"Y eah, there's something to offend just about everybody." Ice Cube, rap star and now actor, is talking about his new album, "Death Certificate."
When Ice Cube made his acclaimed acting debut last summer in "Boyz N the Hood," director John Singleton's surprise hit film, there were some who said that the Los Angeles rapper was going to soften his hard-boiled image and message.
But the new album, just released by Priority Records, is sure to be an even more controversial examination of inner-city life and tensions than his widely debated 1990 debut, "AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted." (See review, Page 78 . )
Much like Public Enemy's Chuck D., Ice Cube seems to feel that the best way for most blacks in America to improve their condition is to become self-dependent rather than rely on the white power structure. Indeed, almost everyone in the album outside the inner-city black community is seen as the enemy of change. Among the targets: Jews, Koreans, police and even middle-class blacks. And gays and women are not spared his derision.
The 22-year-old rapper (real name O'Shea Jackson) plans to continue his film career--he's due to begin work late this month on "Looters," an urban action movie directed by Walter Hill. But he insists that his primary interest remains music.
Ice Cube is accustomed to controversy. He wrote some of the key tracks on N.W.A's "Straight Outta Compton"--the album that popularized the explosive gangsta rap movement in 1989 when he was still a member. So, as he sits in the office of his production company in South-Central Los Angeles, not far from where he grew up, he was more than ready to talk without apology about the volatile themes in his new album.
"The truth is I don't care what the white community thinks about the record," he says. "I'm talking directly to my black brothers and sisters. I speak in a language we talk in the streets. Other people can listen too--they might learn something--but I'm talking to the black kids who need somebody to talk sense--honest sense--to them."
Question: Some people thought after "Boyz N the Hood" that you would soften your music to capitalize on the attention and develop a more mainstream audience. But it doesn't seem like that's the case.
Answer: Ice Cube don't go soft for anybody. I'll never be mainstream anything. I'll never get too far from the streets. You can have a fancy house and fancy cars and money in the bank and still stay close to the streets. If I do get into the mainstream, I'll do it my way.
Q: How do you like being an actor?
A: It's cool. It's something I never thought I'd do. When John (Singleton) came to me about the movie, I wanted to give it a try. But it's harder than it looks and I have more respect for actors now. Still, I can give movies up tomorrow. They're secondary to me. It's more important for me to stay in a position to help the black community in some way.
Q: Was there anything you didn't like about the way the movie was handled?
A: I didn't like the way the studio treated the black press. When we (Ice Cube and Singleton) were doing interviews for the movie, they had us doing all mainstream white press. We didn't realize that was happening until it was way too late to do anything about it. They shut out the black press. And this is for a movie aimed at black people, who read the black press. That whole thing stunk.
Q: Film executives probably aren't used to dealing with a tough guy from the streets. Has it been hard dealing with them?
A: A lot of them are nervous just talking to me. I don't try to be threatening, but some of them stumble all over their words when they talk to me and act like they've never talked to a black person before. I can deal with that. What I can't deal with is them talking down to me. I had to straighten some of those fools out--and let them know that it doesn't pay to mess with me.
Q: Why did you chose a film like "Looters," a Hollywood action film, rather than another film about problems in the community?
A: I think it's good for the kids to see black faces on the screen in all kinds of movies. Every movie doesn't have to be about the black families in the ghetto. This one is about money and how it can make people turn evil.
Q: Why are you so angry on your records? Don't you think that keeps some people from even listening to the message?
A: Because there's so much in this world to be angry about--particularly if you're black. I'm angry when I don't get respect--when blacks don't get respect. Not that I don't have fun sometimes, because I do, but when I'm making records, I'm serious. There are points I want to get across.
I have a 7-month-old son. I want to make the world better for him--so he won't have to grow up like I did, watching out for people--white and black--who are ready to stab you in the back. I've got to do something --through my rapping, I guess--to make things better. Maybe there won't be any changes in my son's lifetime, but maybe things will be better by the time his kids come along.
Q: What's the underlying theme of "Death Certificate"?
A: There are a couple. I want to see my brothers and sisters on a higher economical level and treating themselves with more respect. Another point I make is that the American Dream is not for blacks. Blacks who (still believe in that dream) are kidding themselves. There's only room in that dream for a few blacks. What I try to do is tell the kids the truth . . . the brutal, harsh truth--pulling no punches--about what's out there in the world.
Q: There's a reference in the liner notes to the Nation of Islam. Are you a follower of that religion?
A: My religion isn't important. Would you ask Madonna about her religion, or Bruce Springsteen?
Q: But you brought up religion in the liner notes by saying that "the best place for a young black male or female is the Nation of Islam."
A: I haven't officially (joined) the Nation of Islam, but I will say the Nation of Islam has the best program for young black men. I don't, however, want to dwell on this. It's really nobody's business. Talking about my religion would spook some people. They'd be saying Ice Cube is a Muslim and would go off thinking certain things. They'd be misinformed because so many people are misinformed about this religion. I don't want to say what I am, because people won't understand.
Q: Your records describe the plight of inner-city blacks in detail. What do you see as the path to a better lifestyle?
A: Unity. It's unite or perish. Without unity blacks get trampled by the structure. That's how the power structure got us in the first place--by dividing and conquering us. Blacks are scattered, they need to network, through a massive union of organizations, churches and schools.
The Nazis almost wiped out the Jews, but they survived because of unity. If blacks unite on a big level and start this major plan to improve their situation, many will come to the conclusion that some sort of separatism is the answer.
Q: Does this mean that you advocate black separatism?
A: Blacks need to be separated so we can learn who we are and learn to love each other. So many people are poisoning black minds and putting their programs on the black man. We do need to separate ourselves on some level--maybe not total isolation--but some kind of separatism to create the identity that we don't have as a people.
Q: How will you respond if someone says that the album is just plain hatemongering?
A: What I'll say is: Will the real haters please stand up? How can somebody call me a hater, when there are some real haters around in the white power structure? Who has proven to be a real hater? Who is leading the hatred of blacks in South Africa, of blacks in America? What I'm doing is not hatred--it's education.
Anything I say--if they choose to call it hatemongering--is minor compared to the kind of hatred whites have been expressing toward blacks for centuries.
Q: Some people think you're anti-white--racist actually--because of some of your comments on your records. What's your response to that charge?
A: It's not true. If you're strongly pro-black some people make the mistake of thinking you're anti-white. I think there are a lot of bad white people who have been exploiting my people since the days of slavery. I don't like them. But it's not all white people who are bad. Sometimes you make generalities to get a point across.
Q: What about the comments that some will say are anti-Semitic--like saying that (your former manager) Jerry Heller is a Jew in "No Vaseline" or that line in "True to the Game" where you say that "whites and Jews, who are they to be equal to?"
A: I'm not against Jews in either one of those songs. In that one place I'm describing (Heller), I'm just doing what they do in the media. When they describe someone they often say he's black or Korean or Japanese or Muslim. That's all I'm doing. Saying he's a Jew doesn't mean I don't like Jews or I'm using that word as a negative. I don't like him, but it's not because he's Jewish.
In "True to the Game" the point is gettin' down on blacks who make money and try to act white and forget their roots. I'm saying blacks don't have to measure themselves against anybody--whites or Jews or fill-in-the-blank. I'm not singling out Jews, despite the way it seems. I respect Jews. They're united in a way I would like to see blacks unite.
Q: Blacks don't escape your wrath either, particularly on "True to the Game." Is it primarily some of the upwardly mobile blacks that you have a problem with?
A: Yeah. It's the blacks who are trying to be white. In that song, I go after them, explaining how they've betrayed their own people.
Q: The song "Black Korea" is a diatribe against the Korean businessmen in the black community. Is it a response to the recent shooting of the black teen-ager by the Korean grocer in Los Angeles?
A: No, it's inspired by everyday life in the black community with the Koreans. Blacks don't like them--and it's vice versa. There's a lot of hatred there. The Koreans have a lot of businesses in the black community. That shooting is just proof of the problem, just another example of their disrespect for black people. You go in their stores and they think you're going to steal something. They follow you around the store like you're a criminal. They say, "Buy something or get out."
If it hasn't happened to you, you can't know how bad it feels for somebody to make you feel like a criminal when you're in their store and you haven't done anything.
Q: Right now tensions are high and black and Korean leaders are trying to work together to improve relations between the groups--don't you think "Black Korea" might make a bad situation worse?
A: If anything, it could make things better by letting the Koreans know blacks have reached the boiling point. It's a statement of the problem. It gets the problem even more out in the open and lets more people know that the Koreans--and it's not all of them but some of them--are disrespecting black people. The song is meant to be a warning to Koreans--in strong, threatening terms. If things don't get better, we're just going to burn their stores down.
Q: Do you think the white system will ever clamp down on you--like the record company censoring your records?
A: The key for these companies is making money. They don't care about the message. As long as I keep selling records that's all they care about. Give them a Nazi record, and if they can make money off it, they will. If they couldn't make money off me, then they'd clamp down.