Ice Cube - Biography
By Paul Glanting
Rap music began to ascend to prominence in the early ‘90s and many parents with a middle American mentality have been hyperventilating ever since. One of the pivotal figures at the helm of this surge was Ice Cube. Influential among even the most influential of Hip Hop artists, Ice Cube brought his fury dangerously close to pop music, and became a cornerstone in the West Coast rap music movement.
Born in South Central Los Angeles, O’Shea Jackson began writing raps while in high school, during keyboarding class. Ice Cube started the group C.I.A. along with friend Sir Jinx and together they performed at parties which were produced by up-and-coming DJ, Dr. Dre. Sir Jinx stepped aside and C.I.A. eventually became a collaboration between Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, with Ice Cube rapping and Dr. Dre DJing. C.I.A. then released My Posse (Kru Kut-1987).
After My Posse, Ice Cube, who was quickly becoming a skilled rhyme scribe, penned the lyrics for “Boyz-n-the-Hood” which would be recorded by former Compton drug dealer-turned-rapper Eazy-E. Ice Cube and Dr. Dre had become members of Eazy-E’s now legendary,Compton-based group N.W.A. (Niggaz With Attitude). Ice Cube went on to write all of the lyrics which would be delivered by Dr. Dre and Eazy-E for N.W.A.’s watershed album, Straight Outta Compton (1988-Ruthless). Dr. Dre was the musical pillar of N.W.A. and Eazy-E was the group’s front-man, but Ice Cube’s vividly brutal depiction of Los Angeles’ underbelly was arguably the anchor of N.W.A.’s still-standing influence on Hip Hop. Ice Cube’s harshly delivered rhymes can be heard on songs like the “Gangsta Gangsta” or the seething “Fuck Tha Police” which is an abrasive attack on law enforcement’s treatment of young minorities. Straight Outta Compton is widely regarded as one of the greatest albums of the twentieth century and would also set the stage for the forthcoming onslaught of West Coast rap artists, spelling a shift in Hip Hop prominence from the East Coast to the West Coast. However, disputes would arise when Ice Cube felt that because he had concocted over half of the lyrics to N.W.A’s opus, he was entitled to more royalties than he was receiving. Ultimately, Straight Outta Compton would be the final N.W.A. album Ice Cube would be a part of. Ice Cube’s departure was not taken lightly and his former N.W.A. band-mates would hurl several insults in Ice Cube’s direction, referring to him as a coward and a fraud.
Now bitterly estranged from his former group, Ice Cube ventured out on his own and recorded his solo debut AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted (Priority-1990). Fusing his bent for innovative lyric-writing with his brutal delivery, Ice Cube hastily plunged into sociopolitical themes such as poverty, racism, drug addiction and provided plenty of harsh criticisms towards society’s status quo. AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted is arguably the greatest hybrid of conscious-rap and gangsta rap ever. However, for all of the lauding the album got for its honest approach to relevent topics and despite a mutual exorcism of sexist ideas with pioneering female rapper, Yo-Yo on “It’s A Man’s World”, AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted received a decent amount of criticism for what was perceived as sexist content. The controversial album was produced by The Bomb Squad, who were then crafting masterpieces for Public Enemy and it became a lucrative success. Later that year, Ice Cube released Kill at Will (Priority-1990) a seven-track EP which included “Dead Homiez” one of rap music’s first examinations of black-on-black violence. Kill at Will also features “Jackin’ For Beats” as well as an unreleased collaboration with Public Enemy’s Chuck D. The successful release is regarded as some of Ice Cube’s best work and became the first Hip Hop EP to attain Gold status.
In 1991, Ice Cube starred in John Singleton’s acclaimed film Boyz N the Hood as Cuba Gooding Jr.’s gang-affiliated brother. Ice Cube received a good amount of praise for his role and this would foreshadow a long career in films, which would equal, if not surpass, his career as a rapper. Ice Cube then released his follow-up debut full-length, Death Certificate (Priority-1991). The production on the album takes far more influence from California-based funk than Ice Cube’s previous efforts, which helped establish what West Coast Hip Hop would sound like for years to come. Death Certificate was a two-sided concept album with a “death-side” (representing where his community was at) and a “life-side” (representing where he felt his community needed to go). The result of these two concepts is a duality which sometimes features intellectual musing about the consequences of gang violence and unprotected sex, while other times Ice Cube ferociously calls for violent rioting. Generating even more controversy than his previous efforts, Death Certificate was accused of projecting misogynist, homophobic, anti-white, and and anti-semitic themes. And, songs like “Black Korea” coupled with Ice Cube’s gung-ho demand for black-entrepreneurship, sparked accusations of having the intent to incite violence towards Korean store owners. Ice Cube also channels his fulmination towards personal matters on “No Vaseline” where Ice Cube viscously berates his former N.W.A. band mates as well as their management.
As if everyday life wasn’t enough to stir the always fiery Ice Cube, his third album The Predator (Priority-1992) was released several months after the tumultuous Los Angeles riots. As would be expected, a large portion of the album is spent examining racial tension amidst the aftermath of the riots, as can be heard on songs like "We Had to Tear This Mothafucka Up" and "Who Got the Camera?". The Predator also yielded what would become Ice Cube’s most well-known single “It Was a Good Day”; guided by a silky Isley Brother’s-sample, “It Was a Good Day” is perhaps Ice Cube’s mellowest moment and is a chronological telling of an ideal day for the South Central-born rapper.
In 1992, the sound of West Coast rap music had been defined by Ice Cube’s former collaborator Dr. Dre on his albumThe Chronic (Death Row-1992), with a sound that is commonly referred to as “G-Funk.” Ice Cube’s divisive fourth album Lethal Injection (Priority-1993) was an attempt to implement the G-Funk sound into his own music. While collaborations with George Clinton and plenty of Parliament samples helped Ice Cube amalgamate with his West Coast peers, Lethal Injection was accused of straying away from the bold criticisms of society that made up much of Ice Cube’s past body of work. And, while made commercially successful by the singles “Bop Gun (One Nation)” and “You Know How We Do It”, many critics felt that Ice Cube was trying excessively to become visible within the now-dominant Gangsta Rap scene.
Ice Cube spent the next couple of years working on various projects including a reunion with Dr. Dre, with whom he recorded "Natural Born Killaz" from the soundtrack Murder Was the Case (Death Row-1994).
On advice from filmmaker John Singleton, Ice Cube wrote and starred-in the sleeper-hit Friday, which was a comedic interpretation of the Los Angeles neighborhood that Ice Cube grew up in. The film also starred up-and-comers Chris Tucker, Bernie Mac and Nia Long. Ice Cube also starred in John Singleton’s film Higher Learning, his second film under the director.
Ice Cube also formed the group Westside Connection, alongside fellow California-based rappers, Mack-10 and WC. The trio’s album Bow Down (Priority-1996) added fuel to the fire that was currently raging between the East Coast and West Coast. Almost violently championing the West Coast, much of Bow Down was a nose-thumbing at what the group perceived to be a New York-centric rap media. Occurring simultaneously with Ice Cube’s heavily West Coast-centric mode, Chicago rapper Common released a song called “I used to Love H.E.R” from his album Resurrection (Relativity-1994), which metaphorically compared Hip Hop to a woman. In the song, Common comments that once Hip Hop’s prominence shifted towards the West Coast, Afro centricity within Hip Hop seemed to disappear. Ice Cube took Common’s juxtaposition as disrespectful and subsequently the two exchanged barbs on several tracks. However, at the urging of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, the two agreed to put their differences aside.
Ice Cube has gone on to work on many films including Three Kings, Barbershop, Anaconda and plenty of others. A 2006 honoree at VH1’s Hip Hop Honors, Ice Cube went on to release War & Peace - Volume 1 (The War Disc) (Priority-1998) as well as War & Peace - Volume 2 (The Peace Disc) (Priority-2000) which is significant because it features a collaboration with former N.W.A. band mates Dr. Dre and MC Ren. After six years of solely working on film projects, Ice Cube released a comeback album of sorts with Laugh Now, Cry Later (Lench Mob-2006) which would be Ice Cube’s first album on his independently owned Lench Mob Records. Updating his sound Ice Cube collaborated with contemporary Hip Hop mainstays like Lil Jon, Swizz Beatz and Scott Storch. Somewhat returning to his roots Raw Footage (Lench Mob-2008) hears Ice Cube once again making aggressive political commentaries as can be heard on the meta-narrative "Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It.”
Unarguably one of Hip Hop’s most prolific forces, Ice Cube stormed onto the scene with powerfully explicit and unadulterated descriptions of life in the inner-city Los Angeles and miraculously ended up in the mainstream. His staunch stance within the industry has allowed him to remain a mainstay both in the world of music and film as well.