Some people think the Internet is the greatest tool for musicians, but a lot of people feel it’s been the worst blow for the artists, making it hard to survive doing music. What do you think?
I think it’s a war on music going on right now. It’s a war against music. And it’s more than the Internet. I think it’s a conscious effort by all the major outlets—from TV and radio to retail—to let this thing die a slow death. The only freedom that ordinary people have to say anything and get people to listen on a mass level is through music. If you don’t own a TV station or you don’t own magazines, you can always go do a song that tells people how you feel. And people will listen to that song and some of them will say, “Hell yeah, I feel the same way.” There’s a common ground there, and that’s powerful! Especially in the hands of young, poor artists who are not being told what to say. To be able to stomp that out, to be able to stomp out true freedom of speech, it starts with the music. Because if I can make people not care about singers, rappers, or anybody like that, then you’re not gonna care about what they say. So next time somebody tell you: stop the violence, we’re headed for self-destruction! You ain’t gonna give a fuck, you ain’t gonna like nobody or nothing enough to care what they say. So it’s been an erosion of music on all levels. From not teaching music in schools, to the mainstream TV shows like BET and MTV not playing the music as much, and if they do they’re playing a weak watered down version of Rap. This is the erosion. Now the computer has basically made music worthless, it’s not worth nothing because you get music for free. They’re training themselves not to even buy music, because it’s silly to pay for music when you can go on the computer and get it for free. What that does is record labels is not giving out record deals. That means artists are out there with something to say and not getting heard. Fast-forward 40 years, 50 years from now. Will there be any artists doing anything or will it just be a lot of old music for people to listen to?
If Ice Cube were to be coming out right now with the way things are, there wouldn’t be an Ice Cube or NWA making the impression that you made 20 years ago.
That’s true. That’s what I’m tellin you. The new NWA, the new Ice Cube, may never be heard. The music industry is not lucrative enough for people to have dreams of doing it. It’s definitely a battle going on right now.
You’re saying that people don’t value music or the artists anymore. When I first heard you, you were like a god to me. We all looked up to you and listened to whatever you said. Now young people don’t have those types of hero figures.
That’s the essence of what I’ve been saying about the war on music. For one thing, to show that we’re mortals by picking us apart on this website or that website. They try to bring you down to an ordinary level. That’s to me what the TMZ’s of the world are really doing, taking the shine and luster off of being a celebrity. If I don’t look up to nobody then I’m not gonna look up to these outside influences. So when Stevie Wonder comes out with a song, or Ice Cube comes out with a song tellin me how to navigate through tough situations, I’m not listening to him enough to take the advice.
I was reading a book about Public Enemy called “Don’t Rhyme For the Sake of Riddling” and in there they have a whole chapter about Ice Cube called “Amerikkka’s Most Wanted”.
I haven’t seen that book yet. I’m gonna check it out. Sounds interesting.
What made you decide to reach out and connect with Chuck D? West Coast wasn’t doing music with the East Coast at that time.
I was a big fan of Chuck D before NWA blew up, when they first came out with “Yo! Bum Rush The Show” and of course “It Takes a Nation”. That was like my favorite Rap group. We had done NWA, and we had got a name for ourselves and we was finally on the show with Public Enemy. I just couldn’t wait to meet Chuck, and when I met him backstage he was so cool. He was into what we was doin. He liked how aggressive we were and that we was original. I exchanged numbers with Chuck. I had seen him a few more times after that on the road, doin shows. And every time we saw each other we would talk for a long time. When I was goin through my troubles with NWA I called Harry Ållen. I knew Harry Allen from bein on the road with Chuck. And I talked to him about me leaving NWA, and he was like, “You should talk to Chuck about it.” So I called Chuck and told him about leaving NWA. He was basically sayin, “If you can’t keep it together, good luck on what you’re doin.” We never talked about workin together. When I left the group, Priority gave me a solo deal. They were like, “Who do you wanna work with?” At the time 3rd Bass’ album was the shit, and the producer they had on there was named Sam Sever. I wanted to find him and do some beats, so I called Lyor at Def Jam and told him I was gonna fly out to New York and wanted to meet with Sam Sever. When I got to New York Sam Sever had stood me up; he didn’t come. As I was leaving Def Jam Chuck D walks in. He was like, “Yo, whatcha doin?” I was tellin him I’m tryin to get my album produced with Sam Sever. He was like, “Come down to the studio and talk to Hank Shockley about it. We’re doing a song with Big Daddy Kane tonight called ‘Burn, Hollywood, Burn’, you wanna be on it?” I was like, “Hell yeah!” When I got to the studio we cut the track. It was a dope track, everything was cool. Then Hank walked in and we started talkin about me leaving NWA and coming to New York tryin to find some production. Hank was like, “Why don’t you have us do the whole thing?” I jumped at it. Called my management like, “We’ve got the whole Bomb Squad!” So we started making plans about when we was gonna fly out and work.
Did you make that whole album in New York?
Most of the album was recorded in New York. I’d say about 90% of it.
How was it for you to be a West Coast artist in New York? Did it effect your music?
It made me focus a whole lot more, cause I had no distractions. We knew a few people in New York, but it wasn’t like LA. People would come by the studio like Stetsasonic and dude from X-Clan. People was comin by all the time. Prince Paul. It was cool to get a chance to rub elbows with the New York Hip Hop elite. I was in heaven cause I knew the production was gonna be tight, I knew the rhymes was gonna be tight. It was all about what magic we was gonna make when we got to the studio. It was just fun. I was lookin forward to it every day.
On your new album you state, “I Am The West”. Really Ice Cube is the West. But at that time your energy met with the East Coast music, that combination will never happen like that again. That was some magic.
I felt like everything lead toward making that happen. What if I had never run into Chuck D at Def Jam? He woulda never invited me to be on “Burn Hollywood, Burn”, and the record would’ve been totally different. All of those elements came together, where I saw fate step in and make it happen.
It’s not just that record that would have been different. The world would have been different. Hip Hop has effected the world in such a drastic way. I wonder if you even realize the impact that you have had on the world through Rap.
I know what you’re saying. In that period between ’87 and ’91 the records that came out at that time did change the world. Changed the way people thought of themselves, thought of authority. It sparked a movement. It connected people who were not connected before. But through Hip Hop similar minds connected to made moves to change things. It made things a little better, but there’s still a long way to go. It’s a little more understanding in the world.
Also it changed music all over the world. Anywhere you go in the world now, Hip Hop is happening and respected. Think about Southern Rap—that couldn’t have happened the way it did without people like you.
We opened it up for all artists in all walks of life to be themselves and not feel like they have to sugarcoat what they do or put on a façade to be accepted or to be recognized. We made it to where you could be yourself and still get the same respect as an artist that was super clean, like some bubblegum kind of Pop. That opened it up for TV and movies. It opened the world up to not be so unaccepting and censored. To be a little more open and honest.
A lot of young kids are playing your early CD’s now, going back and digging up the NWA and early Ice Cube records. Are you aware of that?
I have been hearing it here and there. When I go and do shows and I look out I see that it’s a young audience and an audience that’s my age out there. They’re both into it. What makes me continue to do music is for that. People can always discover it new, no matter how old the music is. It’s always there for people to discover, and it’s new to them. Like my grandmother used to watch old movies, and she’d be like, “Come watch this movie with me.” I’d be like, “I don’t wanna watch that old black and white movie. That’s old.” She’d say, “It’s new to you. You ain’t never seen it before!” That’s kinda the feeling I get when I play my music. People might not be on it the week I release it, but people might discover this stuff 5 years from now or 10 yeas from now. It’ll still be there. That’s the great thing about music, leaving a mark. A lot of people lose sight of that, so they lose the opportunity sometimes. They just put out bullshit instead of quality. I put out fun records, but I’m still trying to sprinkle some game into the records.
One of my all time favorite albums is that Lench Mob record you did. That was really an Ice Cube record.
Yeah. They were new to it, but they definitely were committed and believed in what we was doin. The Lench Mob, that to me is like taking Public Enemy and turnin it up and making a little more street, not so political. You can’t really do them kinda groups nowadays. If you do it’s gonna be a hard road to get recognition.
What I like about that project is it’s the darkest, grimiest record you ever did.
No doubt. “Guerrillas in tha Mist”, some of the shit on there is haunting. Especially that intro. That’s the kinda stuff we felt would get people’s attention and let them know there’s some serious pain goin on around here. We’re only doin music to express it. It’s a good way to take all that aggression and channel it.
On your new album you still come hard and have a great sound. But I always wish you would do something real dark like that Lench Mob record.
I know what you mean. With “Raw Footage” I started leaning more towards the political, cause I felt that it was a political year. With this album, it was supposed to come out in July so I wanted to make a summer record, a record that was not so heavy, more fun. But I think I’m at my best when I’m doin the political rhyming, even though it’s not as popular now. When you’re doing records you gotta just do what you feel. You can’t over think it.
With your political records they’re not just dry information. It’s more emotional. You put a lot of feeling into it.
If you can’t feel what I’m sayin, you ain’t gonna feel what I’m sayin. A record should make you feel like something at the end of the day. It shouldn’t just be noise.
It should leave a taste in your mouth.
Some kinda taste, either a good one, bad, something sweet or something sour. Don’t just be noise—not sayin nothin, beats don’t make me react, just there. I always felt like either you gonna love the shit outta this record or you’re gonna love the shit outta this record. You’re gonna do something. You’re not just gonna sit there and let it play, no reaction.
When I first heard “War & Peace” I wasn’t very excited about it because I felt like I had heard all the Ice Cube records. But now when I listen to “War & Peace” I really like it. That was an amazing album.
I always felt like those records were a little ahead of the curve. They were so experimental. They’re not really following any kind of regular Hip Hop “make money Pop” lane. It’s basically just dark Hip Hop music, kinda grimy. It’s really a listen-to record. It ain’t a record you dance to. It’s more of a headphone, just listen and vibe out kinda record.
When you go back and listen to your old records do you feel like that’s a different Ice Cube or that you’re the same person?
I feel like I’m the same. I just feel like I’ve got a better understanding of things. The young Cube would do “Burn Hollywood Burn” and make me wanna actually come down and burn Hollywood up. The new Cube would still make “Burn Hollywood Burn” but I realize you don’t burn it up from the outside; you burn it from the inside. That means you get in there and you change it. You make it better for your people or for any poor youngster coming in after you. That’s how you burn it. Not burn it to the ground cause then nobody makes money, nobody will benefit off it. We just want our share. So by me injecting myself into Hollywood and carving out a niche for careers like Chris Tucker’s and Mike Epps and Katt Williams—I am burning down Hollywood. It’s to where we can benefit off of it and not be destructive with it. That’s the tip I’m on. I think the main difference is that I want to be able to go in and make a real change, and not just bitch about it, cry and moan about it.
It’s incredible that a Gangsta rapper could become one of the biggest film actors of our time. You opened the door for a lot of rappers and Black entertainers to get in the movies.
No doubt. I can’t take all the credit. People like Run DMC had did movies before me. And if you look back over the years, you had music people like Elvis and Nat King Cole. I ain’t the first artist that started doing movies. But as far as Hip Hop, getting involved in producing and in writing movies—it showed that you can go deeper into this. You don’t have to just be an actor. You can actually make a difference, if you work hard.
When you started making this new album what was in your mind? Was there something in particular you wanted to get across?
I always go into a record with no concept. I hear a beat, write a rhyme, I’ll go record a record. And then I’ll record another record. At a certain point the record starts to take shape. It becomes clear: this is the direction we need to go in. That’s kinda how this record was. I did a few records and they all sounded kinda different. Then one just kinda caught on, I think it was “Drink the Kool-Aid”. Then I said, I’m gonna make a West Coast B-boy record. It’s not gonna be heavy or political; it’s just gonna be hardcore rhyming over West Coast beats. And we’re gonna celebrate the West Coast, cause it’s hard for us to get recognition. Forget running from it, we’re gonna celebrate it. That’s how the record started taking shape.
The music started talking to you and telling you the direction you should go with this record.
Yeah. Yeah. After you get 3 or 4 songs, the next songs you pick you start to say, “Does this fit the album?” Some records don’t really fit. Sometimes I record the song anyway and save it because it’s a good concept. Sometimes I just set the beat aside and say, “I’ll go back to this one when I do the record that fits this beat.” Cause I hate for records to be all over the place. I like to feel like they belong together in an album concept.
That’s one thing that makes Ice Cube albums so good. The whole record had a certain feeling, so you can just pop it in and play it through.
Just let it roll. It’s got a vibe. Chuck D taught me how to do that, how to sequence a record. Cause a record outta sequence—you could make “Thriller” sound bad if it’s in the wrong sequence. It’s all about how the records stack and how they play from one to another and what vibe and mood they give you from one song to the next. To me that’s an art form in itself, making sure the record has the right flow. Make sure that it feels like a constant concept and it doesn’t feel like, where did this song come outta nowhere? You have a super fast record that got you fuckin hype, and then the next song comes on all fuckin slow and takes your mood down. To me it’s a technique you need to pay attention to when you put together an album.
How do you put it all together? Do you play it in your car when you’re driving around or just do it all in the studio?
I have probably a million different orders that I play. Sometimes I’ll come into the studio, “Switch this song with that song and make me a CD.” Or I’ll come in and say, “Put it in this order now.” So my CD’s be in all kinda different orders, and I’ll listen to it and see how it make me feel. If you take this same record and switch the order around you will get a whole different feel. The whole album, you could make it more grimy or you can make it more fun and like “let’s roll!” it’s all different ways you can change the mood of an album in just the sequence, the song order.
When you first start doing an album, what kinds of things motivate you? Do you hear a beat or a song and it makes you want to get in the studio and make some records?
That’ll happen, like you hear somebody with a hit or somebody with some bangin shit, and you’ll be like, “Maaan!” It inspires you to record. I definitely get them feelings. Or just seeing something, or something pops into my head and I gotta write that down, that sounds like a song. And I’ll just wait for the beat, to find a beat that works with that concept. Or sometimes people send me music and it’s just bangin so much that I gotta go write. I’ll just go write to it.
What sounds do you look for? Do you still like the West Coast tracks that you were first using or is it other stuff now that interests you?
I like it all. I like anything that’s good or great. I’m not a person that feels like I gotta keep it G-Funk, West Coast Gangsta shit. I ain’t on that tip. I actually like people to do their own kind of Hip Hop. A lotta people after we came out started doing everything that we was doing, took our concept. I really like people to be unique and do their own thing.
Thank you for your time. You are still my hero, Cube!
Thank you. It’s always a pleasure talking to you, man. I always love what you’re doing at Murder Dog. Keep doing what you’re doin!
Murder Dog Magazine