Ice Cube's message is starting to be heard over the shocking words

December 24, 1993|By Mark Brown | Mark Brown,Orange County Register

He might be like many people in several ways: Married, two children ages 2 and 7, and he's concerned that they grow up safe and strong.

He's successful in his field despite humble roots, and he's an entrepreneur who found a niche and filled it.

But most people probably know Ice Cube -- rapper and former member of N.W.A -- better as a media devil, one of those guys who is a good argument all by himself for parental advisory stickers.

Like it or not, Los Angeles-based Ice Cube is a rapper children are listening to. His albums have been best sellers, and his new one, "Lethal Injection," promises to be no exception.

And here is what he's telling his listeners: Reject materialism; respect people for who they are, not what they have; work together to bring about change; practice safe sex; don't use drugs; get a college education; give back to your community; stop the gang violence.

You might agree with all his ideas --just not the way he expresses them. Ever since 1990's "AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted," Cube has been scorned as part of the problem rather than just a symptom or expression of it. Often tagged for having a perceived anti-white, anti-Asian and anti-female bias, some critics started spelling his name Ice KKKube.

It wasn't until last year's riots and this year's best-selling "The Predator" that people realized maybe there might be something deeper.

He'll never be invited to speak to the Rotary Club, but in South-Central Los Angeles the 24-year-old rapper is a hero, invited recently to talk to students at Locke High School as a reward for improving their grades.

After all, it was in school that he started rapping out of boredom in typing class -- "You didn't think Ice Cube could type, right?"

Just blocks from where Cube -- born O'Shea Jackson -- grew up wanting to be a member of the gangs that were shooting one another on the streets, Locke High School reflects the neighborhood -- people trying to make something positive out of a difficult situation.

The main entrance is covered with heavy steel doors. Signs on the wall warn against drugs.

Flanked by bow-tied Muslim aides, Cube entered the gymnasium from a back door after going through four levels of security and the room exploding in cheers, followed by rapt attention as the hundreds of students hung on every word.

In turn Cube treated the students -- not that much younger than him -- with a respect and equality that high school kids don't often get from adults, much less rich stars.

In that talk and an interview later sitting on a broken bench in a smaller, grubbier gym, Cube drew the lines clearly and firmly: Stand up for yourselves, the rapper told the crowd, or it's only going to get worse.

"A lot of rappers have been taking heat for what they've allegedly been doing outside of rockin' the microphone," he said, mentioning Snoop Doggy Dogg's murder charge and various assault charges against Flavor Flav and other rappers.

"We need to fight this attack. These are our leaders. These are the only people who can say what they want to say without people censoring them," Cube said.

Blame rappers solely for violence? No way, Ice Cube says.

"I learned to throw my first punch from Bugs Bunny. I picked up my first weapon at Toys 'R' Us," Cube said in an interview after his speech. "You are what you've been taught. America is very violent, so what do you expect? If the parents are violent, the kids are going to be violent. You won't get anything done with trying to ban rap music."

While sex and violence permeate his work -- "Lethal Injection" starts with the murder of a white man -- it's only a forum for expression, he said.

"All you can tell the difference between a comic book and a newspaper, am I right?" Cube said. "They think you're all stupid. They think you don't know the difference between someone who's rapping and getting their ego off and someone who's telling the truth. They think we're all ignorant.

"I know we're all addicted to sex and violence. We all grew up on it. We can't help it. If there's a fight after school, everybody wants to see it and whoever says they don't is a liar," Cube said. "Since we're addicted to sex and violence, that's how I get your ears. I put it in the music. But I also put some knowledge on top of that, so you can get the medicine you need to fight this beast we've got to fight."

As for using words like "bitches" and "hoes" in his music, Cube points out that he uses much worse for men. It doesn't mean he views all women or all men that way. "We always let these words and these languages blind us from the message."

"I don't speak bad on females," Cube insisted.

"What I do in my music is describe the frustrations and some of the things that go on in the neighborhoods. Sometimes the man is the cause of a lot of problems. Sometimes it's the men when they think life is all about a street or a neighborhood," he said. "And you've got women. Sometimes they think life is all about money and getting a man with money.

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