Ice Cube's career in hard-core rap took a surprising turn after Calendar last spoke to him, in the spring of 1992, shortly after the L.A. riots.
At the time, Cube, who saw those days of terror in Los Angeles as an "uprising," not a riot, said he had just written a song that was a break from the anger and aggression of his past work: "It Was a Good Day," a wistful daydream about a day in the 'hood without violence.
Remarkably, the tune, which appeared later on his "The Predator" album, was so appealing that an edited version became a national hit on mainstream radio--something that once would have been considered impossible for hard-core rap.
But neither that mainstream success nor the commercial challenge posed by the accomplishments of his former N.W.A. partner Dr. Dre has caused Cube to abandon his hard-core approach. His new album, "Lethal Injection," contains some of the hardest-hitting raps of his career. The collection (see review, Page 66) is due in stores Tuesday.
Ice Cube--who starred in John Singleton's 1991 film "Boyz N the Hood" and has recently begun directing videos for himself and other artists--is now married and the father of a 2-year-old son.
In his office in the Crenshaw/Florence area, Cube, 24, spoke about the continued angry tone of his work, his image as a hard-core rapper and an upcoming album project with Dre.
"Sure I'm angry on my records, but not all the time. I do some positive, happy songs. I could do a whole happy record, but I wouldn't want to. My audience wouldn't like it, and I wouldn't either. If I ever did a record like that I'd do it in such a way that I wouldn't lose my audience. You think I like being angry? I don't. If things were better for my people, I wouldn't be angry at all."
"I hate the term gangsta rap , but I don't feel confined by my image. I know where the fence is--where the boundaries of the image are--and I tend to get up real close to the fence and push on it and push on it and push on it. That's my nature.
"I'm secure in my position. New rappers are coming in all the time, but if you deliver to the fans, they'll keep buying your records. People are always going to talk and say, 'He's slipping.' That comes with being around for a while. If the album is good and saying something different, people will buy it."
The New Album
"I make an effort to stay fresh and on top of things. 'Lethal Injection' is topical, with some messages and some humor. I know I put albums out fast--some people think faster than I should--but I have a lot to say, and I can't keep it bottled up. I'm already itching to do my next album."
Humor in Rap
"It's important. Humor is a natural part of hard-core rap. I use it a lot on this album. It's a big thing in the neighborhood, always trying to make people laugh, or insulting each other in a kidding way. Humor is part of all hard-core rap albums. It just doesn't get as much attention in the media as the violence and the language."
"Cave Bitch," the Album's Most Potentially Controversial Song
"Some people won't like that song. It hits at black men who chase white women. When people see a strong black man, like Charles Barkley or Barry Bonds, with white women, what does that say to the community? It says that to make it--or when you make it--you have to have a white woman on your arm. How do the sisters (black women) feel when they see that? The black community won't be offended by the song, but some whites may be--particularly white women chasing after brothers (black men)."
The Future of Hard-Core Rap
"Who knows? It's so unpredictable--constantly changing. If I make a prediction about what rap will be like in a year or two, I'd probably be dead wrong. Being a rapper is just like trying to ride a wave. You have to really struggle to stay on. Get lazy and you fall off."
"Dre's revolutionary. When everybody in rap went left, he went right. Rappers had gotten into all that yellin' and slammin', and he just did it differently--toned things down, added this and that. Dre also has substance other rappers don't have. We're going to collaborate on an album next year.
The Next Singleton Film
"It's called 'Higher Learning,' and it's about tension on a college campus. We're supposed to start filming in February. There's a possible movie called 'Defense' that Universal is considering. I wrote it, and I'd act in it too."
Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan
"I'm a follower. I love him because he speaks the truth. He's one of the only black leaders we have who won't sell us out. I've learned so much from him. He looks at rappers like me as ministers, passing out information favorable to him. There's nothing his enemies can say that will turn me against him."
"I feel my son is an important part of the chain linking us with the past. Just as my father and mother made me strong as a person, educating me about the struggle (of blacks for equality), hopefully I can do that for my son. You can be passive and selfish if you don't have a child. It's different when you have one. I have a stronger urge to make things better somehow through my rapping."