If Ice Cube swapped out his trademark sports jerseys and baseball caps for multicolored sweaters and fedoras, he’d be the second coming of Cliff Huxtable. And, as it stands, the gangsta rapper who used to pen rhymes about killing cops when he was a member of N.W.A might just be one family friendly comedy away from becoming America’s No. 1 daddy at the box office.
But who is he really? Is he a Huxtable or a gangsta straight out of Compton?
“I’m a little bit of both,” Cube said with a slight grin during an exclusive interview in his hotel suite. “I have a really beautiful life right now, so there is no reason to be hostile. I’m a husband, a father and a man who tries to do the right thing in life and in my work. But, I’m still a man who wants to speak for people who can’t speak for themselves. If you ask any gangsta or anyone on lockdown in prison what they want, it’s all the same thing. House, nice car, kids, wife, picket fence. When I was back with in N.W.A., I was screaming, give us our shot, give us our piece. Back then I didn’t have anything and that’s why I was mad.”
Now with a string of money-making films on his resume, the only anger Cube is expressing these days is through one of his on-screen characters. On Wednesday he returns to the silver screen as the calm, cool, but frustrated Nick Persons in “Are We Done Yet?” — the sequel to 2005’s “Are We There Yet?” The film reunites Cube with Nia Long who plays his wife, Suzanne. With two kids and two more on the way, Nick and Suzanne have certainly outgrown Nick’s teeny bachelor pad. So, they pack up the Escalade and head for the ’burbs in hopes of finding a dream home large enough to accommodate their expanding family
The Persons think they have found the perfect home: it’s spacious, has lots of character, lots of land, a guest house where Nick can work on his new venture — a sports magazine — and a lake bursting with sturgeon. Plus, the price is right. It just needs some TLC.
Translation: It’s a money pit with a view.
With mounting repair costs and an eccentric contractor (John C. McGinley) working Nick’s last nerve, Nick gives the local crew the boot and decides to finish up the work himself.
‘You have to keep on growing’In real life, Ice Cube, 38, who bought a house in the ’burbs 10 years ago, claims he can “fix simple things.” Just don’t ask him to replace the plumbing or install electrical wiring.
The father of four, however, does have this daddy thing down. “Are We There Yet?” grossed nearly $100 million worldwide so Cube, best known for debut performance in John Singleton’s 1991 classic “Boyz n the Hood” — his “Friday” and “Barbershop franchises and a string of urban and action-adventure films in which he always played the hard dude — decided to dip into that well again.
“I think you have to keep on growing,” he said. “I can’t be Doughboy (his character in ‘Boyz’) the rest of my life! I think my fans have grown up with me and they know where I am in life. Like me, they’ve got families and they’ve got houses that break down sometimes. That’s all real. So, since we did well with the first film I wanted to come back and add to the story.”
Cube’s own journey from the streets of South Central L.A. to the ’burbs has been a pretty amazing story in itself. Discovered by Dr. Dre, Cube joined his mentor, Eazy-E, DJ Yella and MC Ren in a group called N.W.A (Niggaz With Attitude) in 1986. Their groundbreaking “Straight Out of Compton” album secured their position as America’s most popular and controversial hip-hop group. Cube left N.W.A. in 1991, amid claims that the late Easy-E and his manager were embezzling funds, and went solo. His first CD, “Amerikka’s Most Wanted” dropped soon afterward.
Ever since then Cube has been in control of his own destiny. He owns the rights to all of his songs and writes, produces and stars in most of his films under his CubeVision banner.
“I’m not one for sitting back and waiting for someone to give me something,” said Cube dressed in jeans, sneakers and a long–sleeved T-shirt promoting his new film. “That’s hard for me. After doing movies like ‘Trespass’ and ‘Dangerous Ground,’ I knew it would be better for me if I had some kind of say. I knew if we wanted to make movies we needed to have some control. The best movies I’ve done have been the ones I’ve produced.”
‘Do people like it?’Like his music, it’s important to Cube that his films convey some sort of message. In “Are We Done Yet?” it’s about not giving up despite the obstacles. The thru line in all of his on-screen work, however, is to expose the world to the “nooks and crannies” of African-American life. That was also the intent with his successful FX TV series “Black/White,” in which a black and white family found out what it was like to live in each other’s skin. Next up is a show called “Good in the Hood,” which will air on A&E.
“With that we’re gonna be showcasing the good people who try to do the right thing as well as bad people trying to do the right thing,” he said. “‘Black/White’ got a lot of people talking and hopefully so will this one. That’s what it’s all about.”
It’s never really about what the critics say or what the box office returns or Nielsen ratings reveal.
“I’m more pleased that we have a movie that people like,” he says. “That’s the question I ask myself. Do people like it? I just want to know it wasn’t a waste of time and that I did my job.”
Long, his costar in four films including “Boyz n the Hood,” isn’t at all shocked by Cube’s success.
“I’m not really surprised because that’s the natural evolution of life,” she says. “If we stay in the same place it’s kind of uninteresting. He started off as a rapper in the hip-hop business and he still is a rapper, but I think he’s also a really smart and intelligent businessman. And he’s incredibly passionate about what he does. He’s taken advantage of his opportunities and his brand and he’s parlayed it into other things and built an empire for himself.
“He’s always thinking. There’s not a moment when he isn’t thinking about moving forward.”
On pointSome of his next moves include a remake of “Welcome Back Kotter,” which he’ll produce and play the title role. There’s also a new CD in the works called “Raw Footage” and at press time he was trying to lead his NBAE (NBA Entertainment League) team to the championship game.
His position? Naturally, he’s the point guard. Apparently he’s a man who needs to be control even when he’s at play.
“Naw, it’s not about that,” he says. “I’m a team player. The point guard is the guy who runs the offense, but he makes sure everyone gets theirs. That’s what I’m about on court and off.”
Additionally, he’s been doing a lot of dreaming lately. He’s not a guy who likes to go public with his goals, but he wants to own his own studio one day.
“The game that filmmakers have to go through with execs — I want to cut out some of it and make the movies that should be made,” he said. “That’s a dream of mine and if we keep working hard it will happen.
“But right now we’re gonna keep it moving and have a ball.”
Miki Turner is a freelance TV producer/writer in Los Angeles. She can be reached at .