and catalyst for the “Friday,” “Are We There Yet?” and “Barbershop” film franchises. He established himself as one of the most bankable actors around, thanks to his charismatic turns in such box-office hits as “The Longshots,” “First Sunday,” “Anaconda,” “The Players Club,” “Three Kings,” “All About the Benjamins”  and “Boyz n the Hood.”

In 2007, Ice Cube partnered with the prestigious McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, Minn. to establish The Ice Cube Scholarship, a fellowship awarded annually for creativity, talent and songwriting ability to a student in the music technology department.

Here, he reflects on his latest venture, producing and playing a support role on the new TV sitcom “Are We There Yet?” which is based on his movie of the same name.

What inspired you to turn “Are We There Yet?” into a TV sitcom?

It was really the idea of Executive Producer Joe Roth who owned the property over at Revolution Studios and said he was thinking about taking it to TV. And after he said that he already had [writer/director] Ali Leroi on board, and that he was going after Terry Crews, to me it was a no-brainer. I said, “Let’s put this together!”   

But didn’t you want to star in it, since you had originated the role of Nick on the big screen?

No, because I wanted to go in a different direction, artistically. But having somebody like Terry in it was your ace in the hole. That makes it very strong, so I definitely had to jump in with both feet.

So, how heavily involved are you with the production?

While I had done the movies through Revolution Studios, we own the sitcom. It was a situation where, once the team was assembled, I knew we could create something really, really good.  

Did you have a debate about the title, since the movie sequel had been called “Are We Done Yet?”

No, “Are We There Yet?” was the perfect title, because it’s such a common saying. And having made the movie with the same name kinda locks it all in.

Do you think that focusing the show on successful African American professionals creating a blended family with a strong father figure will have a larger impact on the television-viewing public now that we have an African American president?

I don’t know, but I hope so. [Chuckles] I hope everything works in our favor. The show is cool. It’s family fare. We ain’t aiming at the cheap seats. Instead, we’re making something with a broad appeal that people of any color or creed and from all walks of life can enjoy and maybe learn something from.   

How did you make the transition from rapper to actor to producer?

Well, for the transition from rapper to actor, I was fortunate that director John Singleton pursued me for about two years to be in Boyz n the Hood. I really wasn’t even thinking about acting at the time, since I was singularly focused on being the best rapper in the world. So, that was really a blessing, because I wasn’t really taking him seriously. Therefore, I can’t really attribute my success onscreen to any formula and suggest you “do this or that” to make it as an actor. However, as far as producing, once we started shooting, I soon realized where the critical decisions about the movies were really being made, and it wasn’t on the set. They were being made in the production meetings. That’s where producing a movie happens. And that’s where I wanted to be. I didn’t just want to be a piece, a pawn being played. I wanted to take part in the creative process, and that’s how I sort of got introduced to the idea.     

You are a performer who seems to have figured out show business rather than show business figuring you out. So many rappers are here today and gone tomorrow. When did the insights of how the business really works hit you? What advice can you offer young people about how to be successful in the real business of show business and have a career like yours?

When I was in N.W.A. and didn’t get paid all the money I was owed, that’s when the business side of showbiz hit me. I thought, “Half of this is workin’. I’m famous, but now I need to be famous with some money.” That got my brain started at trying to figure out the business end. And once I figured out the business side, I next came to understand that success really comes down to the product, not to me, my personality, or what club I’m seen going into or coming out of. None of that matters. What’s important is whether or not people feel like they wasted their time or money when they pay for a movie or a CD. Once I appreciated that, it became all about the project. It ain’t about me.   

Are you going to be doing another “Friday” film?

I get that question a lot. I’ve vowed not to do another one, unless Chris Tucker was in it. He still hasn’t accepted the offer, so … I can’t say. I don’t know whether we should, if we can’t really do the movie that people have been waiting for.  

How about another “Barbershop” movie?

Yeah, I would hope to do another one. If a third one comes together, I’ll jump on it. Or are we already on the fourth one? I’ve lost count.

Are you happy?

I’m always happy. I’ve just got a mean face. [Laughs]

When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

A man.

What was the last book you read?

I can’t remember the last one I read cover to cover. My problem is that I never get through the whole book. I skim through this one, that one and then the other one.

What music are you listening to?  

I’m working on a record, so I don’t listen to nothing while I’m in the studio, because I don’t want to be influenced by anybody else.

Can you reveal what type of album you’re working on?

To me, it’s a California summer record.

What is your earliest childhood memory?

Falling out of the bed. I was really little, less than two years old. My sister was watching me, and I just remember falling and not being able to climb back into the bed without help.

Who is your favorite clothes designer?

I guess Levi’s Dickies. [Chuckles]

If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?

Come on, I gotta say “World Peace!”

What is your favorite dish to cook?

Steak.

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

It’s all about the work. Don’t worry about being a star, worry about doing good work, and all that will come to you.