We all know my “Renaissance Man” guest as Ice Cube or O’Shea Jackson Sr. But initially before he went Hollywood in “Boyz n the Hood,” he wasn’t so certain the name Doughboy would be forever linked to his body of work. Late great director John Singleton approached him because he wanted to make a movie about the NWA lifestyle and ethos.
“He was just adamant about the group, NWA, the kind of music that we were doing. And, you know, his whole thing was like ‘the film version of what you are doing and, you know, nobody is showing that,'” Ice Cube told me of Singleton. “They got, the East Coast versions of what this is, you know, but nobody’s done our version like our ‘Do the Right Thing.’ So he just kept saying, ‘Man, you Doughboy, you Doughboy, man. I could see it.’ … I’m listening because I’m very interested. You know, John is an interesting cat, but I’m thinking he going to hire somebody else, whatever actor that was popping … But he was adamant that, ‘It’s you.’ … So he believed in me before I did because I thought you had to be trained to act and by the time this movie come out, you gonna hire Todd Bridges or something.”
But Singleton might as well have said, ‘Whatcha you talkin’ bout, Willis?’ because Ice Cube was his guy. To prepare, the budding actor did a lot of ad lib work and Laurence Fishburne took him under his wing, dishing out advice. When the movie premiered 30 years ago, it was a revelation. Singleton introduced a new raw genre that would be imitated but never duplicated. But with that film, he also unleashed a force on Hollywood: Ice Cube, the thespian.
He went on to star in many other films, including Singleton’s 1995 film, “Higher Learning,” and the director encouraged him to start writing his own movies. The comedy-loving rapper had a runaway hit with his quotable classic “Friday,” which turned into a franchise and then “Barber Shop.” It solidified one thing: Whatever Ice Cube touched, turned to gold. And since then, that Doughboy has been bringing home the bread from movies, business and now hoops with his Big3 — a three-on-three hoops league.
Before his mainstream success, he was a rap pioneer as part of one of the earliest super groups, NWA. Just take a second and think about how this man went from rapping “F–k tha Police” to making family film “Are We There Yet?.” He is the master of evolution. So I had to go back to his roots and early fame, which he said, shocked even him.
“It blew up. You know, so we were basically amazed as everybody else at the success of NWA, because at the time, it was just against the grain,” he told me. “Not too many people was doing hip-hop in that style. And were, you know, were not underground, you know, artists. It was amazing to see that it took off that big again and then we was on the ride. You know, it’s like being on a roller coaster. Thirty-five-year roller coaster ride that hasn’t stopped yet.”
NWA, along with Public Enemy, became a game changing revolutionary group that followed in the same vein as Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel. They were socially and politically conscious artists. Like it’s cinematic counterpart, “Boyz n the Hood,” NWA gave us authentic snapshots of the inner city that were often ignored.
Despite its dizzying success, Ice Cube left the group in 1989. People said it was career suicide and maybe even signing his own death warrant. But he was business savvy enough to know he wasn’t getting his fair share of the proceeds and brave enough to take a leap of faith.
“I was living before NWA, I was eating before NWA, and I felt like I was going to live and eat after NWA … leaving was a relief. Now I can make my own decisions, be my own artist,” he told me.
He credited his wife Kim for helping him see his next path. He emerged with a killer solo album “Amerikkka’s Most Wanted,” on which amazingly he didn’t diss his old group.
“I was still cool with mostly everybody in the group. I felt like my problem was with [manager] Jerry Heller and Eazy-E, but Ren, Dre, they didn’t really have nothing to do with it … until they dissed me on their record, I think it was ‘100 miles and Runnin’.'”
That’s when he really unleashed the fury, making “No Vaseline,” which is the greatest diss track in the history of rap, bar none. At the time, he was working with the Bomb Squad, which included Chuck D of Public Enemy. He called it a “dream come true.”
“I know that sounds strange because I was in a group with Dr. Dre, but at the time Dr. Dre was not my favorite producer,” he told me.
And the late Eazy-E wasn’t his favorite driver either.
“One day we drove over to what’s called ‘the jungle’ in LA. Me and Eazy would roll out. He’d come scoop me up. He’d do his business, whatever,” he told me.
Eazy picked him up, drove to the jungle and told Ice Cube he’d be right back.
“And this cat didn’t come back for at least two and a half hours. I am in this car, you know in a neighborhood that ain’t my neighborhood, just ducking … little dudes walking by, cars looking in. I was like ‘E, you got me out here’ … Man, I cussed that dude out when he got in the car,” he told me. “This is how people get their heads blown off … I said, ‘I ain’t never getting in the car with you.’ From them on, I would always roll my own whip.”
Now he’s got his own fleet of whips and people ready to drive him wherever he wants. Come Sept. 4, that will be the Bahamas far from the jungle. That’s where the championship game will be played for the Big 3, which has become a landing spot for formidable hoops talent, guys who played at the highest level here and abroad.
At this point in my life, I’m too lazy and don’t want to consistently stay in shape to hoop, but I love that these players are finding a second life on the hardwood.
“They are not former players, you are a former player,” he told me with a laugh. “These dudes still have a chip on their shoulder. They still got a lot to prove.”
He invited me to hang with him at the game. When I found out it was in the Bahamas, I said I’d be there and maybe you’ll be seeing me with my shirt off, which prompted him to tell me, “keep that shirt on.” But he just hasn’t seen me in a while. I’m more fit than your average ex-ballplayer, sir.
And as for MVP, he said former Net Joe Johnson was looking good.
Ice Cube is a massive hoops guy in general and loves the Lakers. He’s also a family man and said he wouldn’t be where he is today without his wife and kids. And as I pumped him for intel on comedians like Chris Tucker, Mike Epps and the late Bernie Mac, his frequent collaborator, he left me with this gem.
“[Bernie’s] saying was, ‘You play with a puppy, he’ll lick you in the face and bite you on the lip.’ That’s his advice: Stay in your lane, don’t play with young folks. You’re grown. Don’t worry what the kids are doing too much,” Ice Cube told me.
It’s Bernie’s words, but Ice Cube’s playbook because I have never seen that man look back or chase the puppies. He’s always been the big alpha dog, paving his own path, the Ice Cube way.
Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, who shook up the college hoops world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA, before transitioning into a media personality. Rose is currently an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He executive produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book, “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion tastemaker, and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.
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