Ice Cube is one of the most enduring, versatile, controversial and engaging figures ever to emerge out of hip-hop. At 30, he is one of this generation's cultural icons. After establishing himself as a film phenomenon, acclaimed actor, screenwriter, director and producer, Ice Cube (born O'Shea Jackson) comes back to his solo music career with a vengeance. He has spent most of 1999-2000 working at an astonishing rate, completing not one, but two full-length albums the first part titled War & Peace - Volume 1 (The War Disc) followed by the current album, War & Peace - Vol. 2 (The Peace Disc).
The first volume War was released on November 17, 1998 on Priority Records with Peace following on March 21, 2000. Just as his classic Death Certificate presented a "Death Side" and a "Life Side", Cube explores the war/peace dialectic in well over 2 hours of new music.
Further fueling rumors of a NWA reunion album, War & Peace Vol. 2 (The Peace Disc) opens with the simple greeting "Hell Low", a Dre produced selection (co-produced by Mel Man) featuring Dr. Dre and MC Ren; a comedic track "You Ain't Gotta Lie" featuring Chris Rock and appearances by Krayzie Bone on the commercial single "Until We Rich." Other notable artists featured on the album are Mack 10 and Jayo Felony with production on several tracks by Chucky Thompson, Battlecat, and Puffy to name a few.
The War record allowed Cube to throw down the gauntlet on tracks like "Dr. Frankenstein," "Once Upon A Time In the Projects 2" and on the single "Pushin' Weight," Cube raised the stakes for the present day rap game while reclaiming his legacy. War provided cutting edge soundscapes with mega-platinum rockers Korn making a guest appearance on "Fuck Dying." Cube performed with Korn on their "Family Values" tour. "To expose Korn fans to my music is cool, because most of their audience is only exposed to my movies. It reminded me of when I went out on Lollapalooza (1992), where I was the alternative to that alternative show" says Cube of the experience.
Although Cube keeps it gangsta on the Peace, LP, Vol. 2 is more dance/club oriented using samples from popular party anthems crating a lighter mood. Cube can't say enough about the music. "War and Peace are my best records in years. The production on both albums is far superior to anything I've ever released. Peace is gonna be a different look; it's a different record than any I have ever done. Lyrically, War covers a lot of ground-moving from rap's battlegrounds to the Los Angeles killing fields." "Ghetto Vet," "Penitentiary" and the masterful "3 Strikes You In" are as incisive pieces of social commentary as he's ever penned. Just as every coin has two sides, Peace represents the other side of Cube.
Ice Cube caught the rap bug in the ninth grade when a classmate named Kiddo challenged him in a typing class. "One day, he asked me if I ever wrote a rap before. I told him, you write one, I write on and we'll see which one come out better and I won," recalls Cube. He went on to form his first crew, C.I.A., with future collaborators Sir Jinx and K-Dee, and began hanging in the burgeoning South Central Club scene. Through Jinx's cousin, he met Dr. Dre and together they began rhyming for nightclub patrons over the hits of the day. "We was doing these dirty raps strictly for the club audiences," he says. "When that started catching on, we started making mix tapes. We would rap on what was going on in the neighborhood and they were selling. Eazy-E had a partner named Ron-de-Vu, Dre was in the World Class Wreckin Crew, and I was in C.I.A. We were all committed to these groups, so we figured we'd make an all-star group and just do dirty records on the side." That all-star group would become known as Niggaz With Attitude (NWA).
In early 1987, Cube wrote "Boyz-N-The-Hood" for Eazy-E and "Dopeman" and "8-ball" for NWA and they went into the studio to record. He knew he was doing something different, but wasn't sure about his prospects. "The rap game wasn't looking too solid at that time, so I decided to go ahead and go to school." When he left for The Phoenix Institute of Technology, the records were just hitting the streets. By the time he completed his degree a year later, both Eazy's and NWA's singles had sold hundreds of thousands of copies. He came back to write the rhymes for the albums that would be Eazy Duz It and Straight Outta Compton and the world would never be quite the same.
NWA's Straight Outta Compton, in retrospect, was the most influential album since The Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks. Straight Outta Compton didn't break taboos so much as blow them away with rapid-action scattershot. The excitement they inspired was proportional to the outrage they incited. Newsweek dismissed the record as "The Godfather in gutter language." FBI Assistant director, Milt Ahlerich, sent a letter to the label condemning the record as encouraging "violence against and disrespect for the law-enforcement officer." Ahlerich warned, "Advocating violence and assault is wrong and we in the law enforcement community take exception to such action." Sales rocked past platinum. "Straight Outta Compton has had the biggest impact on rap music than any other album to this day," says Cube. "We opened the door where you can say exactly what you really want to say without having to sugar-coat , without having to hold back."
But by 1989, things were beginning to sour between Cube and Jerry Heller, then NWA's manager. Cube was involved in writing 10 of the 13 tracks on Straight Outta Compton, including the entirety of "Dopeman," "8 Ball" and "Express Yourself" and he felt he was due more than the $30,000 that he received for records that had sold 3 million units. "I was broke before I jumped in that shit, so it wasn't hard to walk away. I preferred it that way," Cube recalls. "At the time the two producers that was worth fucking with was Dr. Dre and The Bomb Squad. If I couldn't get Dre, I was going to the Bomb Squad." He broke east and began collaborating with Public Enemy.
Energized by the rush of liberation and inspired by the exchange of ideas with Chuck D and the other members of the Public Enemy camp, he turned in the stunning Amerikkka's Most Wanted. "Fuck you, Ice Cube!" went the chorus of "The Nigga You Love to Hate," and immediately the hip-hop nation was screaming it. The record went gold in 10 days, platinum in three months. "I can never play out," smiles Cube, "because people are still biting my styles from that record."
In his book It's Not About A Salary: Rap, Race and Resistance, Brian Cross wrote of the album's impact, "Amerikkka's Most Wanted sought to give a face to (the) criminal underclass and this face was to be furrow-browed, jheri-curled, beanie-clad face of Cube himself. Cube to this day is the foremost hip hop meta-critic, providing listeners not only with stories, but potential criticism of his practice from different perspectives."
The follow-up EP Kill At Will went gold just as quickly. In contrast to the booming "Endangered Species" remix and the club friendly "Jackin For Beats," "Dead Homiez" was a surprise. When it was first released, Cube ran the risk of the appearing soft, exposing a vulnerable, sentimental side; instead, audiences embraced the track. He had correctly measured the depth of emotion amongst his violence-weary fans. "Dead Homiez" created an entirely new theme for gangsta rappers. Cube was thinking seven steps ahead of the game.
"I was reading a lot of books. I was just learning about the world, paying attention to world history, political views. Up to that point, I was just rolling through life trying to get money," says Cube. His readings "gave me my freedom mentally to deal with this world. The main focus on what I was learning was coming from Minister Louis Farrakhan and the honorable Elijah Muhammed. I did a lot of self-studying knowledge of self, because I'm far from a follower."
On Halloween 1991, Ice Cube's second solo LP, Death Certificate had advance orders of over a million copies and debuted at number 2 on the Billboard Charts. Death Certificate spoke to what it meant to be a young black male in an increasingly pressured space, one strained by deindustrialization, drug economies, state repression, police brutality, and immigration. Released just months before the LA riots, it singularly captured the tenor of the times, the feel of a generation. On April 29 1992, Death Certificate sounded prophetic.
That year, The Predator, debuted at #1 on the pop and R&B charts simultaneously and went platinum in four days. The on-the-corner commentaries of "When Will They Shoot?, "I'm Scared," "Now I gotta Wet'cha" and "We had To Tear This Muthafucka Up" were rounded out by the hits "Wicked" and "It Was A Good Day." Cube had arrived as the chronicler of his generation.
Lethal Injection was his fourth album in four years, but although it also went platinum on the hot groove of the George Clinton collaboration "Bop Gun" and the haunting "Ghetto Bird," Cube felt the rap game changing subtly. "At that time, nobody wanted to hear that kind of rap. The whole (conscious) era had peaked with the release of the Malcolm X Movie. The G-funk era was coming in. It was a whole different tone in the music. People didn't want to take rap that serious," he says.
"I was doing movies, directing videos, trying to produce other groups," Cube says. He had directed dozens of videos (he has done 20 to date) and his filmmaking career was set to take off. He had always struck a compelling image in his own videos, whether the rending "Dead Homiez," the pulsing "Steady Mobbin,' or the frantic "Natural Born Killaz."
Based on his amazing performance in John Singleton's "Boyz in the Hood," however, he was in demand. He went on to appear in "Trespass," "CB4," Charles Burnett's "The Glass Shield," Singleton's "Higher Learning," Anaconda," and most recently costarred in "3 Kings" with George Clooney. After co-screenwriting the script "Friday" with DJ Pooh - a balancing, hilarious view of a day in the life of a couple of brothers from South Central - Ice Cube followed up with "Next Friday" the successful, top grossing film which outsold blockbuster films "Stuart Little," "The Green Mile," and "The Hurricane" it its first week becoming the most successful New Line Film next to the Austin Power's sizzler. Cube also executive produced and starred in "Dangerous Ground" and "The Player's Club," a film he wrote, co-produced and directed to critical acclaim. The movie grossed over $25 million in domestic receipts alone. "People always ask, "When are you gonna stop doing records? Or 'Do you prefer doing movies or records?" Cube responds, "If opportunities present they self, you take them. I think I can do this from all different sides of entertainment," he says.
Cube somehow also found the time to oversee the production of a number of homies. Two of them, Mack 10 and WC, joined him to become the Westside Connection, after a few successful outings. "I was tired of doing solo albums," Cube says. "I wanted to feel the group thing. With me, Mack 10 and WC, our chemistry was so tight that the Westside Connection was born." The group's allegiance to the West courted controversy. "Our whole purpose from the beginning was to make sure that people wasn't gonna just snatch our style from under us and give us no credit and no props," he says. "I'm not really tripping on straight being from the west coast. But when I was doing it, I heard a lotta shit being said about the west coast, so I stood up for the west coast." With Bow Down's double platinum sales, seems there must have been a lot of bi-coastal unity after all. Westside Connection is scheduled to release another album May 2000.
Finally it became time to return to the solo spotlight. "When you trying to do records, write a movie, produce a movie, it's hard to make good music. I wanted to put all the other stuff down, be finished with The Player's Club and do my album, he says, "War & Peace is my best record since Death Certificate."
Although hip-hop fans are notoriously fickle, Cube has stayed atop the games for over a decade. "I still sell the same amount of records. I still get a big reception," he says. "In hip hop, people always want new artists, but when I really get down, nobody puts a record together better than me. So I'll always be here. Long as I stay consistent and keep my heart in it, I'm a be here."