“Man, when I was a kid I knew I was funny,” shares Ice Cube, staring at me through jet-black Prada shades. “And in the hood, you gotta laugh, man. Because if you don’t make fun of shit, it would just be depressing. And who wants to be depressed all the time?”
Indeed, though he began his career as a “crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube, from the gang called Niggas with Attitudes,” and later as an accomplished solo MC, the hip-hop legend proved himself a gifted dramatic actor with his role as Doughboy in the 1991 film Boyz n the Hood, and a nimble comedic one in Friday (which he co-wrote).
As he’s settled into middle age, the man formerly known as O’Shea Jackson has become a reliable comedy movie staple, playing the straight man opposite the loose cannon(s) in films like Barbershop, 21 Jump Street, and now Fist Fight, opening in theaters Feb. 17th. In Fist Fight, Cube plays Ron Strickland, a disciplinarian-teacher who challenges his colleague, Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) to a fight after he gets him fired.
The timing of our chat couldn’t have been better. One hour before we sat down, President Trump fired off a tweet wherein he referenced “Easy D.” Twitter, naturally, had a field day, showering the president with memes and jokes about this being his new MC name, a la the late Eazy-E.
I show the tweet to Cube, Eazy-E’s former N.W.A group mate, who hadn’t seen it yet. “Easy D? Like… ‘Easy Donald?’” he says, confused. “What the fuck? Wow. What the hell, man? Easy D? Damn. Easy D.”
Here’s the rest of our conversation.
We’ve all been in some fights. Is there one particular big fight that stands out for you?
Hell yeah. Shit. There’ve been a few. In NWA, it used to happen every now and then—just people scrappin’ backstage. In some cases, it was people starting with us, and in others, it was police and we didn’t even know they were police until they started pulling out badges. They were on some undercover shit.
Have you ever had a physical altercation with a co-star, or on a film set?
I got into it with a director once. He was just being a dick. He was mad at me because I could’ve got some shit done he couldn’t get done, so I don’t think he liked that—the fact that, on this particular movie, it seemed like I had more juice than he did.
Who was it? David O. Russell on Three Kings? Nah, man. David was cool.
But George Clooney choked him out on set, didn’t he?
Nah, it didn’t get down like that. They were about to fight. It was head-to-head. It was actually kinda funny, but it was heated, man. It was a trip because I was the first one hired on the movie, so David wanted me. Then Mark [Wahlberg] came along. Clooney, I’m not sure if he really wanted Clooney to play that role, so David’s the kind of guy where, if he doesn’t get what he wants, nothing’s gonna be right. They worked it out, though.
So what made you want to work with your Fist Fight co-star Charlie Day? Are you a fan of Always Sunny?
I’ve seen a few episodes, but they’re on like Season 12, right? There’s too much to catch up on. But I really liked him in Horrible Bosses. That’s where I knew I wanted to work with him. He has his own style of comedy where he can unravel and then bring it back. He’s not your typical comedian.
And you work well in comedies as the straight man opposite the wacky motormouth. Being the straight man is my lane, period. I would never try to do what they do because I just don’t think it would come well. So I just try to stay in my lane, and get guys who I know that if we bounced off each other with the right plot, then it’s a home run.
Another thing that would’ve been a home run was that NWA tour with you, Dr. Dre, and Eminem filling in for Eazy-E. There were rumors about that. What happened?
That was never official. That was “fake news,” as they say. The internet. I think Donald Trump put that out. [Laughs] But there was never serious talk about that. Everything always hinges on Dre. He’s the Pied Piper of this shit, so if he wanna do it, it’s always going down, and if he don’t wanna do it, it doesn’t really make sense to do this shit without him.
Where do you fall on rap lyricism? There are people like Dre and Kanye who are, as producers, more musical architects and have teams of people composing lyrics for them, and there are people like you, who are actually emcees and lyricists.
I look at it in a different way. There are always going to be emcees who are raw talents, but who really cares? It ain’t about that—it’s about what’s coming out the speaker. Ever since music has been recorded, that’s really what it’s all about. It’s up to the fan to really look into their artist, what they do, and are you going to buy into their art once you’ve figured out how they put it together? Me, personally, I used to be a ghostwriter, so I can’t really diss. Dre. Eazy-E. I’ve ghostwritten for almost any artist I’ve worked with. But the thing is, I wasn’t a ghostwriter for hire. If I’m working on your project, we’re going to write something that’s dope for your project. And I don’t ghostwrite for nobody no more, I just write my own shit. And I think it’s pure art that way. But it’s not a necessity. It’s about what comes out the speaker. Sometimes geniuses get together and make a great song, and you can’t fault them for coming together.
Let’s talk about President Donald Trump. How do you feel about his first few weeks in office? It seems like every day is crazier than the last. To me, everybody is getting what they deserve. Everything is a joke nowadays. Only a few people are taking the world seriously. America is caught up in an orgy of sarcasm where everybody wants to make the most sarcastic little remark about something serious. We’re giving more attention to reality stars over real stars, or teachers, doctors, lawyers. You’re giving the clown the stage and the mic, and now everybody wants to be a clown. So, Donald Trump is what everybody gets, and he’s going to give you what you deserve.
I read that you converted to Islam in the ‘90s, so as a Muslim, what are your thoughts on Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban?” To be honest, I think religion is stupid. I do. Nobody’s focused on god; everybody’s focused on each other. It’s all tribalism. So nobody’s focusing on god, and everybody’s focusing on these so-called prophets. And everybody’s talking about the Father, but nobody talkin’ about the Mother. I’m not talkin’ about no Mary. No. The Mother. How the hell are you gonna have a father without a mother? They taught us not to even look for the mother, and that’s why none of our prayers get answered.
But you are a practicing Muslim, right? Yeah. But, you know, I’m gonna live a long life, and I might change religions three or four times before I die. I’m on the Islam tip—but I’m on the Christian tip, too. I’m on the Buddhist tip as well. Everyone has something to offer to the world, and to be honest, we’re not fighting over religions, man. We’re fighting over resources. That’s just a smokescreen. And it’s not just oil, too—it’s water, it’s land, it’s everything. It’s greed.
Are you worried, though, about the next four years under President Trump? I’m not worried because it’s not my mess to clean up. All I gotta do is sidestep the bullshit. Everybody thought the world was gonna end when George W. Bush got in there, and I thought the world was gonna end when Ronald Reagan got in there, so…
…It does say something about this country, however, that so many people voted for Trump. It means that there are a lot of people who, though they may not support it, think it’s not that big of a deal to alienate women, African-Americans, Mexicans, Muslims, you name it. That is pretty troubling. Yeah, you know… it’s like, some people don’t care about other people—they just care about themselves. They should really call it The United Selves of America, you know? Because people don’t care about each other.
One of the most head-scratching statistics was the 53 percent of white women who voted for Trump—against the first woman presidential candidate of a major party.
Because they’re following their white men. They better not vote for this chick after they done heard him talking all that shit for the whole two years about Hillary. They better not go vote for her. So hey, the one thing I know is you reap what you sow, what goes around comes around, and these people who go against their own interests just to make sure a minority don’t get shit are backwards. There will always be people who are moving backwards, and you gotta fight that kind of thinking.