I watched the Rock Docs: NWA: The World’s Most Dangerous Group documentary about NWA last night. Surprisingly, it made me think and actually somewhat changed my view on some things, most notably Ice Cube. I know, if something on VH1 made me think, apparently intentionally, then WTF is up with the universe?
I loathed Ice Cube the first time I heard his solo music. I first heard it at a time when the hip hop industry was working overtime at making it acceptable for white people to buy rap albums. Longtime Blue Blood readers may recall an article I wrote for the print magazine about my love of Ice T, which I called “I Shot the Sheriff and the Deputy”. (I’m a witty girl.) But the first stuff I heard by Ice Cube was not about the things I could relate to in an Ice T record. If there was anything about rage, disenfranchisement, and reaching for power on there, it was most definitely not for me. Ice Cube went on and on and on about how much white people overall suck and Asian people are this and Jewish people are this and white women are all ugly and blah blah blah. Apart from the deliberately alienating lyrics, this was also a time when rappers didn’t really tend to be that good-looking. Music television was around and MTV was instrumental in popularizing NWA, but let’s just say Ice Cube didn’t really have the good looks of LL Cool J, Nelly, or 50 Cent. Ice Cube looked like the pissed off guy who, if you had a party at your house, would get drunk and start breaking stuff as soon as his friends started having fun or getting laid. Like he should talk about what anybody else looks like. Hmph.
Then, at some point, Ice Cube appeared to have had politician-level quantities of Botox injected into his head and he started appearing in family-friendly comedies. I thought that maybe the deities of irony think that’s funny. But Ice Cube was appearing in exactly the kind of movies which are offensively wholesome. I’m not opposed to wholesome, but I am opposed to the kind of wholesome which makes you believe someone is just hiding most of who they really are. I am opposed to the kind of wholesome which is intended to make regular people feel terrible about themselves. And I thought Ice Cube was, by now, not only a racist misogynist, but a sell-out racist misogynist tool of the overculture.
Watching this VH1 special made me rethink my opinion that NWA was really just an example of Dr. Dre being great and taking a few guys from his neighborhood with him, folks who were just in the right place at the right time with the right friend. Taking nothing away from Dr. Dre’s brilliance, NWA may have been able to be what it was for more of a group synergy than I would previously have credited. Notably, Ice Cube actually wrote a number of raps, but I’ve never seen press coverage of the group talk about that before.
I can see why Ice Cube might have furrowed his brow like that, if he wrote some of NWA’s angriest words and then he saw Eazy-E being all about grabbing all the dough and having sex with as many groupies as possible. And he saw his bandmates settling into making something he saw as important and political into a business. As the seed money for the band and the studio they recorded in came from Eazy-E and much of the band’s street cred came from Eazy-E, he probably deserved a bigger slice of the money pie and, if he was more of a hit with the ladies than the others, maybe he was just plain sexier. He was certainly hotter than Ice Cube. And Eazy-E did die of AIDS from having so much random unprotected sex, so not that there wasn’t, ya know, a downside to being attractive that way.
Knowing that Dr. Dre went on to tap talents including Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and 50 Cent, I just kinda thought he was the brains of the operation. I’m not sure what MC Ren went on to, besides a few solo efforts, at least one of which did very well. DJ Yella went on to direct for mainstream adult video companies. I obviously believe that porn can be political, but calling a gonzo porn series DJ Yella’s Str8 Outta Compton really seems to show a certain willingness to overlook the importance, strength, and pride of NWA’s Straight Outta Compton record.
I feel a certain sympathy and understanding for Ice Cube now, that I did not before. If those words were his and he truly believed in what NWA had to say and changing the world and it was not about the money or the groupies, then it must have been gut-wrenching for him when those around him started talking like it was just business. I don’t know what year he legally changed his name to be Ice Cube, but it seems like he really wanted to be that guy, not just play a character to sell stuff.
On one level, I’m pleased that the internet facilitated the financial viability of my previously costly art project for my scene and community. Money can facilitate freedom and I like freedom. But money can be a really polluting influence as well, one which really brings out the wolves. I know I find it gut-wrenching when I hear “just business” from my peers and compatriots, some of whom are (or at least were) people I deeply believed in. There are people, I would have considered members of my tribe, who help a data mining corporation like Experian simultaneously strip mine our culture and destroy any remaining privacy or control over our lives we might have. There are people, I would have considered members of my tribe, who help a mainstream adult video corporation like Vivid recruit others I would have considered members of my tribe, while paying them far less than they would ever offer someone they considered a full-fledged member of society. There are people, I would have considered members of my tribe, who help a mainstream porn site like SuicideGirls turn once vital sexual and feminist activism into bickering competitions which would be unseemly even in junior high school girls. There are people, I would have considered members of my tribe, who help a mainstream clothing corporation like Hot Topic cheapen our style and make it something for children.
Maybe they have given up on true empowerment and feel like playing the clown is the only option left for them. If they can no longer recall what was supposed to be empowering about what they chose to do, then, in my opinion, they need to check themselves.
I’m not interested in being the court jester with the funny-colored hair in a disrespectful ruler’s kingdom. I’m thoroughly capable of putting on an Izod and having a nice salon do something more natural. I was bad at golf the last time I played at my grandparents country club, before being banned for punk rock behavior. But I could learn. And I love to eat, so I am ahead of the curve in knowing which fork to use.
If I decide to switch things up, it will not be to play the Pied Piper in leading people to work for Experian for free (while giving away their personal data) or Vivid for less than standard wages. I absolutely reject the notion that I should accept second class citizen status because of how I like to have sex or my gender or what I like to wear or what I like to listen to or having an artistic temperament. There is no obvious word for the kind of disenfranchised I am. But I won’t accept working for a corporate master on lesser terms because of it, any more than Ice Cube would for the color of his skin or where he is from.
All I’m saying is that Ice Cube made a reported thirteen million dollars last year and I no longer begrudge him it.