There's an old adage, often used by bands signing to major labels: There's a difference between "selling-out" and "buying in."
I never really bought that.
I like the guys who stick to their guns: the Joe Strummers, the Bruce Springsteens, the Chuck Ds. So in anticipation of writing this story, I listened to all my old Ice Cube records. I also watched some of his more recent feature films.
My conclusion: A lot has changed since 1990.
Ice Cube was my first real rap hero. A friend of mine let me borrow a copy of AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted when I was 13 years old. Like all great political albums, it not only changed the way I looked at music, but the way I looked at the world. Sure, I had other rappers that I liked-Too Short, Ice-T, Kid N' Play (forgive me my trespasses)-but none of their songs spoke to me the way "Jackin' for Beats" and "The Nigga You Love to Hate" did.
For a short time in 1991, this cracker-a walkman in one hand, a fist in the other-thought he was black. And the white man, in the guise of my strict father, had to go.
That same year, Dad let me watch Boyz N the Hood, as if it would somehow give me a better understanding of the recent Rodney King verdict riots in Los Angeles and Atlanta. Somehow the message was lost on me. All I learned was that I wanted to live in South Central, and that Ice Cube was a great actor. (Still think he was robbed of an Oscar nomination-rest in peace, Jack Pallance.) And up until 1994's Lethal Injection, he consistently made good music.
So I sit here and watch the shit-stains that are Are We There Yet? and Torque. Then I chase 'em down with repeated listenings of "We Be Clubbin'," just to make sure there wasn't something I missed within the incessant yeah-e-yeah's. I can't help but think, What the hell happened?
In a quandary, I consulted a more casual Ice Cube fan-a black friend of mine. Without hesitation, she explained that Ice Cube has become a "coon." I can only assume she meant "coon" in the way Donald Bogle defines the word in Toms, Coons, Mulattoes Mammies & Bucks, his history of how Hollywood characterizes black people. She meant, as Bogle first said, that Ice Cube has become "an amusement object" and a "buffoon."
Even after hearing that a sequel to Are We There Yet? is in the works (cleverly titled Are We Done Yet?, the answer hopefully being an emphatic, "Yes, finally"), l can't agree with my friend. I'll never stop loving Ice Cube. I'm satiated by the fact that for every Ghosts of Mars I have to sit through, there's a Three Kings to make me think or a Friday to make me laugh. And that for every War & Peace that makes my ears bleed, there's a Death Certificate to fall back on.
Ice Cube is smart, and I think he realized that you can only rap about hating The Man and banging bitches for so long before people stop caring.
It's not Cube we're mad at for growing up and selling out. It's us.
Every musically adept adolescent, whether they were listening to Gang Of Four or a gang-banger from Compton, believed they were going to change the world. So when we see our heroes reduced to caricatures, we can't help but feel that we ourselves have bought into the system that we once despised.
Life gets in the way of our revolution. What were once hot-button issues now barely make us burn. We need money to be clubbin', to go out on dates and just to get by. So it's not really surprising that Ice Cube lost a little of his edge when, after all, he warned us in one of his very first songs: "Life ain't nothin' but bitches and money!"
Ice Cube performs at 4th & B, 8 p.m. on April 21. $32.50. 619-231-4343.