You don't usually start an interview by comparing gangsta rapper Ice Cube to a 6-foot-tall guy who dresses like a churchgoing grandma on steroids. But in turning his 2005 family comedy Are We There Yet? into a black-centered comedy for TBS, Cube is treading on a trail already blazed twice by another media star: Meet the Browns and House of Payne creator Tyler Perry.
In case fans miss the similarity, TBS has sandwiched Cube's new show between Perry's hit sitcoms, debuting at 9 p.m. Wednesday as a rare oasis of black-focused comedy shows outside of specialty cable channels such as BET and TV One. It's an odd place to land for a rapper who started his career kicking over conventions in show business, first as a member of the militant, seminal gangsta rap group NWA. and later as a solo artist, penning songs such as F--- tha Police and albums titled AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted.
But like other street rhymers-gone-mainstream (think Ice-T and Snoop Dogg), O'Shea "Ice Cube" Jackson long ago turned his rebellious persona into a multimillion-dollar brand spread across records, film and television. These days, he's starring in self-produced films, rap albums, a documentary for ESPN's 30 for 30 series and now this new TV show featuring ex-NFL star Terry Crews (Everybody Hates Chris) as a hapless stepdad trying to win the favor of his new wife's kids.
With just 10 minutes for our interview, I had to ask if he found the best way to beat the system was to become it (hear the full interview, along with a great discussion on his legacy in rap, in a Stuck in the '80s podcast found here: pod.sptimes.com/stuckinthe80s199.mp3).
It seems like you're trying to be the new Tyler Perry here.
(Cube laughs.) What? You crazy . . . No, 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. I think it made it much easier for us to come behind with a show and have them, you know, receptive to our version.
Nobody who heard F--- tha Police in 1988 could have predicted you would be a kids' movie star in Are We There Yet?
I've been dedicated to show people you can't judge a book by its cover. 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. So, me, I just try to make smart moves. 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.
In NWA, it seemed you were about kicking over the system. Now it seems you figured a way to work the system.
I don't know if anybody really wants to bust up the system. We just want a fair system, you know? 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?
When did you realize that?
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.
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 you tell him?
Keep paying attention, keep paying attention. You know, the thing is, a lot of people got an image in their head of me (from) 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 be standing here right now, and if I was, something would be wrong with me.