Ice Cube: A Career View

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“You are about to witness the strength of street knowledge” — so begins NWA’s debut album Straight Outta Compton the seminal record–so influential it would be the name of a new mainstream film that surely you’ve heard about by now.

“Straight outta Compton, crazy motherf***er named Ice Cube…” the song continues, introducing the world to Ice Cube, certainly not the most entertaining or talented person to come out of hip-hop, but one that remains an enigmatic and very public figure. While group-mate Dr. Dre has gone on to make millions, Cube’s output has remained consistent and is (perhaps notoriously) one who has transcended the 19 year old who rapped “boy you can’t f**ck with me/so when I’m in your neighborhood, you better duck/cause Ice Cube is crazy as f**ck”. I mean here’s a man who not only starred in the children’s film Are We There Yet? but believed in this idea so much he would go on to make a sequel (Are We Done Yet?) and a television show named the same thing.

This was the vision I always had of Ice Cube, not the 20 year old who would go on to soundtrack angry protests inspired by racial inequality with lyrics used to echo dissent even 30 years later. But even in those two films we can see things Ice Cube cares about across the entirety of his career. And this piece will attempt to scratch the service of Cube, looking at important films and the music of NWA, giving a career view across several themes.


Mr. Jones: This is what makes you a man. When I was growing up, this was all the protection we needed. You win some, you lose some, but you live. You live to fight another day. Now you think you’re a man with that gun in your hand, don’t you?

Craig Jones: I’m a man without it!

Mr. Jones: Put the gun down.

[Craig complies]

Mr. Jones: C’mon, put up your dukes.

[Craig raises his fists]

Mr. Jones: NOW you’re a man. Your uncle picked up a gun, too. He found out the hard way. 22 years old. You’ve got a choice. This is all you need, alright?

(From Friday)

It’s easy to forget that the boys of NWA were just out of high school, clearly products of their time and place, yelling at their loudest, most hyperbolic statements just to be heard. Despite this obscenity-laden youthful vigor, a strong concept in Ice Cube’s work is what it means to be a man. NWA often resorts to violence and very misogynistic attitudes toward women, but by the time Cube’s debut AmeriKKKas Most Wanted comes out in 1990, he’s self-reflective enough to create something like “A Man’s World” which is a near-critique of his own attitudes toward woman.

“A Man’s World” features female rapper Yo-Yo fighting back at Ice Cube for his views on women (see “I Ain’t tha 1”) in a full on rap battle. Cube’s attitude toward women has always been questionable from those early NWA days to his quick conversation with Shalika in Boyz ‘n the Hood. But something like “A Man’s World” hints at a thread of compassion that negates some of his hatred.

Ice Cube’s work grapples with what it means to be a man and this includes his treatment of women, along with what it means to be a father. It is a commonly spoken (and mostly true) idea that within African-American families the father is absent. Yet one of the emphases of manhood in Ice Cube’s films is fatherhood–being a father is essential and throughout his career Cube has been fathered and had to father others.

Boyz n the Hood features one of the most iconic dad’s in movie history in Laurence Fishburne’s Furious Styles. Styles is wise, he’s a hard worker, and he’s a loving father–but he never changes who he is–a tough guy from the ‘hood looking out for his people. He’s an authentic portrait of a man, one who decries the violence between black men while pointing out the systematic injustice put upon them. He doesn’t give his son much ground, but still answers the phone saying “who dis?” and early on offers advice like: “Any fool with a dick can make a baby, but only a real man can raise his children.” Though he doesn’t play Cube’s father in the film, he is important to remember as Cube’s film career evolves.

Friday centers around Ice Cube’s Craig who has just lost his job, leaving him home on a Friday. Craig’s father is sort of a ranting maniac, throughout the film he is given long speeches about pig’s feet, dog bites, and feces. Despite this, he has high expectations for his son whether it be about manhood (as quoted above) or telling him he needs to go back out and get a job. For all intents and purposes the wacky Jones family is actually quite stable.

In Barbershop (released in 2002, 7 years after Friday) Ice Cube is now about to become a father himself. Early on we see him trying to put together sound equipment in the garage, looking to do something bigger–to do something great for his kid to come. And while the film could have easily been about Cube’s nervousness about his upcoming fatherhood, it instead focused on Cube’s desire to build a legacy for himself.

In Ice Cube’s world fatherhood is a given and now with his son O’shea Jackson Jr. taking on the role of his father in Compton it seems as if it’s all come full circle.


This ain’t no Goddamn school of the blind, Calvin! This is the barbershop! The place where a black man means something! Cornerstone of the neighborhood! Our own country club! I mean, can’t you see that? Hell, that’s the problem with your whole generation. You know, y’all… you don’t believe in nothin’. But your father, he believed in something, Calvin. He believed and understood that something as simple as a little haircut could change the way a man felt on the inside.

From Barbershop

Cube’s a storyteller. In a world with few black leading men (as an exercise try to name ten leading black actors; its tough) Cube tells stories about people in his life. His work, especially the movies he’s starred in, feature a wide range of black characters very focused on community (or perhaps ‘hood) life. It’s almost as if Cube is trying to introduce his world to those outside of it, while telling stories of people he knows.

The front porch seen both in Boyz and Friday are perfect portraits of the comical, but often dangerous life that is always passing by South Central LA. The titular barbershop serves as the core tenet of community for those in Chicago.

The three films we’ve been discussing all feature a wide scope of intriguing characters, all shapes and sizes, with all sorts of motivations and intentions. Boyz has got the aforementioned Furious Styles, Cube’s Doughboy, and Cuba Gooding Jr.’s slightly geeky Tre. Friday’s has Craig, Christ Tucker’s Smokey, the strange and now cultural icon Felicia, Pastor Clever, Mrs. Parker, the old and crude proselytizing Jehovah’s Witness’, and Deebo as the town bully. Barbershop’s whole point is to give a taste of what goes on in an urban barbershop with the black role model hating Eddie, the troubled Ricky, intelligent Jimmy, the African immigrant Dinka, the wannabe Isaac, etc… The range of these characters shows a broad culture, one that refuses to be held into one or two categories or stereotypes and one that Ice Cube has worked hard to present to the public at large.


If you can be seen, you can be hit
If you can be hit, you can be killed

From “Approach to Danger”

Despite these often comical characters, violence pervades the world of Cube. Sometimes it’s more up front like in Compton‘s braggadacio or John Singleton’s portrayal of LA in Boyz, but other times it’s like background noise. Violence plays like a radio in the background, when it’s always there, you hardly notice it.

I think Friday works so well because of its comical stoner and slacker bits, but also because Craig and Smokey legitimately face danger in a moment’s notice. The day features a growing fear that Smokey will not have paid back his debts by the end of the day, but it’s a fear not nearly as acknowledged as it might be in another film. Suddenly the time comes and the boys are in a shoot out, running for their lives from people with automatic weapons.

It’s notable that both Boyz and Friday have scenes where the protagonists are faced with decisions about what to do with the guns being held in their hands. It’s also notable that each character’s father pleads to them to give up their violent intentions–again negating the idea of the absent father. Manhood and violence are often intertwined and Cube’s career has walked this tension.

The films often deplore violence, while NWA is covered in it, but even their calls for violence come as a response to their own fears. “Real Nigg** Don’t Die” showcases this fear with MC Ren rapping “All I see is nig**s getting harassed/And can’t do nothin about it but get a foot in they ass, yo/But if every nig** grabbed a nine/And started shootin motherfu**ers it would put ’em in line”. When tensions rise, people are provoked, violence often becomes the only way to express that frustration.


There are plenty of other themes throughout the work of Ice Cube and it could easily be argued that Cube himself is not actually responsible for some of this work (he wrote Friday but the other films talked about were written and directed by others), but the repetition of themes was profound enough to inspire this piece. He may not be examining manhood, expanding culture, or telling tales of violence like he once was, but as the upcoming biopic shows his presence is still felt.

Pop Culture This Week: 8/3

This week in popular culture!

MUSIC 8/7

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Dr. Dre “Compton: A Soundtrack” Dr. Dre is back just in time for the release of the biopic of his life. The new album comes out inspired by the film and also in place of other albums supposed to be released last year. It’s an exciting time for fans of early 90s hip-hop in which the genre seems to be placing itself into the oldies category. “Compton” features three guest spots from current rap king and fellow Compton-ite Kendrick Lamar as well as contributions from Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, and more.

Mac DeMarco “Another One”

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Slacker rock king Mac DeMarco releases an eight track album filled with low key love songs. If you like are pretty into love songs then this is like a pretty chill record to send to your gf. Whatevs. (Plus he gives out his address for you!)

Night Beds “Ivywild”

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Apparently quite different from the debut album, “Ivywild” is not necessarily being heralded for these changes, but critics seem to admit Winston Yellen is doing something here. Rather than the calm alt-rock/pop of “Country Sleep”, Night Beds goes heavy on the experimental side of R&B with background synths and auto-tuned vocals. On first listen it seems to be very reminiscent of the work of Nate Ruess (of fun. and solo fame), but without all the Disney and Queen influences.

Robyn & La Bagatelle Magique “Love is Free”

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A new EP from pop’s critical darling.

Frank Turner “Positive Songs for Negative People”

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The acoustic folk punk stylings of Frank Turner return here with an album that perfectly describes the MO of Turner: Positive Songs for Negative People. Turner appeals most to those on the edges of the punk scene armed with that ethos, but one that strives for songs that can be strummed rather than sped through.

HEALTH “Death Magic”

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Noise rock with lots of synth, the new record drives forward in an almost industrial rock type way, it’s no surprise they’ve been brought in to record video game soundtracks because these songs are sonically intense and emotive.

Other: Chelsea Wolfe “Abyss”; Gangrene “You Disgust Me”

MOVIES 8/5

Shaun the Sheep

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Alas, a film that I’ve already seen! No this is not because rich execs at a movie studio saw the great work I’ve been doing on this blog and decided to give me a screener, rather I, being an international traveler had the opportunity to watch this–a British film–on a British airline. No lie, I fell asleep during this movie–this is mostly due to being a very tired traveler–and the movie is actually really funny filled with the sort of gags you would expect from an Aardman Animation production (Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run).

8/7

The Gift

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A thriller that promises to be quite intense and gripping. Joel Edgerton wrote, directed, and co-stars alongside Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall. Bateman is always great as a pathetic yuppie and Rebecca Hall (Please Give, The Town) is one of the best actresses working today, so the cast is definitely loaded. Critics seem to be in on it so far (eight positive reviews) and it could be the perfect film to take us right out of summer and into the fall prestige season.

Fantastic Four

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At first the young, hip, and multicultural cast seemed very promising. Anybody who has watched television over the last decade knows that Michael B. Jordan can act (The Wire, Friday Night Lights, Parenthood). But rumors have been swirling all around that the film seems destined to crash and burn. Director Josh Trank looked promising with his debut Chronicle, but was fired off of his Star Wars universe project. Apparently the cast hasn’t seen the film yet and critics can’t talk about it until two days before it comes out–huge signs the studio wants to hide how bad it is rather than try to build momentum for it. This one’s looking more Terminator: Genisys than Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

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The film’s content may not appeal to all (a young girl has an affair with her mom’s boyfriend), but critics are calling it poignant in a look at the troubled life of a young girl.

Ricki and the Flash

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A Meryl Streep starring, Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Rachel Getting Married) directed, Diablo Cody (Juno) written film that despite everything mentioned look pretty awful. It follows Streep as an aging rock star that comes back to attempt her family get back on the right track despite their tenuous relationship. Like I said, the combination of Streep, Demme, and Cody seems like it should work, but oh the trailer is filled with such cheese.

Dark Places

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Based on a Gillian Flynn novel (author of the excellent novel and film Gone Girl), Dark Places looks to capitalize off of last year’s successful adaptation. Charlize Theron stars as … and the combination of her acting talent along with the twisty thriller this is bound to be makes it sound promising. However, critics do not seem to be on board with this assertion and the attempt to emulate last year’s success may cause Places to slip through the cracks. If the promise of a Theron lead, Flynn thriller is enough for you then certainly check it out.

Cop Car

Two kids take a joyride in an empty police car leading to unexpected consequences (Kevin Bacon starts chasing them around). It’s hard to tell whether this is more of a boys will be boys type genre a la Mud or Mark Twain novels or if this is a modern social commentary on the ways in which police enact violence, because these are two very different tones. I’ve embedded the trailer, so I guess you can see for yourself.

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet

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An animated film based on the teachings/poetry of Kahlil Gibran (a popular Lebanese-American poet). The film is a series of vignettes inspired by the poetry included in Gibran’s most famous work:The Prophet.

Two Step

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A low-budget Southern neo-noir involving a troubled teenage boy, a con man, and a violent landlord. Plot descriptions and the trailer don’t seem to reveal everything that’s happening, but it is reminiscent of last year’s excellent Blue Ruin–a violent, yet slow moving thriller about the ways mankind enacts harm upon one another.

Other: Call Me Lucky; Sneakerheadz; The Runner; The Falling

TELEVISION

8/4

Playing House (USA)

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Season one was about two best friends who live together and raise one of their children and it got glowing reviews due to the comedy partnership of Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham. I haven’t seen it, but I can attest to the fact that St. Clair and Parham are brilliant in their guest appearances on Comedy Bang Bang and their new podcast based around their Bang Bang characters called WOMP it Up!

8/5

Difficult People (Hulu)

Billy Eicher (of Billy on the Street and Parks & Rec) and comedian Julie Klausner play versions of themselves–two comedians longing for success in New York City. It’s sure to be manic and probably occasionally funny depending on how much you can take Eichner’s screaming and high maintenance humor.

Mr. Robinson (NBC)

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Craig Robinson joins a long line of comedians given their own sitcom based around their own personality. It looks really broad, but at the same time you can’t help but feel good for Robinson who really rose through the ranks, from being a bit player in The Office to one of its stars, to a fairly unsuccessful movie star to now having a TV show where his name is meant to bring in viewers.

8/6

The Daily Show (Comedy Central)

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The Daily Show with Jon Stewart comes to an end this Thursday in what is sure to be a bittersweet goodbye. Look forward to many think pieces, listicles, and other internet fodder all of this week as we reflect back on its impact.

8/7

Club de Cuervos (Netflix)

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An interesting choice by Netflix here, bringing in an original Spanish language series about a family that owns a Mexican soccer team. It looks to be a wide mix of comedy and soapish drama. It’s certainly intriguing and hopefully good.

8/8

Funny Or Die Presents America’s Next Weatherman (TBS)

A strange mix of brands here as comedy web site Funny or Die brings a Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice) reality show about weathermen to TBS. Bound to be at least somewhat self-aware, this could end up being a comically enjoyable take on reality television.