The below interview is excerpted from The Believer’s new book, Confidence, or the Appearance of Confidence: The Best of the Believer Music Interviews. Thanks to The Believer for sharing this with the Longreads community.
* * *
‘Music Is a Mirror of What We’re Going Through, Not the Cause of What We’re Going Through. It’s a Reaction, It’s Our Only Weapon, It’s Our Only Way to Protect Ourselves, It’s Our Only Way to Fit, It’s Our Only Way to Get There.’
Before rap music, New York might as well have been:
A thousand miles away from a thirteen-year-old Ice Cube
* * *
Once upon a time, the name Ice Cube was analogous to explicit lyrics, guns, women as “bitches,” South Central, and attitude. Bad attitude. Not to mention mind-blowing rap music wrapped in raw emotions. But those were Ice Cube’s teen years, before he married Kimberly Jackson, became father to four kids, and turned into a true Hollywood player. A legend long before he turned thirty, Ice Cube, together with his fellow N.W.A. members, revolutionized not only the rap/ hiphop genre, but all music, by making it OK for musicians to speak their minds and then some.
Over the last decade, Ice Cube, whose given name is O’shea Jackson, has made more waves in the film business than in the music business. This is no coincidence. Ice Cube’s Hollywood game plan has been to produce reasonably budgeted films featuring themes and characters an audience would actually go and see. The Friday franchise, of which he is the back- bone and originator, has made over $200 million. After revamping the Barbershop script and tailoring his role as barbershop owner Calvin, the film grossed almost $80 million. And that was before the DVD release.
As an actor, Ice Cube is well on his way to the Hollywood A-list. His performances in Boyz n the Hood and Three Kings were astounding. Next year, Ice Cube is replacing Vin Diesel in the xXx sequel. He has a starring role in the upcoming film Torque (January 2004) and is in prepro- duction of his own script, Are We There Yet? His new album, Terrorist Threats, will be out on December 9th.
On a recent Monday afternoon, Ice Cube talked to the Believer, for almost two hours, from his home somewhere outside L.A.
—Linda Saetre (December 2003/January 2004)
* * *
I. ‘There Were Kids Who Were Looking for Trouble and There Were Kids Who Weren’t Looking for No Trouble, and I Wasn’t Looking for No Trouble.’
THE BELIEVER: Where does the name Ice Cube come from?
ICE CUBE: I was given the name by my brother when I was about eleven or twelve years old. He was older than me, and around that age I was starting to get into girls, and when they would call the house for him, and when he was not there, I would try to talk to them. I was trying to be the man and trying to get them to come and see me, not worrying about him. When he found out… he started calling me Ice Cube as a joke because he said I was trying to be too cool. I just liked it and started telling everybody in the hood “my name is Ice Cube.”
BLVR: How much older is your brother?
IC: He’s nine years older than me.
BLVR: [Laughing] So the girls were in high school?
BLVR: Good thinking. I know you don’t like to speak about your private life, but I’d like to ask you about your parents. Do you see them often?
IC: All the time. I see them at least once a week. I look forward to seeing them. It’s kind of like, the more mature I get, the more I understand how important it is to be around my family as much as I can.
BLVR: When you spend time with your dad, what do you guys talk about?
IC: We talk about all kinds of stuff. For instance, we talk about how we are both doing personally and healthwise. You know, I always bring him up to date about what I am doing in my work—what movies and records are in the works—and we talk about the family, the neighborhood that I used to grow up in, where he still lives. Basically just enjoying each other.
BLVR: Were your parents ever worried when you started mingling in the rap scene?
IC: No, they loved it. You know, what they loved about it was the fact that I was doing something constructive with my time, that I wasn’t just hanging out drinking and smoking weed and basically looking for trouble. The fact that I was doing something constructive and creative, something exciting and new, they encouraged it. Anything but me hang- ing out in the street trying to crib it or run around with the gangs that were there right there in front of you. I always found different ways to occupy my time that took me away from the day-to-day hanging out all the time.
BLVR: And did you get into rap because you felt a drive to move in that direction, or were you looking for an alternative way to stay busy, aside from hanging out with the crowd?
IC: No, you know, I wasn’t really looking for rap to do anything of that. At the time I was really getting into the music, I was playing high-school football and I was just a fan of the music. I loved everything about it and just tried to get my hands on everything that had to do with the culture of hiphop. In the early eighties, when I was in junior high, going into high school, it was rap music’s best era. It was just an explosion of new energy and creativity. It wasn’t just rap music, it was the whole culture. It was DJing, graffiti, breaking, a whole new way of dressing. I was engulfed by the whole culture, so you know when I started rapping, it was all about getting to meet somebody who could show me that this could be more than just a hobby, that this could be a career, and that’s when I met Dr. Dre.
BLVR: When was that?
IC: I met Dr. Dre in 1983 but I didn’t really start working with him until late 1984, early ’85. [Ice Cube was born in 1969, you do the math.]
BLVR: Do you remember your first meeting with Dr. Dre?
IC: Yes. His cousin, Sir Jinx, who also worked on some of my early projects, he lived down the street from me. So Sir Jinx and I were good friends, you know, and we were hiphop buddies. Jinx had DJ equipment, I had the lyrics, and we started to form a team. He said his cousin was Dr. Dre and I knew Dr. Dre just from his reputation in Los Angeles. He was DJing at parties with his DJ crew. Meeting him was high on my priority list as far as just being around L.A. hiphop, because at that point, most of the efforts came out of New York. This was a chance to be around some L.A. hiphop, so I just jumped at it.
BLVR: Did you ever consider going to New York and joining the rap scene there, or were you purposely looking for people like Dr. Dre in L.A.?
IC: Well, if you really think back to the culture or just black America before rap music took off, New York could have been Paris. New York might as well have been, you know, Africa or Australia, and the idea of going there was just a thousand miles away from where I was as a thirteen-year-old starting to get involved in the music. Going to New York for me wasn’t even an option. You know, nowadays, the country seems so small because, through music magazines and videos, we get to see what everybody is doing all over the country. Back then, it wasn’t like that. You never heard about New York unless the Dodgers were playing the Yankees. I never even really thought about New York or any other place in the country. I just thought about L.A. In the late eighties, there was a lot of gang-banging and drug dealing going on in my neighbor- hood, so I was preoccupied, so going to New York wasn’t even a thought.
BLVR: Were you preoccupied with staying out of trouble?
IC: In a way, yes. I was trying to do something positive with my life around so much negativity, and it’s a challenge to find things that you can do that won’t get you killed or in jail or have you kill somebody. You know, at thirteen or fourteen years old, I wasn’t ready to kill nobody, or shoot at nobody. I wanted to do something constructive, productive.
BLVR: Did you stand out in your neighborhood and at school, trying to keep yourself out of trouble, or was there a group of you who were on the same wavelength?
IC: A lot of people have a misconception of what the ghetto is all about. You know, it’s only a small percentage of the people that are bad. Everybody else is good. So the criminals you see on TV or whatever, that’s just a small percentage of what the neighborhood has to offer. Most of the people are doing what they’re supposed to do. I didn’t stand out like a sore thumb. There were kids who were looking for trouble and there were kids who weren’t looking for trouble, and I wasn’t looking for no trouble. I could deal with it if it came my way. I used to fight a lot in my neighborhood, because it was all boys, and there was a pecking order, and you had to figure out where you fit in. I could fight real good when I was young; that wasn’t the issue. It was more like, “Yo, I don’t want to fight every day.”
* * *
II. ‘You Know, When You’re in This Pool of Poverty and Lower Education, Pretty Soon You Start Wearing All That as a Badge. ‘I’m From the Poorest Area, I’m from The Slums, I Came from Nothing.’ That Becomes a Badge Of Honor.’
BLVR: You quit N.W.A. in 1989 and moved to New York, where you formed the backing group Da Lench Mob, am I right?
IC: No, not really. I quit the group but I didn’t move to New York.
BLVR: You didn’t?
IC: No, I quit the group and I was still trying to negotiate with the management of N.W.A. to get Dr. Dre to produce my solo record. They said it wasn’t possible. So I had met Chuck D from Public Enemy on the road in 1988 and ’89, and we bonded real good. We had a good talk. You know, it was one day after the show when Pubic Enemy had performed and N.W.A. had opened up. He was real cool, right down to earth. We exchanged numbers and I knew that if I couldn’t get Dr. Dre, who was the best producer on the West Coast, then I was going to try to get the Bomb Squad and Chuck D, the best producer on the East Coast, to do my album. They said yes, they’ll do it, so I went out to New York to work on the album in the early nineties, at Green Street Studios. I just hibernated out there, did nothing but work on the record.
BLVR: Amerikkka’s Most Wanted.
IC: Yeah, Amerikkka’s Most Wanted.
BLVR: Was it different working as a rapper in New York as opposed to L.A.? Did you feel a different vibe from people? Was the energy level and inspiration different from what you were used to?
IC: Just being in that city made me focus a lot more than I would in L.A. It was pretty much just me, Sir Jinx, and New York. It was a culture shock, a little bit… coming from a place where you had neighborhoods, manicured lawns and stuff like that, to basically the concrete jungle of New York. You know, my senses were heightened. When your senses are at a high, you’re absorbing more information than you probably would when you’re at home, so I think I was a little bit more focused. There was nothing I really wanted to do out there but be in the studio with the Bomb Squad and have them produce me, so the nightlife and that didn’t get to me.
BLVR: You didn’t go clubbing at night?
IC: No, because of the hours we were at the studio. Chuck was real smart; he would have us come in the studio at 6 p.m. and work until 6 a.m., and that’s club time. Working those hours, you slept all day, waking up around 3–3:30, making sure all your lines were together for when you were going to the studio at 6 p.m. And that was my routine for thirty days straight.
BLVR: Would you write a rhyme every day you went into the studio?
IC: No, I had a lot of rhymes written already for the next N.W.A. album, so what I did was just make those rhymes mine and mine only. And you know, there were a few things I wrote there, but the whole album was mostly written before I got there.
BLVR: Was there an East Coast–West Coast controversy among rappers when you were in studio with Chuck D?
IC: No, no, and here’s why: At that time, around 1989, L.A. hiphop was like a blip on the radar. And I think that the only thing we had coming out of L.A. at that time that was nationwide was Ice-T and maybe the L.A. Dream Team, so we were no threat to the industry in New York, so it wasn’t really rivalry. It was kind of like, you know how the big brother pats the little brother on the head and says, “Nice job,” that’s how it felt. “You all finally got some shit that we want to listen to.” So there was no rivalry then. The rivalry came once we were successful, in the late eighties and the early nineties, coming along with N.W.A. and Ice Cube. As a solo artist, I was, you know, at the height of my rap career and so was N.W.A., and here comes Death Row Records with a whole other explosion of West Coast–influenced hiphop, so I think that’s where a lot of the resentment came in, and that’s where the real beef took its shape, because you had a real changing of the guards of what became hiphop then, and I think the industry in New York said, “Yo, we have to support each other, we can’t support this outside music.” And it started from there. You know, there’s always been New York arrogance, but what else is new? [Laughs] You know, I think we can deal with the New York arrogance, that’s just what we’ve grown up on, and I’m fine with a little arrogance, ain’t nothing wrong with that. But it became like an industry thing, a secret constitution. Because the whole industry is back there, you got most of the magazines from the Source to Vibe, and then you have MTV and BET. All these major outlets for the music are in New York, and when you’re in New York, you’re influenced by New York groups and kind of don’t want to hear it from nowhere else. So, you know, it started becoming a real thing where our music was criticized but people like Biggie Smalls and the Jay-Zs of the world were getting praised by the same magazines where we were getting dissed for doing the same kind of music. We really didn’t understand that, so it started heating up.
BLVR: I remember moving to New York from Europe in 1995 at the height of my personal gangster rap infatuation. People at school were laughing at me and nobody played West Coast, which we in Europe had been jumping up and down to for years. But the rap landscape has changed a lot since then, and you hear West Coast many times a day now, even on HOT 97 [a New York radio station], which is so conservative.
IC: And that’s a beautiful thing because here, I grew up on music where if it was good, it got played no matter where it came from. In L.A., if it’s good, they’re going to play it. No matter where you’re from. We heard music from New York, from Skywalker in Florida, you know, from Sir Mix-A-Lot in Seattle, Too $hort in Oakland, the Geto Boys from Houston, you know, we heard hiphop from everywhere. It wasn’t like, “OK, you’re not from L.A., so we’re not going to play your stuff.” That was the feeling we were getting in the mid, late nineties from New York. But it seems like it has blown by and hopefully it has.
BLVR: In the mid nineties, rap music and particularly gangster rappers were blamed in the media for the increase in crime amongst the youth. Were politicians and the media on to something or were they looking for scapegoats?
IC: They were looking for scapegoats. Most of the problems that we have are brought on by the government and not by music. Music is a mirror of what we’re going through, not the cause of what we’re going through. It’s a reaction, it’s our only weapon, it’s our only way to protect ourselves, it’s our only way to fit, it’s our only way to get there. But that’s all right, music kind of thrives on talking about what’s the problem, you know, sometimes glorifying it. You know, when you’re in this pool of poverty and lower education, pretty soon you start wearing all that as a badge. “I’m from the poorest area, I’m from the slums, I came from nothing.” That becomes a badge of honor. So, there were killings and social prob- lems, people going to the penitentiary way before rap music ever came into existence, so we can never be the cause of that. And, one more thing, if the government stops spying on its citizens, the concept of America will be more than just a myth.
BLVR: Do you think that’s ever going to happen? Do you have hopes for that?
IC: I have no hope for that because the government is driven by its own interest, you know, of supremacy and that’s what they always established and they haven’t changed in the past, so why would they change now?
BLVR: Have you seen a change since the Clinton administration left office?
IC: No. To me, the biggest change in the government’s behavior has been because of TV and its ability to show to the world what has happened in this community… that’s the biggest change. But without TV… the separation between the government and the people would be much worse than it is.
* * *
III. ‘We Spread Like a Fire. It Was All Underground; There Was No Place to Play That Stuff But on Underground Radio Stations, and That’s Why It Picked Up Fast. It Was Like a Forbidden Fruit.’
BLVR: Who’s producing your new record?
IC: There were a lot of producers. It’s a Westside Connection record, so it’s with me, my guy Mack 10, and my other guy WC. Mack 10 spear- headed the production as far as finding the producers. I am more or less executive producing it and it will be out December 9. The name of the record is Terrorist Threats [Priority Records].
BLVR: I read somewhere that you were planning on doing a new record with Dr. Dre. What’s going on with that?
IC: Our schedules, you know, could prevent that record from happening. Just because I’m deep into what I’m doing and he’s deep into what he’s doing. We know that if we did a record together, it would have to be great, and if we don’t have the time to hang with each other and get a vibe going, how could the record be all that great? So, our stardom and status might be the thing that’s keeping this record from being put together right. Let’s see if it comes through.
BLVR: Over the last decade, there’s been a globalization of hiphop. I read in a French newspaper that there are over one hundred rap groups in Algeria alone.
IC: All right!
BLVR: In Norway, Russia, Italy, Africa, and of course Cuba, the rap they produce now is unbelievable. Did you ever think that rap would spread throughout the world like this?
IC: No. Just because of the language barriers. I never studied other languages or knew that they could rhyme like that. In English, the words are right there to be rapped in a rhythm. One thing I knew was that rap energizes all the kids who can’t sing. With rap music, kids still have a shot at being the artist they want to be or envision for themselves, so it woke up another pool of talent, and rap is the music of the youth. But back then I didn’t know that this could be pulled off in other languages. I went all over France and saw a lot of local rap groups, and they were damn good. Rapping is rhythm you have to capture, whether you under- stand the rap or not. If you capture the rhythm, that can sometimes be enough to let others know that he’s a good rapper. There are a lot of Jamaican songs where you don’t understand half the shit they’re saying, you just know the rhythm is right. When I went to Africa in 1993 or ’94, I saw a lot of African rap groups who were huge out there, so yes, I’ve felt it coming on for ten, fifteen years. But I never thought it would be this big. Rapping is talking and communicating, and that’s always good.
BLVR: With N.W.A. you revolutionized not only hiphop in the United States, which we’ve covered, but all of a sudden it was OK to be real and to voice one’s opinion and anger and frustrations.
IC: And become a major group. I think you can always do that, but nobody believed that you could do that in front of twenty thousand people at a venue. With N.W.A., I think our biggest legacy is that we made it alright for you to say whatever you wanted to say on your record, and be whoever you wanted to be on your record. Marilyn Manson and all the people who came after N.W.A. are definitely products of what we did in the late ’80s.
BLVR: What musical forms influenced you early in your career?
IC: Soul, funk, a little disco. I grew up in the seventies and disco was big. That influenced me the most. Also, you know, comedians of the day. People like Richard Pryor, even people like Muhammad Ali. All these people are pre-rap, you know what I mean? You heard someone like Richard Pryor saying the things he said on stage—and getting a reaction. You figured if you’re rapping and if you’re saying exactly what’s on your mind, you would get a similar reaction—and it happened. So I wouldn’t discredit what the comedians of the day, even Eddie Murphy, contributed to the music and us having the attitude we had.
All the bragging and the bravado of Muhammad Ali, man, that’s where the rappers started getting the attitude from. Seeing black men up there basically saying what they had on their mind, and it subconsciously gave us the courage to do what we were starting to do.
BLVR: How did you go from being a neighborhood star to a global superstar?
IC: Well, what we [Dr. Dre and I] started doing was making mixtapes to make some extra money. We got the best songs and put them all on one tape and mixed them together. We had explicit raps, you know, one verse. Dre said, “Put that on my mixtape, that one verse you got,” because we didn’t think we could sell this stuff. Throughout the neighborhood, people had the tapes going and playing them, one day Eazy-E said, “Let’s do a record like that.” We were all in different groups, so we all formed what we called an all-star group and named it N.W.A. We would do hardcore explicit records with N.W.A. but then we would go back to our original groups and do our mainstream records, you see what I mean? Because we never thought this stuff [N.W.A.] would sell… or that anybody would be interested in us. In a short amount of time, after we got the first record pressed up, we realized this is what people want, right here, not the other stuff we’re doing. So we broke up with the groups we were in and formed N.W.A. We started growing, and our buzz went through Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland, Phoenix, and Denver. We spread like a fire. It was all underground; there was no place to play that stuff but on underground radio stations, and that is why it picked up fast. It was like a forbidden fruit.
BLVR: How soon after did N.W.A. go on its first tour?
IC: A year and a half. It took two or three singles to come out, because people needed to know we were a group and not a fluke record. We started out in Southern California, then Chicago.
BLVR: And how did you finance it so early on? It must have been expensive.
IC: Eazy-E had money.
* * *
IV. ‘[Three Kings] Discussed the Politics of Papa Bush, and Now We Are Dealing with Baby Bush, and I Think the Film Is Probably More Relevant Today Than When It Came Out.’
BLVR: How did you get cast for Boyz n the Hood? Did you know John Singleton before?
IC: Not really. I had seen him a couple of times, and he knew me from N.W.A. He said he was in school and that he had a movie that I was perfect for. I was looking at him like, “Yeah, right, ain’t nobody going to do a movie with you.” Back then, the only people doing movies were Spike Lee and Robert Townsend, maybe. So I didn’t really believe him, but I didn’t brush him off either. I gave him some numbers. About two or three years later I received a script, but I didn’t remember him. I read the script and after a couple of auditions, I took the part.
BLVR: Would you do a sequel to Three Kings?
IC: Absolutely, because I think that movie is much more understood today than when it came out. I think it was hell of a movie. Me and Mark [Wahlberg] became friends, Clooney was always cool even when I was whipping his ass on the basketball court. David [O. Russell] was real cool.
BLVR: Is Three Kings relevant in the current political climate?
IC: Hell, yes. It was a social commentary of what was going on. That film discussed the politics of Papa Bush, and now we are dealing with Baby Bush, and I think the film is probably more relevant today than when it came out.
BLVR: Which movie did you star in that had most impact on you? I mean, did any film change your perception of the subject matter or did you ever discover something about yourself?
IC: There are a few for different reasons. Boyz n the Hood introduced me to a whole new way of creating, just being part of something bigger. Friday was the first time I had written and produced and put a movie together from scratch; Players Club [written, directed, and executive produced by IC] was the first time I saw how time-consuming it is to direct, and how much energy and focus you have to have. It was like a marathon.
In other movies, as far as subject matter or movies changing my perspective, nah. I do movies I think are cool anyway, so before I get involved, I pretty much know about the subject matter anyway. I haven’t really gotten into a movie where I go: “What the hell am I doing?” [Laughs] Three Kings opened my eyes to the Iraq situation, dealing with the Shiites and what that was all about, so you get a different perspective. I thought I knew about the war, but doing a movie like that, you really get to learn how it was on the ground, and not how it looked like from the edit room at CNN. So yes, I was learning more about the subject matter as I was doing that movie, but as far as changing me or giving me a different outlook, no.
BLVR: In Barbershop, there was a comment about Rosa Parks not giving up her seat on the bus because she was old, and not because she wanted to fight segregation. Jesse Jackson was very outspoken against the film. What was your reaction? Do you understand his reaction?
IC: I don’t know what his motive was, but I can understand his reaction, but in the context of the movie, I think it was a nonissue. It was one man’s opinion, which is Eddie, the character played by Cedric the Entertainer, and the whole barbershop went against him. No comments were made [in the media] about how we jumped on him and said: “That isn’t right.” We’re talking about a fictional movie, fictional characters, and ultimately, I don’t care what you’ve done. You have to be able to laugh at yourselves a little bit. If you take yourself too seriously, nobody else will. With all due respect, and I respect Jesse Jackson a lot, I think he’s done a lot, but on this issue he jumped the gun a little bit and made an attack that didn’t have him sit well with black folks, because most people loved the movie and most people thought it was a nonissue until he brought it up.
BLVR: You’ve developed a very successful film business, particularly the Friday franchise, which has brought in over $200 million.
IC: Oh yeah? I wish I had gotten some of that. [Laughs]
BLVR: Welcome to Hollywood!
BLVR: Your move from music to movies has been astoundingly smooth. Did you plan it like that? Do you have a game plan? And if so, can I see it?
IC: [Both laugh] I don’t want to share my overall game, but this I can say: being true to myself as a movie fan is part of it. I’m not taking the role of “I’m Ice Cube, I know what people want.” Instead, I ask myself: “What films do I want to see as a consumer?” For me, that’s where you start. Of course, I’ve always recognized opportunities, from 1989 and N.W.A until present. I’m not holding myself back and I’m exploiting opportunities that are there, working hard and staying true to myself. This has translated well with the audience. It looks like people want what I want, and I give them that and it all works out.
BLVR: I know your wife Kimberly is very important to all aspects of your career. Do you, in addition to her, have a circle or friends or associates that you run things by before you start developing projects and exploring ideas?
IC: My wife and I come up with the ultimate game plan. I then give marching orders to my team, which is a really good team. They’re now starting to understand what makes me tick, what I’m all about and what I want, so now they bring things to the table that they know I’m interested in. For so many years I’ve been a self-guided missile, but now I’ve opened up a little bit more to suggestions from other people about what I should do with my career, what’s the next step. Some of the advice I take, most of it I don’t. [Laughs]
* * *
V. ‘Yes, If People Are Looking at You and Thinking: This Is Black, Then You Have to Figure Out a Way to Turn Black into Green’
BLVR: Do you have a strange creative process? Do you get up at 4 a.m. and have hot chocolate and write, or are you a nine-to-five kind of guy?
IC: I used to schedule my writing by going home to write at set times, but that doesn’t work. That’s borderline mediocre writing, when you set times. I just go with the flow. If I feel it, I write, if I don’t feel it, I don’t write. You know, I don’t beat myself up for not being able to write. The hardest period for a writer is the period in-between writing. That’s when you can go crazy if you don’t allow the creative juices to flow. Yes, I’ve popped up at 3 a.m. and run down to my office and starting writing until 6:30 a.m.
BLVR: Which of your various incarnations or careers do you like most? Actor, writer, producer, rapper, director? Do you tend to favor one over the others?
IC: I love them all because I’m a creative person. I was the kind of kid who would draw posters when my team won a championship.
BLVR: Can you draw?
IC: I’m not as good as I used to be, but I can do more than a stick figure… Creating is really what I like to do. The best thing in the world is to have an idea in the back of your head and then to make that idea into a movie and have people all over the world enjoy it. It can’t get much better than that. And you can make a living of it.
BLVR: Can you multitask and work on different scripts at the same time?
IC: Yes, that’s not a problem. It can be a situation where I’m writing something I feel I have to write, and there are also times when film companies come to me and say: “Look, we have this script. It needs to be worked out a little bit, but if you can get it to a place where you like it, we will shoot it with you.” In that case, I dissect the script, which is real fun, pulling out the good parts and add some flavor on top of what’s already good, and sometimes you come out with a hell of a movie.
BLVR: How many scripts have you written that have been filmed? How many have you written in total?
IC: Oh man, I’ve lost count. Friday, Next Friday…
BLVR: Friday After Next…
IC: … Players Club, that’s four.
BLVR: And the new one I read about: Are We There Yet?
IC: It’s not shot yet. That’ll be five. I’ve written about twelve so there are a few out there that haven’t been filmed yet.
BLVR: Did your interest in storytelling form in your childhood? Was it through books in school or talking to elders or what?
IC: I’m the youngest, so when you’re a kid talking to adults, you have to get their attention, you know what I mean? The more animated you are and the better the story, the more you can captivate and keep them guessing what the punch line is, the more entertaining you are, the more you get heard. So by being the youngest and really wanting to be accepted and to get the attention of my older siblings and my parents, I was the one who came in: “Look, look, guess what happened, check this out,” and I would be the one with the best stories. Not necessarily the best story, but I kept the others captivated. I would never come with a story where the adults would go: “Is that it?” My stories always had to be something big, or next time I came in, everybody would keep talking. Those situations brought out the storytelling talent in me.
BLVR: How are things going at Revolution Studios? Has access to power for black executives, writers, directors, and producers in Hollywood increased since Boyz n the Hood?
IC: There’s an upsurge of opportunities on both sides of the camera. Of course, there’s always room for improvement, but since Boyz n the Hood, there are more black movie stars doing more movies that are accepted by worldwide audiences. There are more black directors, producers, writers, grips, cameramen, wardrobe, and makeup. All around better. Hopefully, it’ll just keep on increasing.
BLVR: Do you think the upsurge had anything do with the explosion in rap videos?
IC: I think rap music is the sole reason for a lot of black acceptance in pop culture; because the music is very popular, it gets our image out in other ways than in movies. Daily, you can see young black people doing our thing and now we’re also spearheading fashions and everything else we think of as cool. This translated into more opportunities in the film business and more acceptance from the powers that be, as well as the general audience.
BLVR: I want to ask you a few questions about being black in Hollywood. I have an impression that you have moved a little bit beyond that—
IC: I’m not black no more?
BLVR: No, no, I don’t mean it like that, but I have the impression that you just go, “I’m just going to do what I have to do, whatever.”
IC: I definitely don’t get caught up. If you know there’s an obstacle in the road, do you go around the obstacle or do you go the other way? I know that there are obstacles; I know that there are hills to climb, I know there were people before me that made my journey easier and there are people behind me that I have made the journey easier for. You know, when you try to dig a tunnel, it tends to get dirty, but it’s cool, because I figured it out for most part. If you make green—
BLVR: Dead presidents…?
IC: Yes, if people are looking at you and thinking: This is black, then you have to figure out a way to turn black into green. When you do that, then no one cares that you’re black, you see what I mean? So I figured, when I make a movie, especially earlier in my career, one thing I was going to make sure was that the movie doesn’t cost a lot and that it has potential to make a lot of money. That’s how you get respect in Hollywood. You make a great piece of art that makes a hell of a lot of money at the box office, and I’ve done that without compromising how good the film is. Who cares that Movie A costs $200 to 300 million if it’s a piece of shit, and who cares if Movie B costs $12 million if it’s brilliant? Audiences don’t care. All you want is that the finished product is worth your time and money, and that is what I make sure of. In the end, I’m happy, the studio is happy, the audiences are happy; the movie has made money and people have enjoyed it.
* * *
Illustration: Kjell Reigstad