O'Shea "Ice Cube" Jackson knew it was rare for any kid to dream beyond the streets of Compton, California and even rarer for anyone to pursue that dream. Like his fellow N.W.A rappers, he dreamed of making it in the music industry, but he also had a back-up plan. He earned a degree in architectural draughtmanship from the Phoenix Institute of Technology in Arizona. "You can't rap forever," he said in 1989. "If it ends tomorrow, I still gotta do something to survive."
Ice Cube met Dr. Dre while performing with the Hip-Hop group C.I.A. Dre was a member of another local group, The World Class Wreckin' Cru, and would organize parties with both bands in attendance. Dre and Cube hit it off and were soon collaborating on songs like Wreckin' Cru's hit "Cabbage Patch." Both rappers joined Eazy-E's N.W.A, along with MC Ren, Arabian Prince and DJ Yella.
Cube is a family man; he has four children with his wife Kim, who he married in 1992. His fellow N.W.A rappers were far more promiscuous: Eazy-E admitted to seven children by six different women, Dr. Dre has at least five kids by at least three different women.
His group N.W.A caused a stir with their unflinching lyrics about Compton street life on their debut full-length album Straight Outta Compton. As their notoriety - and cash-flow - grew, the rappers began to clash over profits and writing credits. Ice Cube was the first to leave in 1989 to pursue a solo career. He also sued N.W.A to get his fair share for writing over half of the material on Straight Outta Compton, which his friends took as a betrayal. A vicious war of words began on N.W.A's next EP, 100 Miles and Runnin'. Dre takes the first shot on the title track: "It started with five but yo, one couldn't take it. So now there's four 'cause the fifth couldn't make it." In "Real Niggaz," they even dismiss Cube's newfound success as a solo artist with Amerikkka's Most Wanted as a case of mistaken identity. MC Ren raps: "Only reason niggaz pick up your record is cause they thought it was us."
Ice Cube fired back on his next album, Death Certificate, against the group's manager Jerry Heller with scathing lyrics in "No Vaseline":
Get rid of that Devil real simple, put a bullet in his temple.
Cuz you can't be the Nigga 4 Life crew
with a white Jew tellin' you what to do.
By the time N.W.A released their next album Efil4zaggin, Dre was having his own problems with N.W.A and strong-armed Eazy-E into releasing him from his contract. In 1993, Cube made a cameo appearance in Dre's "Let Me Ride" music video and, the following year, they recorded the duet "Natural Born Killaz."
Boyz N the Hood
was a pivotal point in Ice Cube's career. Not only did the film mark his acting debut, but it's also connected to one of his first endeavors as a serious rapper. He penned the song "Boyz-n-the Hood
" while he was still in high school, and later offered it to future N.W.A bandmate Eazy-E, who recorded it as a solo artist and later with N.W.A.
The film, directed by John Singleton, debuted in 1991 and followed a group of friends struggling to make something of themselves while growing up in a Los Angeles ghetto (much like Compton). Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding Jr.) tries to live a straight life in a crooked neighborhood. Like most kids in the ghetto, his best friend Doughboy (Ice Cube) is drawn into a life of violence while Doughboy's half-brother Ricky (Morris Chestnut) tries to rise above it all as a sports star.
Roger Ebert gave the movie five stars: Boyz N the Hood
has maturity and emotional depth: There are no cheap shots, nothing is thrown in for effect, realism is placed ahead of easy dramatic payoffs, and the audience grows deeply involved. By the end of Boyz N the Hood
, I realized I had seen not simply a brilliant directorial debut, but an American film of enormous importance."
John Singleton was the one who first suggested that Ice Cube try screenwriting, which he did with great success. In 1995, he wrote and starred in the popular comedy movie Friday and later its sequels Next Friday, Friday after Next and Final Friday. That year, he also reunited with Singleton for the drama Higher Learning.
Ice Cube is the answer to this trivia question: What musician has been in movies with Elizabeth Hurley, George Clooney, Jennifer Connelly and Jennifer Lopez?
As a rapper, Cube made it clear that his primary motive was making money. He grew up in South Central Los Angeles, but in a stable, middle class household with supportive parents. The raps about gang life and criminal activity came from his observations more than his activities; he chose the subject matter because that's what sold.
A great gauge of Cube's rise to mainstream appeal can be seen in his alcohol endorsements. In the early '90s, he starred in commercials for St. Ides Malt Liquor, which was targeted to the black community. In 2011, he began endorsing Coors Light beer, using the confounded character he perfected in the Friday movies for comic effect.
So why Ice Cube? O'Shea Jackson explained during a 2017 appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert that he got the name in his early teenage years from his older brother, Clyde. It was a reference to the way people in the '80s would get rid of an old refrigerator by dumping it on the curb knowing someone else would come and pick it up. He said:
"Well, my brother was like, 'yo, that refrigerator down the street? I'm gonna take you down there, I'm slammin' you in the freezer and when they pull you out you're gonna be an ice cube.'"