"When I was 16, if someone asked me what kind of career and life I wanted to have, I would have shortchanged myself. If I wrote it out then, it wouldn't have come close to the reality. There was no template then, no way to picture where hip-hop was going to go."
As he talked, Cube continued scrawling his moniker across the posters, some of them emblazoned with the logos of "War and Peace" or "AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted," albums that came out years ago. He started talking about Dre, the other kid-turned-titan from N.W.A. Cube is contributing to Dre's upcoming (and oft-delayed) album, and it's clear that he's happy old rifts have healed. He reminisced about their scruffier days, toiling on "Straight Outta Compton."
"I think about going to Audio Achievements at the end of Van Ness right there in Torrance. That's where we recorded. It was a textbook '80s studio, the wood paneling on the walls. It was cold in there too. We were used to working out of the garage, man, where it was sweaty and muggy. We were in jackets, and our teeth are chattering."
What made the album so special? Cube said it was a moment in time bottled up and shaken until it exploded. The inner-city black experience, in the land of palm trees, was suddenly given a sound, and it was like an air raid siren. "You can hear the frustration with the situation. We tried to have fun with it, but the music was reflecting what was going on in the neighborhood. Living in the 1980s: Just trying to get by day-by-day in places where crack was huge and the police were crazy."
Cube said history showed that that raunchy, wildly violent album might have been plenty of pulp, but it also wasn't entirely fiction. "Then the Rodney King thing happened a few years later, and then all over the world people looked and said, 'Hey, those guys from Compton were right.' "
Cube isn't a fan of the rap on radio these days -- it's too formulaic, escapist-minded and predictable, he said. He went back recently and listed to the old record one more time. He winced when he heard his old cadence ("Do you like everything you made when you were 17?") but marveled at Dre's music architecture.
He grinned: "Looking back on things, you know, it's not the healthiest thing to do, right? Especially when you're only 39. I still feel like my best work is ahead of me. But going back and listening, I understand why people liked N.W.A. I understand why it changed things. I liked it too."