ICE CUBE at Kool Haus (132 Queens Quay East), Saturday (August 19), 9 pm. $29.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Ice Cube’s gangsta cred is in deep trouble.
It suffered a near-critical drive-by last year when he starred in Are We There Yet?, a family flick about one brother's ordeal with his prospective girlfriend's kids during the road trip from hell.
Even though the former NWA member'd been building up to the project with more accessible movie roles (compare his breakthrough, 91's "Doughboy" Darin in Boyz N The Hood, to Calvin in 02's Barbershop), this was his first movie aimed directly at the Nickelodeon crowd.
It was Cube's biggest hit yet, generating $82 million (and that was before almost 4 million DVDs were sold). The rapper also executive-produced.
But sadly, even after his prior comic turns in the Friday movies not to mention playing Danny Rich in Anaconda and blessing my generation with the priceless line "There's snakes out here this big!?" in 2005, the original hiphop community was not having this Are We There Yet? shit.
For folks who'd grown up on militant Ice Cube records like AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, Kill At Will and Death Certificate, among others, this soft-sold version of the man who once threatened a repeat of the L.A. riots wasn't worth their continued support.
It's one of the reasons why his latest album, the hot Laugh Now, Cry Later (Da Lench Mob), only went gold, a sales dip after the gangsta rap pioneer dropped a slew of platinum and multi-platinum records throughout the 90s.
After a busy day of shooting Are We Done Yet? (that's right, it's Are We There Yet? 2) deep in the forest of BC, Ice Cube calls me up. The once controversial artist explains why he loves making these G-rated features:
"Are We There Yet? was my chance to introduce myself to the kids of my fans," says the rapper born O'Shea Jackson.
But does he worry about the inevitable criticism that he's no longer hardcore?
"I think about it, but I don't dwell on it. It is what it is. You know, I'ma be real. Hiphop is about hustlin', and that's what we doin'. If somebody's gonna think I'm not real because I did a movie that I'm acting in, that's kinda silly anyway, so I ain't even trippin' on that."
Suddenly, his voice rises. "But I can do it both cuz I can rap with the best of 'em and I can act with the best of 'em."
The names George Clooney, Eazy-E, Jennifer Lopez, Samuel L. Jackson, Jon Voight, Dr. Dre, Mark Wahlberg, George Clinton, Snoop Dogg, Owen Wilson and Lil' Jon come to mind.
"But," he jousts, "most of the people who talk that shit still go see my movies. Most of them hiphoppers that got something to say about me doin' movies got Friday and all them others in their collection, so to me it's ass-backwards."
Cube's not really trippin' on detractors. That goes for his pending hiphop beefs, too. For example, he refuses to get too deep into his falling out with Mack 10 of his mega-selling side group Westside Connection (which in 96 effectively wiped East Coast hiphop off the charts).
The star is, however, a little more open about his recent high-profile squabble with Oprah, his most publicized beef since Louis Farrakhan had to squash the conflict between him and Common in 94.
In the May 06 issue of FHM Magazine, Cube is quoted complaining that Winfrey hasn't allowed him on her program despite three projects pitched at her.
Citing the fact that "she's had damn rapists, child molesters and lying authors on her show," an angry Cube joined 50 Cent and Ludacris, forming a powerful top-40 rap triumvirate of Oprah blacklisters.
Sez Cube, he's not really all that pissed but the boycott, like the beat, does go on.
"I mean, I'm cool with it. I ain't mad about whether she had me on her show or not. I ain't trippin' on that. But you know, you ain't gon' have me on the show, you ain't gonna have none of my projects on the show either."
He continues: "That's embarrassing, you know what I mean? You know what? You ain't gonna support me? Don't put none of my shows on there neither, cuz we don't need none of your support at all. That's all I say to that. Cuz you know, I done got here without Oprah. You know what I mean? It ain't like she got something I need."
Among the Ice Cube-spearheaded productions unavailable to Oprah: Black. White., a heavily criticized reality TV show on FX in which an African-American family and a Caucasian family wear makeup to "swap races," and the upcoming Last Friday (Friday, Part 4, including the grand return of Chris "MIA Since Rush Hour 2" Tucker).
Also out of Oprah's reach in the future, the story of "pimp laureate" Iceberg Slim, to which the entrepreneurial rapper bought the rights a few years ago. The wheels on the movie, however, aren't yet in motion because no one's stepped up with a suitable budget.
"We can't be doin' no $10, $12 million period piece [Slim was born in 1918]," Cube laughs. "You know what I mean? What's it gonna look like? What, we're gonna have one old car riding down the street? Come on. So, you know, they don't want to put the money it takes to do it right yet. I don't want to make a story about a pimp; I want to make a movie about a person."
But the least likely of Cube's new projects for Oprah to consider is probably his new album, Laugh Now, Cry Later. The record has come under fire for not being relevant enough, and, following in the footsteps of Anaconda co-star Jennifer Lopez, Cube has been dissed for making music that's just an accessory to his stardom.
But the LP itself, and the way he speaks about it, are both sincere. And I'll take the Lil' Jon-produced single Go To Church over Snap Yo' Fingers any day. Whether he's reminiscing about the old days on Grown Up or attacking George W. on The Nigga Trapp, Cube sounds in his element, sneer and all.
"I wanted to do a record strictly for my fans. Record labels, they don't really talk about fans; they talk about market shares and SoundScan and charts, you know?" he says, explaining in the process why this is the inaugural release on Cube's new label, Da Lench Mob.
"I just wanted to do a record for people that's been down with Ice Cube since day one. I wanted to do a record that sounds like a vintage record but is up to date."
And it wouldn't be classic Cube without a song you can puff-puff-pass-out to. Smoke Some Weed is one of the finest songs on the topic of the last few years, featuring my favourite lyrical intro of late: "George Bush, George Clinton, Bill Clinton / Chris Farley, Chris Rock, Bob Marley / Rick James knew how to throw a party smoke some weed!"
Speaking of which, says Cube, he's had no trouble out in Vancouver on that score.
"It's been real good real good. I been laced with a few different kinds, and all of it's done the trick, you know what I mean?" he laughs.
"So I never worry about that when I come up this way. I always know it's gonna be right."
In his 15 years on the screen, Ice Cube has been one of the most successful rappers turned actors. Says Cube, he's just making the same jump as musicians like Nat King Cole, Elvis, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. One of his strengths has been his versatility - here, O'Shea Jackson reminisces about a handful of his flicks.
Three Kings (David O. Russell, 1999)
"I was kinda confused a lot, because we shot the movie so out of order. The director, David O. Russell, is so crazy, and him and Clooney was fighting all the time. So the movie was as chaotic as the war was. For real."
Friday (F. Gary Gray, 1995)
"We was havin' so much fun that we got scared. We was like, 'Are we making a movie? It's too fun around here. Is the movie even gonna be good?' Because you're not supposed to have this much fun. But at the same time, we were under such pressure -- we only had 20 days to do it. So with Friday, we was, like, you know, naive, but good."
Next Friday (Steve Carr, 2000), Friday After Next (Marcus Raboy, 2002)
"We had a ball. Those are actually the funnest sets I've ever been on, because we knew what we was doing and we knew that people dug the franchise. And people always debate which movie they like the best, you know. For me, you can't top number one."
XXX: State Of The Union (Lee Tamahori, 2005)
"I wish I could have run out and promoted the movie like I promote all my movies. But the movie company really just went with the brand, like XXX is the star. I didn't like that part."
Are We Done Yet? (Steve Carr, 2007)
"It's going cool. We're doing it slightly older, cuz the kids have gotten slightly older, but just a little older. But it's cool, because I think the fans of the first one have grown up a little bit, too. So we pushin' the comedy a little more than before."