Ice Cube: Quality control

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Ice Cube takes his role as one of hip-hop's elder statesmen seriously, and he clearly has no plans to soften his attack

For the first time in the history of urban music, kids in America are getting down to the same genre their parents grew up on. But that doesn’t mean they agree on what that music should sound like. While it may be true that Pops and Junior both bump hip-hop records, the rap that the young guns worship is a universe away from the beats and rhymes that the 30- and 40-something crowd revere. The older heads can’t stand the reckless dope-boy lyrics, the mindless snap beats, and watered-down radio pop that currently dominates airwaves—and they want their damn hip-hop back. This ever-widening generation gap isn’t just happening across dining-room tables. The conflict has taken centre stage in the music industry in the past year, as the up-and-comers (who often refer to themselves as ’80s babies) routinely take shots at rap royalty.

Ice Cube isn’t having it. The 37-year-old godfather of gangsta rap isn’t about to let the young’uns run buck wild. In a wickedly funny dis track, “Child Support”, off his seventh solo disc, Laugh Now, Cry Later, he puts mouthy aspiring rap stars in their place. “Boy, you a fool, or you just act crazy/You a grown crack baby born in the ’80s,” he taunts. “I’m the father of this gangsta shit/Never thought I’d have a bunch of bastard kids.” The track milks this errant-child bitch slap for all it’s worth, with Cube playing the role of the disgusted parent and running down the white-T troops’ list of offences, including being obsessed with “pussy and money”, constantly beefing, and pumping out “brainless crap” in search of a couple of dollars.

“When it comes to rap, I want to hear skills on the mike, dope beats, creative topics, good delivery,” Cube explains, on the line from Los Angeles. “Everybody’s hustling, ain’t nobody rapping,” he continues. “Everyone wants to get paid. The audience becomes like a booty call. Like, ”˜I only want the money. I’m not going to give you no quality.’ Which ain’t cool. People pick up on that. I just want to give quality. You give quality, and then the money and all that other stuff will come.”

Cube calls “Child Support” a history lesson to new MCs.

“It’s a lesson for the future, too, as far as what MCs need to do in the game and how they need to conduct themselves,” he explains. “It’s also, to me, hip-hop at its finest—when you can take a topic and break it down and make it into a metaphoric rhyme. That’s what I always loved about hip-hop. I just wanted to make a song that was conceptually tight.

“And it’s a message to all the ones that want to take a shot at the kid,” he continues. “I can battle rap with the best of them.”

Cube—who recorded arguably the best dis track of all time with “No Vaseline”, a scathing critique of his former manager, Jerry Heller—exploded onto the world stage in the late ’80s as a member of the seminal gangsta rap group N.W.A. Since splitting from the Compton crew, he’s gone on to enjoy a long and respected career as a solo artist, during which he’s become known for his gritty, politically charged depictions of inner-city life. In recent years, Cube’s been seen on-screen more than on-stage, starring in the Friday and Barbershop flicks, which he also produced, along with the controversial TV reality series on race, Black.White.

For all his success in Hollywood—his net worth is estimated at US$145 million—rap remains Cube’s first love. After a six-year hiatus, last June he dropped Laugh Now, Cry Later, a solid West Coast rap outing that reaffirms his relevance to the game. Over the course of 20 songs, the outspoken lyricist takes aim at a range of targets—including California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, U.S. president George Bush, the prison system, and, of course, all of the wack ankle biters in hip-hop.

At the same time, Cube isn’t down with the grown-man rap movement that artists like Jay-Z and Nas have been forging. “I don’t like that term,” he explains. “Because you a certain age, that makes you feel like you gotta be a certain way—I don’t like that part. Just because people in their 30s or 40s, they don’t have to turn the music into something different. My thing is: keep doing hip-hop like you always been doing it. Why you gotta change? It softens it up. And that’s not the appeal of hip-hop. Hip-hop is the good, the bad, the ugly. Hip-hop doesn’t have a problem with showing you all of it.”

Ice Cube opens for Snoop Dogg at the Pacific Coliseum on Saturday (January 13).