One of the most important lessons I've learned working on the outskirts of the music industry is that nothing's real until it's actually happening. Highly anticipated albums disappear, promised guest verses are infinitely getting done "next Tuesday" and interviews guaranteed by publicists and managers evaporate without explaination. Unpredictability is simply the nature of the beast, and the key to not getting swallowed by that beast is learning to care enough to be prepared for an opportunity to come to fruition without caring so much you're disappointed when it doesn't.
So while I'm standing in a rain-soaked media tent at Soundset, texting back and forth with Ice Cube's manager, I'm careful not to let my head fall inside the mouth of the beast. After every text I send I'm ready for a reply telling me he's no longer available, or more likely just no reply at all, but no, it keeps looking good and keeps looking good and then suddenly if we can be at Cube's trailer in 10 minutes we can do this interview and now we're walking towards Cube's trailer and opening the door and there he is. It's actually happening.
I'm not often intimidated by rappers, but before I even see him, I'm intimidated by Ice Cube. I'm an '80s baby, and so my memories of O'Shea Jackson are far more closely linked with hearing his snarl on N.W.A. albums than laughing at him during blockbuster comedies. The first time I see Cube he's sitting alone on a couch, sunglasses on, barely acknowledging the people swirling around him. He's not unfriendly, not at all, more like serious, a CEO in his boardroom. He's due to hit the stage in minutes and he's locked in, this is his world and there's never any doubt who's in command.
Finally we go off into another room and I'm literally face-to-face with the man. I try to steady my nerves by doing that thing where you tell yourself that a famous person is just a human exactly like you're a human, but nope, when you're in the same room as Ice Cube you never forget that you're in the same room as Ice Cube. So I move to Plan B and go to my happy place; talking about rap music. West coast hip-hop is currently experiencing a renaissance of sorts and Cube was a founding father of L.A.'s first explosion onto the national radar. What role does he see himself playing in west coast hip-hop now?
Cube saying that people tend to gravitate towards the new in music, whether that new is actually better or not, has stuck with me since we talked. We're so quick to hop on and off every passing bandwagon that we often take artists who have been around for years for a reason for granted. In many ways veteran artists really are at a disadvatage when it comes to making new hit songs. No matter how dope that new song may be, it's hard to surmount the industry's pull towards new, bright and shiny objects. That's why Cube is so focused on simply making the music he wants to make, powerful advice for artists at any stage of their career.
Cube's insistence on making his music, his way, has been a staple of his career since the beginning. Of course he's had platinum albums, of course he's had number one rap singles, but that's always come from making sure that he's making music that's true to himself first and foremost, not bowing to pressure from record execs. I knew it intellectually coming into the interview, but at this point in our conversation I'm starting to truly realize just how much wisdom and knowledge Cube possesses about hip-hop, music and the world. So I dug a little deeper - hip-hop has always been scapegoated and protested against, and Ice Cube is no stranger to controversy. What value does he see in hip-hop and his music?
I went on to ask him quickly about his long-awaited album Everythang's Corrupt album because it felt like I had to - he's holding onto it until he's 100 percent happy with it and 100 percent available to really promote it - and then it was time for me to leave and for Cube to rock a crowd of thousands. More often that not the things you want most to have happen don't, but sometimes, against the odds, they do. You really do get to sit down with a legendary rapper you grew up listening to, you really do get to see a side of Cube that we often don't get through only his movies, and it really does leave you with an even deeper appreciation for both the man's legacy and his current place in hip-hop. It's rare, but at these moments spending your life wrestling with the beasts of unpredictability is worth it.
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. He also occasionally talks on podcasts/radio/TV. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]