When one thinks about Ice Cube, they think of one of the most influential hip-hop artists on the planet, going all the way back to running with N.W.A. and being one of the founding artists for gangsta rap. And with tracks like “Fuck Da Police” in his catalogue, it’s no wonder that Jonah Hill thought of Cube, who is also a terrific actor in his own right, for the part of Captain Dickson in his 21 Jump Street reimagining. In fact, beyond this initial irony, that film along with its new sequel, 22 Jump Street (now in theaters), proves what fans of the Friday series already know: Ice Cube can be hilarious.
So, we were happy to be able to discuss with him that transition between acting and music, as well as comedy and drama, when we talked to him about directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s 22 Jump Street last week.
Phil [Lord] and Chris [Miller] were saying how philosophical you are—
Ice Cube: Oh, is that right?
That’s what they said you’re philosophical about your career choices. So, how do you choose a film and why 22 Jump Street?
You just want to be a part of good movies. When I started doing movies, I wanted to do those hard gangster movies, that’s what I had in my head. You realize that if you really want to be a part of Hollywood, if you really want to be a filmmaker, you should do movies that are good. Good scripts don’t come along a lot, and when you get one you should figure out how you care going to be part of it. So, that’s the approach I’ve been taking for five or six years: just be a part of good projects that I would go see. 21 Jump Street: Jonah came to me. I’ve worked with Neal Moritz on Torque and XXX. With Neal being a producer and Jonah coming directly to me, “Man, you’re perfect for this part, man. We’ll take care of you.” I felt like I was in good hands. It was a good ride. It was fun. It was unexpected. People didn’t expect me to be Captain Dickson. They loved the part. They loved the movie; so yeah, why not do it again?
Did you ever expect to score so well at comedies?
I’ve always loved comedies. I’ve always been drawn to funny people. People don’t realize how many comedians there are in the neighborhood. All neighborhoods are full of them, from uncles to friends to cousins. Making each other laugh is a way to cope with some of the other stuff that is going on. Dark sense of humor, all that stuff. So, I knew I had a sense a humor and I knew what was funny. As soon as we put it to the test in Friday, I knew that I could brand a certain kind of comedy, a certain style. I knew I knew how to do it as far as getting the crew together, getting the pieces and the actors and I’m always gauging my level of how far should my character go with it, because I’ve hired some great people to do their thing and playing the straight man has worked out for me.
When you approach a scene, like your meltdown at the buffet, is that something you’re just like, “I’m going to go for it and [let it go]” or are you actually really mentally focused on what you want to do specifically?
You get one take. It’s a nice buffet set-up. The DP is there and you get one like, “Okay, where you gonna’ move to?” So you are kind of like, “I’m ‘a come here, then I’m ‘a go here, and I’m ‘a go here, and I’m ‘a go there.” From there it’s like, “Okay, you’ve got to figure out what am I going to say at each spot, because this is all ad-lib, and I don’t want to have no dead spots, I wanted it to all feel like, you know, this dude is going off! You just kind of get it in your head but you really don’t know how it’s going to flow until you just start throwing food around. (laughs) Tossin’ shit and pushin’ it. I just wanted stuff to rain and kinda’ be all over the place. There’s a part they cut out where I actually shoot the turkey. (Laughs) You might see that on the DVD. (Laughs)
I know that Ice-T hears it all the time but do you ever hear [criticisms for playing a cop]? Do you hear anything like, “That guy has some damn nerve,” or “Hey, you know what, good job!”
They get mad because we get paid a whole lot— way more than they get paid. That’s cool. It’s Hollywood, it’s fine. When we was young, we played cops and robbers, you know what I mean? It’s no big deal. And to be honest, if you really listen to those records, those records are about bad cops. Those records are about cops that abuse their authority. Those records are not about the cops that come and help your mama out when she gets hurt or come to the accident and help out— those cops are the cops that we need, but those other cops give good cops a bad name, and we wanted to expose that in our music.
If you really want to be a movie star you shouldn’t typecast yourself. I definitely wasn’t going to do that and say, “Nah I’m not going to play cops” because back when I was 20-years-old I did a song called “Fuck Da Police,” you know? It’s like, you’ve got to grow up and put everything in perspective, and continue moving forward. I am a different man than I was back then and I think the country is slightly different than it was back then. Got a lot of work to go—and I always highlight that—but not playing a cop in a movie is a little ridiculous to me.
I imagine most younger cops now probably say N.W.A. is their favorite group, anyway.
No doubt. A lot of those cops love music. We got ran off the stage in Detroit in 1989 by some undercover cops. We had problems; we couldn’t sing “Fuck Da Police.” They pissed us off, so Dre put the record on, I get into it, people start to go crazy, and then cops started throwing M-80s and cherry bombs on stage. Explosions and shit were going on. We run off stage. Some guys run out the arena to the hotel. They catch us, corral us, put us in a room, detain us, and all they wanted was autographs! (Laughs) They were saying, “Look man, you can’t come to Detroit and sing ‘Fuck Da Police,’ but can you sign this for my daughter. She loves Eazy-E.” It’s just very ironic.
You’ve got a birthday coming up and around birthdays, we tend to think about our life and where we are and where we are going. What are you reflecting on and thinking about these days?
I don’t worry about birthdays because I heard this statement that I take to heart and the statement is: “If you didn’t know how old you was, would you know who you are?” Me, I still feel young, so, what that calendar say—it don’t matter to me. It’s all about how I feel. I just really stopped paying attention to ‘em. The TV lets you know more about your birthday than you lettin’ everybody else know—the TV be like, “We’d like to welcome Ice Cube, Happy Birthday, he turned 45 today.” Shit, please. (Laughs)
Do you feel these days you’re better? You’re a rapper, writer, actor, producer. What do you say you do the best?
Write. I feel like I write the best, and produce. I’m still trying to get better at everything, you know. Rappin’, actin’. I’m still trying to get better because I think you’ve always got to keep your pencil sharp or it’ll get dull on you. What I do is try to keep the pencil sharp, try to keep pushing myself to get better.
What is the up to the minute report on if there’s going to be another Friday, with everybody?
Yeah man, you know, I’ve been trying to put this movie together for what seems like decades.
I remember the announcement that everybody was coming together.
Yeah, yeah! Everybody wants to do it. It’s New Line. New Line has little credibility with Time Warner, and they’re just not hearing what New Line has to say: which is, “We need more money to make this movie.” Time Warner is saying, “We’ll make it for this much.” New Line is saying, “We need this much.” I’m saying we need, “that much” (Laughs), and we just stuck because to Time Warner this is just a spec—New Line is just a spec on their radar. They don’t really care because that is not where their bread is buttered, so who knows if they’ll ever be able to get that budget out of Time Warner folks.
What about the N.W.A. movie?
That’s moving forward. We start in August. We’ve got a director, F. Gary Gray at Universal Pictures. It should be top notch.
A lot of people look up to you and they idolize you, but I wanted to ask you who do you look up to- who is most inspirational?
Wow. I look up to people like Russell Simmons. He’s, to me, the reason hip-hop is where it is. He’s a smart, smart guy. He’s shown us how to monetize this music and turn it into a career. People don’t give him the credit he deserves as far as being the true, true Godfather of hip-hop. He probably didn’t start it, but he made it into a business. Before it was just a record here and there, some played in the clubs, some done in the park.
He turned it into a industry. Him and Rick Ruben. It’s people like that. People like my pops. My pops— he didn’t go through the easy route, he had nothing given to him; he had to work hard his whole life. He was very inspirational, because a lot of men gave up when they could. He had four kids living in South Central, Los Angeles. Keep us all out of jail, out of gang-bangin’, out of dope dealing. He kept us as respectable men. That’s why I never fell prey to the neighborhood because I didn’t feel no peer pressure— no pressure that my father wasn’t going to go put on me. I’d rather fight with the kids in the street than deal with my pops. “Try to get me to do what? Shit, Mr. Jackson don’t play.” These are people that I know, that I really still look up to.
What are you outlooks on hip-hop today?
Hip-hop has survived. It’s survived in the Internet age, which has fragmented music, and music is free now. It’s like water, it’s going the path of least resistance, and most of the time kids are trying to have fun: they’re emulating what they hear, so there hasn’t really been a lot of what I call street knowledge in music because at a certain point, mainstream really stopped letting those songs rise to the top over those songs about cars, women, jewelry, clubs, drugs—the escapism. Escapism rap is the leading selling form right now. One day we’ll wake up out of that fog and realize we got shit to say, we got stuff to do.
You think we will?
Yeah, you know, I think we will. When you hit the bottom, there is only one place to go.
Jonah was telling us that he was a huge fan of yours and that he had a lot of questions for you, both times, both movies, and that you very patiently answered all of his questions. What was that like? Was there anything he asked where you were like, “Ugh, I can’t believe he’s asking…” (Laughs)
No, I understand. We’ve been around a long time. I know damn near everybody in hip-hop. He wants to know how was it working with Big Daddy Kane, Chuck D., going on tour with Eddie V., Salt-n-Pepa. I don’t mind because when somebody asks me a question, it just brings back memories, and I usually have something to say about it because I’ve been blessed to have a very vivid life of a lot of different things that are very interesting to people. And it’s cool, it’s cool.
I read that you’re working on an album? What do you find yourself writing about and rapping about these days?
The name of the album is “Everything is Corrupt,” so it’s just talkin’ about how every aspect of our lives there is corruption, which violated what was going on. The record is talking about that. I have a song about the youngsters that are really into popping the pills. But you’ve got to deliver it in a way that is not preachy. It’s still got to be hardcore hip-hop. Give people the medicine that is cloaked in candy.
Are there particular young artists that you are a big fan of right now, in hip-hop?
To be honest, not really. I’m not saying that I don’t like the music because I love the music, it’s bumpin’, but a fan is somebody who to me is dedicated to the artist and everything they’re doing. There’s nobody out there. I’m just too into my stuff to kind of be that kind of fan anymore.
Do you have anything to say or do about the soundtrack for 22 Jump Street?
Yeah, I’ve got one song in there, “Drop Girl,” that I did with 2 Chainz and Redfoo from LMFAO. They got it in there. It’ll be out there this summer. Pretty cool. That ain’t got nothing to do with “Everything is Corrupt, “ though, don’t put those two together; just saying.
Jonah said his favorite record of all time was “Today Was A Good Day,” right?
Yeah, he told me that too.
—and the theory that is was a real day; I thought it was a real day. What’s a good day for Cube these days?
No bad news. Bring me no bad news, that’s a good day. I’m a simple man. I’ve done a lot, so I’m really cool sometimes kicking back, relaxing, just figuring out what I’m going to do next. That’s when I have the most enjoyment, when I’m creating. That’s what gets my juices goin’. When I finish it, it’s finished and I’m really, really ready to push it to the side and dig into the next thing. My wife says, she cooks but she doesn’t eat a lot. I’m like, “You cooked this meal; why didn’t you eat?” She says, “Shit, I’m eatin’ while I’m cookin’ so I’m full—by the time you guys get it, I’m already full.” That’s kind of how I am. By the time I’ve given it to the public, I’ve had my fill, because I’ve looked at it a million times; I’ve tried to make it better up until the last minute; I’m always trying to make it better up until the last minute, and then let it go—jump into the next thing I’m doing.
You’ve done so much. Is there something that you want to do that you haven’t done yet? Is there something on your list you have to check off?
I want to do more dramas. There are stories that need to be told that Hollywood is not sexy to tell, but they need to be told and I want to be able to tell some of those stories. Right now, I’m just really trying to build Cube Vision as a brand that people respect and trust and that it’ll hold up. That people will see Cube Vision and say, “Okay, Cube put his time and effort into it, it is probably worth seeing.” That’s where I want to get my company and then start branching out and doing things.
…Right now everybody, when I have a meeting, they want me to do a comedy. It’s like, “What you good for? We’ve done that special effects shit, where’s the comedy? You do comedy, your comedies work, your comedies make a lot of money. You want to make a lot of money? Give us a comedy.”
You probably had to convince people you could do a comedy, and now—
Exactly. When I pitched Friday to a few people they were just like, “Friday, really? A comedy? I don’t know. I don’t know.” It’s cool. You’ve got to sometimes bring people along—they slow.
And even then you have to tell them what they want.
Yeah, exactly. They need everybody else to tell them, “This is the movie you should make.” Even with Friday, they aren’t making it. The masses definitely chimed in. Shit, I hear it every day. Every day.