Whether as rapper – on his own or with the legendary N.W.A. – actor/producer, or walking, talking presence (e.g. his appearance on Bill Maher’s HBO show chiding the host over racist language), Ice Cube is an icon of hip-hop. One of his darkest, but warmly funny, solo efforts — his second solo album, Death Certificate — just got rereleased with three relevant new songs in celebration of its 25th anniversary, all in combination of his new deal with Interscope Records. I caught up with Cube several days after his live, televised encounter with Maher.
Q: You just got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. You were the voice of reason regarding Bill Maher’s blunder. You can walk into any film studio based on your production credits alone — Hip Hop Hollywood Squares, Straight Outta Compton, the Barbershop series. That’s respectability. Did you ever crave that coming up or even believe such respect was accessible?
A: I never craved it as an artist, but I did crave it as a boy growing up, as a young man, and even as a grown man. I wanted that respect because I knew that it had to be earned — I’m not afraid of hard work — and that once you got it, you couldn’t let anyone take that away from you. It takes a long time to earn it and short time to lose it — so you’re protective of it, which I am. That’s just how I’m made. My father is that way, his father was, my brother is, my neighborhood was. It’s the way I grew up. You place respect over a lot of other things in the world, especially material things and social status. You got to be a man. You can’t ever sell your soul for anything,
Q: Were the three new songs on Death Certificate planned before you knew that you were doing the 25th-anniversary release? “Good Cop Bad Cop” and its plea for good apples to weed out the rotten, in particular, sounds relevant to the past and the present.
A: I might not release much, but I’m always recording, so those songs were in the can. We’re trying to appeal to the good cops to work it out with the bad cops. We know they’re there, protecting what’s right. Good cops are the first and best line of defense, and they understand that it’s the bad friends on the force who are the problem.
Q: That reasoned response of “Good Cop Bad Cop” is a far cry from N.W.A. and “F#$% da Police.”
A: “F#$% da Police” is more incendiary because there is revenge as the point of that song. This new one wants an answer, has a solution.
Q: Here’s a Philly question. Our Schoolly D has famously alluded to the notion that he created gangsta rap before N.W.A. Ice-T even credited Schoolly’s “P.S.K.” as a first gangsta track. What say you?
A: Schoolly’s got a great point. He was definitely talking about a lot of the hard stuff early on. My “2 N the Morning” was influenced by Schoolly. That being said, Schoolly was but one of the originators. I mean, there was profanity and hard times in rhymes before Schoolly D. We’re not going to pretend that we haven’t been influenced by rappers before him — Just-Ice was doing hardcore records, too, at that time – but Schoolly definitely means something. It’s just a matter of who took it from the streets, and to what level, and got it out to the rest of the world. They’re both originators, you know. Schoolly is a valuable resource.
Q: When you listened back to Death Certificate — the whole thing, before the new songs went on – what was the first thing that you thought? What was your reaction to it?
A: It’s a harsh, hard work. It’s entertaining as hell, but it’s a record filled with deep uncompromising emotion and bitterness, confusion. In some ways, Death Certificate is a guide to how and what to deal with as a young black man in America, not just then, but now as well.