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Ice Cube reflects on ‘22,’ career in music and film

Kam Williams
Ice Cube reflects on ‘22,’ career in music and film
Jonah Hill, Ice Cube and Channing Tatum in “22 Jump Street.”

As much as technology, business and society have changed since the ’80s, one thing has remained constant: Ice Cube has been a premier cultural watchdog, astutely commenting on, examining and detailing the breadth of the American experience in uncompromising terms with an unflinching honesty and a sobering perspective, as well as a deft comedic touch that has endeared him to several generations of fans.

Indeed, growing up in crime- and gang-infested South Central Los Angeles, he learned how to navigate a world where the lines between right and wrong shifted constantly. Of equal importance, the L.A.-based entertainment mogul also found a lasting way to present the comedy that exists in the midst of difficult situations.

After penning the most memorable lyrics on NWA’s groundbreaking songs “Straight Outta Compton” and “F— Tha Police,” Ice Cube left the group at the peak of its popularity because he was not being paid correctly. That move led to one of the most successful careers in music history. As a solo recording artist, Ice Cube has sold more than 10 million albums while remaining one of rap’s most respected and influential artists.

Beyond music, Ice Cube has established himself as one of entertainment’s most reliable, successful and prolific figures. In the film arena, he’s an accomplished producer (Friday, Barbershop 2: Back In Business, Are We There Yet?), writer (Friday, The Players Club, The Janky Promoters) and director (The Players Club) who is best known for his acting.

One of the most bankable actors in cinematic history, his films include star turns as a conflicted teen in Boyz N The Hood, as a greedy soldier in Three Kings and as an elite government agent in xXx: State Of The Union. Ice Cube’s ability to bring a natural, everyman aesthetic to any film genre makes his characters compelling and memorable, whether he’s playing a confrontational career college student (Higher Learning) or a skeptical football coach (The Longshots).

As a television producer, he took the “Barbershop” and “Are We There Yet?” series to successful network runs as well as the controversial “Black. White.” reality series. He’s also a pitchman for Coors Light and has been featured in various commercials for the brand.

In 2012, he appeared in the blockbuster film 21 Jump Street and the independent thriller Rampart. More recently, he enjoyed major success with the number-one box office hit, Ride Along, which his company Cube Vision produced. The picture has already been greenlit for a sequel, proving once again that Cube is the king of the franchise film category.

While Cube loves making movies, his first passion will always be music. His forthcoming album, “Everythang’s Corrupt,” slated for a release later this year, will be his 18th as either a solo artist or member of a group (NWA, Da Lench Mob, Westside Connection). Here, he talks about reprising the role of Captain Dickson in 22 Jump Street.

I loved the film. Did you enjoy rejoining Channing [Tatum], Jonah [Hill] and the rest of cast to shoot the sequel?

Yeah, we had a lotta fun. We shot it in Puerto Rico and New Orleans. You can’t beat that, especially since we went in knowing that we’d been successful the first time, and that we were going to make something just as cool.

You guys managed to measure up to the high bar you set with 21 Jump Street.

It’s always great when you’re able to give fans what they expect and even a little more. I think some people were a little nervous about the sequel because you never think you can get close to the original. But I think the audience is going to love this one just as much, if not more than the first one.

What was the funniest thing that happened during the shooting?

[Chuckles] Everybody asks that, but nothing unusual happened on the set. Like I said, we had a lotta fun, but nothing out of the ordinary happened. We just went to work, and everything that was funny was caught on camera, so you should be able to see all the fun that was had in the movie.

Is it hard to play a supporting role after getting used to being the star, producer, scriptwriter and director?

No, I just want to be a part of good projects. I enjoyed playing my role. It actually felt like a vacation to only have to act and not have to worry about all the business stuff. I was happy for all that to be somebody else’s headache.

What advice would the Ice Cube of today would give to the Ice Cube of NWA?

Keep doin’ what you’re doin’, fall in love with what you’re creating, and everything else will fall into place.

What do you think of the deal Dr. Dre just cut to sell Beats Electronics to Apple?

I’m extremely excited for Dr. Dre, personally. He totally deserves it. He’s a genius. He put me in the game. I wouldn’t be here without Dr. Dre, so I was as happy for him as I was when Obama won to see somebody finally take it all the way to the top.

How were you able to parlay your music career success into a film career?

To be honest, I got discovered. I don’t really have a story to share. [Director] John Singleton saw something in me and put me in Boyz ’N the Hood. I recognized how much of an opportunity it was and, from there, I just worked hard, paid attention, and tried to figure out what it would take to get to this spot right here. Things have worked out, not perfectly, but things have pretty much worked out.

How often do you go back and watch Boyz ‘N the Hood and your other movies again?

Not a lot. I’m always kind of off to the next movie, and focused on making sure that the one I’m currently working on is as good as the one that’s already on TV. If I’m passing one of the movies, I usually catch 5 or 10 minutes here or there, and keep going.

Is it still a surprise when you’re channel surfing and you suddenly see yourself on television?

I always have a “That’s cool!” moment. You never get tired of seeing yourself on TV. It’s always extra cool… always a treat.

At those moments, do you just think about making the movie, or do you think about being on the set, too?

I usually think about making the movie more than that actual cut, because there’s so much that you don’t see that went into that shot. And I always see the crew, and remember everybody off-camera. [Chuckles]

Was it a hard decision to leave NWA and go solo, artistically?

It was hard because I was really connected to Dre and everybody in the group, and it was so much fun. But I had to go once I saw what was going on financially.