Onetime rebel Ice Cube furthers mainstream media empire with TBS' Are We There Yet?
But when I asked gangsta rapper Ice Cube whether his new TBS sitcom Are We There Yet? meant he was mimicking Tyler Perry -- the cross-dressing mogul who turned characters from his films into two successful, black-centered comedies for TBS -- the former O'Shea Jackson just laughed.
"I was successful before Tyler Perry but I definitely give him credit for pioneering this kind of a new deal structure, you know, with TBS," said Cube, calling into the podcasting studios at Times Central. "I think it made it much easier for us to come behind with a show and have them, you know, receptive to our version of what that is. They know the formula, they know how to do this, they know how to promote it. It’s the perfect place right now for any black show sitcom, but you gotta kinda have your team together. You gotta kinda, you know, really, really go into it knowing that … they’ll give you the room but you gotta pull it off."
It's an interesting bit of pop culture sleight of hand. Twenty years ago, Cube was the incendiary lyricist at the heart of one of rap's most controversial groups, N.W.A. (Niggaz Wit' Attitude), popping off songs such as F--- Tha Police and Gangsta Gangsta with bandmembers who would become founding fathers of a corrosive, confrontational style.
Now, he's a bona-fide auteur who has written and produced his own comedy films (Fridays, Are We There Yet?), a well-regarded ESPN documentary, and now, a black-centered sitcom on a cable channel once known mostly as a home for baseball games and Friends reruns.
I had a great time talking with Stuck in the '80s mastermind Steve Spears about Ice Cube and N.W.A.'s legacy for his podcast. I highly recommend checking it out by clicking here; audio of the interview with Cube is included.
Otherwise, you can check out the transcript of my talk with him by clicking below. Cube's TV version of Are We There Yet? debuts at 9 tonight on TBS. See a sample below:
Deggans: Nobody would expect that the guy who came up with the song F--- tha Police would be a kids’ movie star in Are We There Yet?. And then you take that and turn it into a family TV comedy. I mean, is it about that? Is it about keeping people guessing?
Ice Cube: Well, you know, I don’t think … I mean, I’ve been dedicated to show people you can’t judge a book by its cover, no way, no how, so in some ways, you know, I don’t mind that, you know. I love to keep people guessing because I don’t wanna be predictable. You know, I think you get boring, people kinda turn off what you’re trying to do in entertainment or whatever. So, me, I just try to make smart moves. I try to do things I think people wanna see and be a part of, you know. I stay out of the limelight until I got a project that’s worth, you know, showing to the public and I think people appreciate that part, too, you know, that I ain’t always in your face … and I think, you know, people kinda look forward to what I’m gonna do next, which is cool.
D: In NWA, it seemed you were about kicking over the system. You were about almost destroying the system and now it seems like you figured out a way to work the system. So, I mean, was there a point when you sorta realized that you could find more success in working the system than busting it up?
I: Well, I think, you know, change is good. You know, I don’t know if anybody really want to bust up the system. We just want a fair system, you know? Just change the system. I think we’ve done that with our music, you know. We, in some ways, made the people look at the police just … with different eyes, you know. Scrutinize ‘em a little more, you know. Now you have … the police are questioned and evaluated just as much as the suspects they bring in, so I think that’s a change. In Hollywood, you know, just changing the game saying, look, you don’t have to always be waiting, be an actor waiting for somebody to hire you. Go write your movie, you know? Put it together, with movies like Friday. So, you know, you could change the game in a lot of different ways. You could change from the outside or you could change from the inside. You know, I choose to change it from the inside ‘cause I think it’s more productive and I think people just are more receptive to that kind of change.
D: So when did you realize that? When did that understanding come to you and how did it come to you?
I: I mean, it came to me the first time I did a movie, Boyz in the Hood. I always figured that I didn’t wanna be on the outside of this camera, you know, without being on the inside, too. So I always wanted to be on both sides of the camera and change the game, hopefully inspire other youngsters who come out of the same situation that I’m in to try to put their movies together, pick up a camera, you know, be proactive with it.
D: So is it about controlling your image, about controlling what you put out there?
I: No, I’m not trying to control my image or nothing like that. I’m just trying to do good work, you know. Whether I’m doing a record or a movie, I just want it to be quality, worth people’s time and money.
D: Well, now, you know, there are gonna be people who will look at this sitcom that you’ve created and say that it’s too simple, that these characters aren’t dimensional enough or that it’s not sophisticated enough and that folks have gotten used to seeing black people in comedies like this. What would you say to folks who would say, you know, maybe this should be more sophisticated? Maybe this is a little too simple for black folks in 2010.
I: Well, you know, the thing is, is every sitcom needs a runway, it needs a place to launch from. You know, you gotta get to know these characters and get to know who they are before you can get into all these complex issues and themes that this, you know, in success, we’ll get to, so my thing is, enjoy the comedy and … you gotta get these things room to grow and kinda find their legs, these sitcoms. So, they gotta kinda find their niche and then you run with that, so we understand people are gonna look at that and say, okay, this is not a sophisticated … comedy that, I guess, you know, some people are pushing out there, but this is still going for a different kind of a flavor. You know, we ain’t trying to be a Seinfeld kind of thing, you know. We’re trying to have a family comedy right here, so it’s gonna take us a minute to get as great as we’re gonna be, too.
D: Think about the Ice Cube that you were when NWA was really hitting. If that Ice Cube could see the Ice Cube of today, what would he think about him?
I: How do I get there? How do I get there?
D: What would you tell him?
I: Keep paying attention, keep paying attention. You know, the thing is, is a lot of people got an image in their head of me that the s--- that was done kinda like in the ‘80s when I was 18, 19 years old. I’m 40 years old now. Can’t expect the same guy from then to me standing here right now and if I was, something would be wrong with me.