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Posted by Robert
Rap News Network
6/2/2004 12:29:29 PM

Tags and topics realted to this article include Ice Cube.

As one of the chief architects of gangsta rap, the most violent and defiantly obscene chapter in American pop, Ice Cube adopted a scowl in ’90s album cover photos as menacing as his music. But he can’t help smiling now when tracing his earliest influences.

“Dr. Seuss,” says the man born O’Shea Jackson, sitting in his office at Cube Vision in Santa Monica on a cheerful weekday morning.

“My love of words and wordplay goes all the way back to things like ‘Cat in the Hat’ and Muhammad Ali’s ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.’ I loved synonyms, antonyms, all that. Rhyming was a way to create something from nothing, and it was free.”

When the first rap hit, the Sugarhill Gang’s playful “Rapper’s Delight,” came along in the late ’70s, it thrilled him. Cube was 10 then.

Three years later, a second record had an even greater influence.

“The Message,” by New York-based Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, examined inner-city life and tensions so vividly it was widely hailed by pop critics as the single of the year.

The song’s haunting chorus:

It’s like a jungle sometimes,

It makes me wonder

How I keep from going under

“That record made me nervous because it was talking about all the dangerous things in the neighborhood that you wanted to block out,” says Cube, who grew up in the South Los Angeles area, and now lives in the Encino section of the San Fernando Valley with Kimberly, his wife of 13 years, and their four children.

“But it also inspired me because rap wasn’t just writing poetry or lyrics. It was something new. You could only fit so many words into a song, but raps can go anywhere. A song is like mixing up something by hand. A rap is like using a blender.”

The work he spun together with the seminal gangsta rap group N.W.A, and later on his own, melded clear-eyed observation, macho bravado, self-deprecating humor and deeply rooted rage in confrontational tales that, at their best, set listeners down in a complex world of young black men as vividly as a novel – or reality.

Cube’s raps stand today as an absorbing picture of a community and a way of life that barely registered on the mainstream’s radar. The best are almost minidramas, as Cube, whose other love is movies, chooses words and images with a dramatist’s care. Given the lighthearted, almost sweet portrayal of working-class African American life in his “Friday” and “Barbershop” films, it must be hard for many to reconcile that image with the man whose work created such hostility in (and toward) rap. But Cube feels both streams of creative output came from the same source: growing up in a neighborhood he described as basically “nice.”

One of his most influential raps in the ’90s, “It Was a Good Day,” was a reflection about 24 hours in the ’hood where everything goes right – he even scores a prized triple-double in a basketball pickup game. But the real blessing is conveyed in these lines:

Nobody I know got killed in South-Central L.A.

Today was a good day

It was a daring step because the tenderness could have been seen as weakness in the hard-core rap world. But the tune became a top 20 hit, sending a signal to rappers that you could share tender emotions without losing street credibility.

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