Shake ‘Em Up

Ice Cube on carving his own path and staying true to his roots.

There’s a scene in Ice Cube’s cult classic film Friday (1995) when Smokey—played by Chris Tucker—says to Cube, “I’m gonna get you high today because it’s Friday. You ain’t got no job, and you ain’t got shit to do,” a line forever burned into pop culture’s ’90s lexicon. Although Cube had previously appeared in movies like Boyz N The Hood and CB4, the stoner flick launched Cube into another orbit and spawned two popular sequels, Next Friday and Friday After Next, and an animated series. It was the brilliant start to another colorful chapter. By the time he shot the film’s first installment, Cube was already a bona fide rap star, but after Friday, he was also a movie star.

Beginning with N.W.A’s seminal album, 1988’s Straight Outta Compton, Cube asserted himself as a tour de force early on. With his signature snarl and brutally honest lyrical gut punches, he helped put gangsta rap firmly on the map. After departing the group under somewhat contentious circumstances, he embarked on a fruitful solo career, releasing AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted in 1990, Death Certificate in 1991, The Predator in 1992, and Lethal Injection in 1993.

Over the last 30 years, Cube has evolved into a one-man army. He established his own three-on-three basketball league, Big3, starred in several more blockbuster films, released multiple albums, and formed a supergroup with Too $hort, Snoop Dogg, and E-40 called Mount Westmore. To say he’s kept himself busy would be a gross understatement. At this point in his career, he’s accomplished so much (including being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame), that it’s difficult to fathom what he could possibly do next. But as Cube would put it, there “ain’t no stoppin’ a G.”

“It’s really just about getting better at the things that I am doing,” he said. “I don’t look at it as conquering new ground. I look at it more like filling a void. I like doing shit that I think is cool and being able to present it to the world but not being scared to present it to the world. Because sometimes people hold they self back because they don’t have trust in ability to deliver. It’s just about getting better.

High Times Magazine, February 2024

“I can always do better records. I can do better movies. I can promote my league better, so it’s just really not looking for more ground to conquer unless it make sense. But doing what you could creatively deliver at a high level is really the goal.”

Cube is well-versed in breaking down barriers. Aside from his history with N.W.A, the proud Los Angeles native took a gamble when he recruited The Bomb Squad of Public Enemy fame for co-production on AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. West Coast artists typically didn’t mesh with East Coast artists back then, so it was almost taboo to take the risk. In Cube’s case, the gamble paid off, and the album was certified platinum within four months of its arrival and inspired others to follow suit. It’s all part of Cube’s ethos, which involves copious amounts of anti-establishment thinking.

“Everybody’s a revolutionary if you just don’t accept what came before you just because,” he said. “If it don’t work for you, don’t accept it and do something different. Just because they’ve been doing this the same way for 1,000 years, who gives a fuck? Yeah, I haven’t been here 1,000 years, and I’m not gonna be here for a 1,000, so I’m here to change the game and do it my way that works for me as long as I’m here. And then, if people don’t like it, they could change it back when I’m gone.”

It’s an admirable way to live. Too often, people’s self-worth is based on what others think of them, but Cube has always bucked the system.

“People that don’t love you ain’t no use to listen to them, really,” he said. “They don’t have your best interest at heart. They have their own best interest at heart.”

He learned it from his father, Hosea Jackson, who used to be a groundskeeper for the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He also credits his older brother, Clyde Jackson, for giving him the confidence to be his own man.

“It come from my pops, my brother—just my household,” he explained. “My pops is not part of any group, gang, or societal club. No man outside of his job could ever tell him what to do, so he was always his own man. He didn’t stand behind nobody but his brothers. That’s it. No other situation was gonna make him do something that he didn’t want to do. And I’m not part of nothing where somebody can tell me what to do. Anything that was like that other than maybe football or basketball—coaches tell you what to do all the time—but outside of that, I don’t want to be a part of nothing like that. I want to be my own man and stand on my own two feet and deal with my own situations and not have to adhere to anybody.”

Ice Cube has smashed that goal and is in a place where he can navigate his career like the captain of his own ship. He’ll perform at the Cali Vibes Festival in mid-February before heading to Canada for a quick, eight-stop tour with Xzibit later that month. His Big3 league returns to CBS in 2024, and his partnership with Weedmaps is thriving (he has his own strain, Good Day Kush, named after his 1992 single “It Was a Good Day”). Like Frank Sinatra, he did it his way.

“It’s a blessing, really,” he said of his career. “For one, I made a promise to myself when I got in this business that I wouldn’t let it change who I am as a person, so I was always willing to let the chips fall where they may and not worry about ‘I can’t do this.’ You know like, ‘Will my career be over if I do this or that?’ When you broke when you started off, going back to being broke is not an issue. That’s not motivation, like, ‘I’m going to be broke again, let me bow down to this bullshit.’”

Ice Cube is currently wrapping up his 11th studio album, Man Down, a testament to his unwavering commitment to the craft. After all, he could have hung up the mic years ago and rested on his laurels, but he credits everything to hip-hop. When asked what he wanted to say to a culture that’s given him so much, he replied, “Thank you for being raw and real. And thank you for helping us create industries where we can feed our families.”

This article was originally published in the February 2024 issue of High Times Magazine.

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