The street-smart solo rapper and N.W.A. frontman dishes on his hip-hop career, which MCs he respects, police brutality, and why he’s still angry after all these years.
In 1990, Ice Cube was standing at the crossroads of his still-young career. Money disputes had led to his departure from seminal rap group N.W.A., and it wasn’t as if all of hip-hop was expecting solo greatness from the raging young rapper. But what Cube ultimately delivered was one of the fiercest hip-hop albums ever made, a harsh glimpse into the experiences of a young, black man from Compton, California, set against a sonic backdrop of vicious beats and earsplitting funk.N.W.A. had put Compton on the map two years earlier with their 1988 albumStraight Outta Compton. But where that classic focused on hedonism and machismo, Cube’s solo debut, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, offered a more insightful and fully-developed portrait of a misunderstood and marginalized culture. Cube’s acclaimed and controversial first album is 25 now, and with a biopic about his legendary former group set to hit theaters this summer, Cube reflects on those days and admits that his time in N.W.A. was always a mixed blessing.“The members of the group wasn’t as political as me,” he explains. “They didn’t really want to talk about all of these different angles that we were faced with. They wanted to just talk about street shit. Street shit is cool, but you’ve gotta understand why you’re street. You’ve got to understand where it’s coming from. Why do we act the way that we act? There’s a source for that. I was a big fan of Public Enemy, who explored all of that. I wanted to do the same thing.”All this time later, Cube has love for his former bandmates (“A lot of people don’t understand that this was a brotherhood. It was more than a group.”), but it’s well-documented why he had to go his own way. As almost any hip-hop fan knows, Cube was the primary writer for N.W.A. and solo star Eazy E, but he received meager compensation for his work on two multiplatinum albums, the aforementioned …Compton and Eazy’s Eazy-Duz-It. His grievances led to a refusal to sign a new contract with Ruthless Records founders Eazy and Jerry Heller (also the group’s manager.)