The Transformation of Ice Cube

As last year’s smash hit movie “Straight Outta Compton” reminded the world, Ice Cube broke into the public consciousness as a member of the most dangerous rap group that ever existed: N.W.A.

He was not just an MC with the group, but its primary lyricist as well — responsible for songs that not only gave voice to the simmering anger in the most gang-ridden streets of Los Angeles before the eruption of the 1992 riots, but also wallowing in misogyny and anti-police vitriol like their hit song, “F*** the Police.”

So, it’s been surprising to see his transformation over the past two decades into one of Hollywood’s most successful moguls. While he hasn’t released a rap album since 2010 and was only releasing CDs sporadically for years before that, Cube (his actual legal name now) has built a career in which he has written eight films, produced 26, and acted in 40.

Cube has quietly managed to become a franchise kingpin, with five different films of his having spawned sequels and even TV series.

Even more surprisingly, Cube has quietly managed to become a franchise kingpin, with five different films of his having spawned sequels and even TV series. “Ride Along” made a whopping $155 million, and its sequel, “Ride Along 2,” which came out this weekend, has already passed the $40 million mark.

“Are We There Yet?” a road-trip film that features Cube as a frazzled family man, spawned a movie sequel and a nearly 80-episode run as a sitcom on the TBS network. “Barbershop” has its third movie coming out in April and spawned a Showtime sitcom, and Cube’s making his third “Jump Street” movie with no end to the sequels in sight. And rumors continue to swirl that a fourth “Friday” movie is in the offing (the first three pulled in $130 million).

All this from a man who said rapped in 1988’s “Gangsta Gangsta” — “We don’t just say no, we to busy sayin’ yeah!/ About drinkin’ straight out the eight bottle/ Do I look like a mutha fuckin role model?/ To a kid lookin’ up ta me/Life ain’t nothin but b***** and money.”

It’s almost impossible to think of any other actor in Hollywood with five active franchises. And strangest of all, Cube has transformed his image and message tremendously as his film career has grown.

The man who despised by the police he hated as N.W.A. front man now plays a heroic cop in the “Ride Along” films and a police supervisor in the “Jump Street” series of movies. He’s a hard-working, honest-living barber in the “Barbershop” movies, reflecting a pro-entrepreneurial image. And with the “Are We There Yet?” films and TV series, he established a solid base of entertainment for families to enjoy.

“Ride Along 2” is a perfect example of how Ice Cube is using his clout in ever more positive fashion. The two “Ride” movies are rated PG13, and aside from a couple quick shots of women in lingerie or bikinis, most of which are played at least partly for laughs, it is a clean comedy with action violence that never gets bloody and language that amazingly doesn’t use the “F” word even once. Who ever saw that coming from the man who used to drop repeated F bombs while busting rhymes.

But the positivity goes beyond that, as “Ride 2” co-star Kevin Hart and Ice Cube portray guys who are solidly middle-class, yet aspire to rise higher in life among the police. They may bend the rules, but they’re always out to stop criminals. And Hart is engaged in the first movie, and gets married in the new one, showing a committed relationship that is infinitely more positive than most shown in movies today, thus also setting a good example for their fans.

Where does this transformation come from? Perhaps it was ingrained in Cube from the start. Born O’Shea Jackson, he was the son of a school custodian mother and a father who was a groundskeeper at the University of California, Los Angeles. But here’s something few know: Cube has been married to the same woman for 24 years and is the father of four kids — his oldest son portraying him in “Straight Outta Compton.”

When you take a closer look at “Compton,” you can understand where the anger that once fueled lyrics that drew FBI attention came from. While the movie engages in a bit of image clean up, it still seems to portray N.W.A. members honestly, warts and all. But even so, it shows a group of young men who first and foremost had a message of protest to get out at a volatile time, and had the capitalist and entrepreneurial drive to push their careers far past that point.

Cube sang in 1998 about a life goal. “Won’t be satisfied, till I get my face on a thermos,” he said in “Pushin’ Weight.” He might not have gotten that, but he is worth $150 million, and he’s traded Compton in for a mansion in the Los Angeles Hills.

Last Modified: January 18, 2016, 11:49 am

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