Ice Cube first gained fame when he changed music with the controversial rap group NWA and their album Straight Outta Compton. When he moved into film, his unforgettable roles in “Boyz in the Hood”, “Friday” and “Higher Learning” became icons. And he’s also written and produced a long list of movies including “Dangerous Ground” and “Lottery Ticket”. He stopped by the SiriusXM studios to talk about his newest film, “21 Jump Street”, as well as his influential career. Excerpts of the interview appear below.
Ron Bennington: Ice Cube is in studio with us. And another big big movie coming out Cube.
Ice Cube: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. 21 Jump Street. Funny. Funny as hell.
Ron Bennington: When they first announced that, everybody was like, what? Doing that as a movie? And now the buzz is through the roof. Everybody’s crazy about these opening screenings.
Ice Cube: Man, when they asked me to do the movie, I raised my eyebrow.
Ron Bennington: Did you?
Ice Cube: Why the hell you wanna do 21 Jump Street over?
Ron Bennington: You’re doing it now.
Ice Cube: When I got the script and read it, I said oh, okay, I see why they doin’ this over because it’s a 180 degrees from what that show was and that was a drama-action. Ours is a comedy, crazy, off-the-wall. No matter what you call it, our movie, it’ll still be funny. They could have called it Narcs In School, or whatever.
Ron Bennington: It doesn’t matter what it is. Now you’ve done a lot of dramas. You’ve done a lot of comedies. I think comedies is a harder thing to pull off. To make it work.
Ice Cube: Yeah, a lot of people really say that it’s comedies, but for me it’s the dramas. Because I’m not a very emotional kind of guy. So those scenes where you have to be super emotional for 12 hours and be consistent with it. I’ve seen Cuba Gooding Jr. cry at least for 6 hours. You know what I mean? That’s too grueling and taxing so dramas to me would be harder.
Ron Bennington: You do very good at being mad or angry or just glaring at people though. I mean you could scare the shit out of somebody and at the same time you have great comic timing.
Ice Cube: It’s like I didn’t pick the shell. You know what I’m sayin’? I look like what I look like, but on the inside I got a sense of humor. I can laugh at almost anything. I can make a joke out of almost anything. As far as, I gotta twisted sense of humor, so I can laugh at a lot.
Ice Cube: Oh yeah. You know if you really listen, there’s a lot of sick twisted humor, but it’s humor in those records. And back then, I don’t remember, one of our favorite movies was Hollywood Shuffle. And we used to all look at Living Color and just laugh all the time, even though we were doing the hardcore music. Laughter is just as much a part of the neighborhood as anything.
Ron Bennington: Right. Sure. And you’ve shown that with the Barbershop stuff and the Friday stuff. Hanging out is total improvisation.
Ice Cube: Yeah. No doubt. I think people can relate to kind of movies where you’re just basically doin’ the normal everyday things that anybody does. And you’re making it interesting and you’re making it what applied in story. And people kind of look at it as a slice of their life in a way.
Ron Bennington: Sure. And you’ve got to stay awake and keep your wit about you, I think when you hang out with guys like that. You can’t let your guard down.
Ice Cube: No. And doing this movie with Jonah Hill…this dude is so quick-witted. And he’s always thinkin’ and he’ll do a line one time one way, second time it’d be another ad lib, third time it’d be another ad lib. So you have to be on your toes ready for everything.
Ron Bennington: And he’s a young guy that seems like he’s got the idea of the business down which reminds me of you when you came up when you were a kid. Because you were a young guy making all this stuff happen.
Ice Cube: Yeah. Young and naive. I guess I didn’t know exactly the impact I was makin’ or what I was doin’. It was to me, it was just felt so natural to try to not only be in front of the camera, but get behind the camera. Because producing is where all the action is. Producing is like being the GM. You’re pickin’ the director and you’re pickin’ the casting agents. Sometimes you get a say in the clothes and the set design, all the way until the poster and how we gonna sell the movie. So, I always wanted to be there.
Ron Bennington: Who were people you were into when you were younger because I mean you came out of an age where you guys kind of reinvented the way that music is done. So the guys that I imagine that you grew up listening to were almost from different genres, right?
Ice Cube: Yeah. There was a lot of Parliament Funkadelic and it was Roger & Zapp. You know these people took traditional soul music or traditional R&B and made a gumbo out of it. It was like you didn’t know what you was gettin’ from those records and they were ultra-creative. And I asked George Clinton, I said what’s your formula man? And he said “I got my formula from Sly Stone a little bit”. I said okay, well what’s that? He said take corny everyday stuff that people know, but make it funky. To me it was like damn, they were reinventin’ things and these are the people we look up to and love so it was only natural for us to jump in and try to flip what we thought was the norm.
Ron Bennington: You know Sly in particular went through a period there where you just look at him and say I will put that against the Beatles.
Ice Cube: Yeah, yeah. I mean Sly, he is a great kind of unsung artist in the Black community for his courage. Not just doo-woppin’ his way, but tryin’ new things, new sounds. And he was a big influence on my favorite 70′s artists which was Parliament Funkadelic, so I got to give him his props. Anybody who could motivate George Clinton has got to motivate me.
Ron Bennington: So it was all about P-Funk for you when you were a kid?
Ice Cube: Yeah man. They was everything.
Ron Bennington: And then you guys just started rappin’ over that?
Ice Cube: Well it’s like for me, Muhammad Ali sparked rap in me. Seein’ him say he gonna kick ya ass, rap about it and then go kick ya ass, to me that’s the ultimate bad ass rapper to me. So with him and you have people like Flip Wilson, you have people like Dolemite. But then of course, the rap scene came in full steam. And we were fans of all those, but what happened was we tried to do records like Run-DMC and LL Cool J. We tried to do all those clean just raps. But we figured man, we from L.A. and those dudes are superstars and they mega and we’re locals in L.A. And let’s just do what people like around here. Let’s just become neighborhood stars. Let’s just talk about what’s goin’ on around here. And if we never make it big time, at least our neighbors will like us, the girl around the corner will wanna get with us. Let’s keep it simple. And that was the best thing we ever did because it was so true to what we needed to do. And that’s what turned out to be NWA.
Ron Bennington: And then even taking that beyond, the thing that I think was crazy, is like when you went on tour with Lollapalooza and at that point you’re playing to a white rock audience. And you didn’t see a lot of acts cross over with the rock.
Ice Cube: Man, that was like, it was a trip. Lollapalooza was the alternative tour of the day. And we were like the alternative to the alternative because most people were going there to see Red Hot Chili Peppers and Alice in Chains.
Ron Bennington: Your film career too when it started out dramatic, we talked about that. Did you think at the time when you got into film, it was going to stay like this?
Ice Cube: Well when I first signed on to do Boyz, I thought it was gonna be one and done. Boyz n the Hood and then back to what I was doin’. But man, that experience of doin’ that movie. I mean I don’t know if you can get a better first experience.
Ron Bennington: Yeah, absolutely.
Ice Cube: For somebody to pursue you for 2 years to be in a movie.
Ron Bennington: Singleton was after you?
Ice Cube: Yeah, he was after me for a couple of years ’cause I didn’t take him serious ’cause I felt I wasn’t qualified. I mean man, go find a real actor. And for us to do that movie and show the world that people like Doughboy are not animals and they not born that way. It’s circumstances that turn people into Doughboy. And we kind of explained that to America for the first time. And America listened and loved it. And we went to Cannes Film Festival and he got nominated. It was a magic carpet ride, so I was like I gotta be in this business.
Ron Bennington: Not only did you come in young and new, but Singleton was young and new. And when that was over, like hey this guy’s a Scorsese, he’s a Spike Lee, there’s something really happening here. But we were talking about, Doughboy broke everybody’s heart. No one was used to that in a gangster movie because you’re like well these guys were born hard.
Ice Cube: Yeah. And it showed that two people can come out the same household and circumstances can turn one into a good kid and turn a person out the same household into a devil walkin’ around.
Ron Bennington: Sly Stone. Family Affair. That’s the whole song right there.
Ice Cube: Yeah. That’s real. So it’s really about showin’ these undercut reasons. I think we understand each other more because of movies like that in the world. And I think that’s moviemaking at it’s best. It’s entertaining you and educatin’ you.
Ron Bennington: And then holding them together. So to go from something like that and then when you broke again in Friday, the amazing thing of that was like using almost like the same themes, but it’s pure comedy.
Ice Cube: Yeah, here’s what happened. Doin’ Boyz n the Hood, my next script that I got offered was Menace II Society. So I was like whoa whoa whoa. You guys not about to typecast me. (Cube laughs)
Ron Bennington: Yeah right.
Ice Cube: Let me shake this. So I turned that movie down. And I end up doing Trespass with Ice-T which was a Walter Hill adventure. It was still gangster, but it was more adventure. Then I went to South Africa and did a movie with Elizabeth Hurley and Ving Rhames called Dangerous Ground. So I was tryin’ to shake from being typecasted from the success of Boyz n the Hood. And at the same time, a lot of movies like Boyz n the Hood, Menace II Society, South Central was shown in our neighborhood like it was hell on Earth. And I was like whoa, wait a minute. We had fun growin’ up. Let us show the world how we saw the neighborhood growin’ up in it. And things that will make people cringe, used to make us laugh. And that’s what I wanted to show in Friday.
Ron Bennington: Then now of course you also do stuff that’s like family based. Which I don’t think anybody would have seen that coming years ago with your career. That you could do stuff that is really family based entertainment.
Ice Cube: Yeah, what I realized in doing movies like Friday and Boyz n the Hood is that my fans’ kids that was the only movies they could see of me. So they was comin’ up quotin’, I mean you see a 7-year-old quotin’ a Friday line, you start to say whoa, I need to make somethin’ for the 7 year olds to quote. So that’s what got me thinkin’ of, my fans have kids now. And if I really want to stay a household name, I need to do somethin’ for the kids of my fans so when the parents are talkin’ about “Oh Ice Cube is the man”, the kids ain’t rollin’ they eyes. Like what the hell? Talkin’ about this old rapper. So I just decided, yo this is the time to do something for my fans’ kids and really try to usher in a whole generation of Ice Cube fans through the family, the PG movies or the PG-13 movies.
Ron Bennington: When you get offered something like Jump Street, do they call you or do you hear about it and go looking for it? How does it work in your career?
Ice Cube: Well my man Neal Moritz who produced this movie and he’s like the king of teenage movies ’cause he’s done all The Fast and The Furious, all the xXx and a few others in between. And he called me and I’ve done 2 movies for Neal and he said “Yo, Jonah gotta take on this 21 Jump Street you gotta see.” So I read it and then I ran into Jonah. It was at some Hollywood function that we both was tryin’ to ditch ’cause we were in the lobby at the bar while the ceremony was goin’ on. And he was like “Yo, I got this movie. You gotta do it. You know you gonna be perfect at it.” And when I read it, I was like yo, I gotta do it.
Ron Bennington: Right away?
Ice Cube: Right away.
Ron Bennington: Is music always going to be part of your life ?
Ice Cube: Always. I love it. It’s the most freedom. My movies are more popular nowadays, but my music is where I can go just me and an engineer. Just what we feel. No compromisin’. No studio. With a movie, you gotta 100 people workin’ on one project and it’s all compromise. It’s all “You like this? You like that? Okay. Let’s do it”. It’s never like, you’ll see Steven Spielberg name as the director, but trust me. There’s a whole lot of people involved in making the movie right. And a whole lot of people’s decisions other than Steven’s go into the movie.
Ron Bennington: But if we see Ice Cube on an album, it’s Ice Cube.
Ice Cube: Yeah. I get producers. I give them they credit. The producers who do the beats, but as far as producin’ the songs, I usually take people’s beats or the music they send me and then I’ll go without them and produce the song ’cause I know what I need to do. I don’t need anybody tellin’ me what I need to do.
Ron Bennington: It’s Ice Cube. And “21 Jump Street” has probably got a hotter buzz than any other film out there. It’s great to have you stop by again man.
Ice Cube: You too. Can’t wait to come back.
Ron Bennington: And I’ll see you next time through.
This interview can be heard in its entirety exclusively on SiriusXM satellite radio. Not yet a subscriber? You can get a free trial subscription here.