Music » Features

No matter where his career has taken him, Ice Cube's legacy is still hard

Ice, Aged

by

comment

The original plan for this piece was to illustrate how Ice Cube went from AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted to America's favorite dad — to chart the course of a slide into irrelevance. The plan was to take shots at the O.G. who's gone Old Navy, the voice of urban America who looked like he'd made a permanent move to the suburbs. And then Provincetown, Mass., police chief Jeff Jaran had to walk into a bar, get his panties in a twist over a 25-year-old song and make our whole thesis invalid. Whatever snark we may have had prepared is essentially invalid knowing that "Fuck tha Police" — a song Ice Cube wrote while still a member of NWA — can still piss people off, and can still make headlines. No matter how soft — or melted, perhaps — Ice Cube's image may have gotten, his legacy is still infinitely harder than just about any artist on the planet.

According to the Cape Cod Times, Jaran was at a pub called — we shit you not — The Squealing Pig for a local official's post-election party when he heard the offending song. And it's not a surprise that a cop would take offense to "Fuck tha Police" — despite its age, it's still as pointed and powerful as ever. But it is a surprise that Jaran had never heard the song before. Maybe it's the circles we run in, but it's hard to believe that there is an American old enough to buy a lotto ticket who hasn't heard it before.

"Fuck tha Police" is a cultural touchstone — the sort of song that goes so far beyond its point that it attains immortality. It has become a mantra for every kid who's ever been hassled about their clothes, the place they hang out or their inability to fit the normative strictures of society. It's a staple of jukeboxes, car stereos and house parties — it's such a universal song that it verges on overplayed. And this Jaran dude has never heard it? That's crazy.

The song also happens to be evidence of Ice Cube's power as a writer. The verses he authored on NWA's debut Straight Outta Compton — which are the majority, even when he wasn't rapping them himself — stand as some of the most archetypal in hip-hop, the gold standard by which all others are judged. His early solo work, which spawned countless imitators and knockoffs, is still visceral, violent and evocative, even after two decades. Shit, we might go so far as to say classics like The Predator, Death Certificate and Lethal Injection are downright terrifying portrayals of American life under the boot of the prison-industrial complex. And it's not like the topics Cube tackles are quaint recollections of a less enlightened era — the issues dealt with are still as prevalent today, even if hip-hop has passed over challenging the system in favor of poppin' bottles at the club.

Then again, Ice Cube didn't stop at just writing gangsta anthems — though, truth be told, he could probably have coasted on "It Was a Good Day" and nobody would have held it against him, seeing as how that song is as close to perfect as mere mortals can hope for. No, Ice Cube moved beyond hip-hop and into acting — his portrayal of Doughboy in Boyz n the Hood defined the archetypal inner-city gangster — and screenwriting, where he and longtime collaborator DJ Pooh helped shape the turn-of-the-21st-century stoner aesthetic with Friday. If a piece of writing can be judged by its long-term quotability, then our two decades' worth of saying "You ain't got shit to do!" on a weekly basis confirms that Cube is in fact the Dostoyevsky of dope culture. Add that to a resume full of producing (the massive Barbershop series) and directing (the excellent "Straight Outta L.A." installment of ESPN's 30 for 30 series). Oh right, and there's also XXX: State of the Union, which doesn't count as acting, but it does count as grade-A B-movie fun.

This certainly is not to say that Ice Cube has had a flawless career of outstanding artistic successes — we love Anaconda as much as the next goon, but an outstanding artistic success it is not. Rather, Ice Cube has achieved such creative bona fides that he can do whatever he wants. As Chief Jaran illustrated at The Squealing Pig, people are still catching up to and still getting outraged by things that Cube wrote when he was a "teenager with a little bit of gold and a pager." And that, in our eyes, means he's entitled to make as many family-friendly movies he wants — just so long as he comes to town every few years and delves into his deep back catalog of profoundly family-unfriendly material.

Email music@nashvillescene.com.

Tags

Add a comment