Ice Cube gets the last laugh (The Denver Post)

Ricardo Baca
The Denver Post
May. 19, 2006 12:00 AM

Exactly 20 years ago, something special was brewing in South Central Los Angeles.

It was visceral and violent, lyrically maniacal and severe enough to draw the attention of the FBI.

It was N.W.A., the unrepentant gangsta-rap trio that still is among hip-hop’s most influential acts. It lasted a potent five years and three albums, but it eventually fizzled. Of the characters involved, Eazy-E died of AIDS in 1995, and Dr. Dre has gone on to be the most musically successful of the three, producing hit records and discovering star-quality talent, including Eminem and 50 Cent. advertisement

And then there’s Ice Cube, the first to leave N.W.A., who since 1989 has gone on to a completely different career centering around family- friendly films starring the once-thuggish Cube as the cuddly comic foil.

What a difference 20 years has made for Cube, who will bring his hip-hop to Denver on Thursday night before moving on to Phoenix, San Diego and Los Angeles.

“We never knew we were gonna get (N.W.A.) records on the radio, even, when we first got started,” Cube said earlier this week from Atlanta. “We thought we were just gonna be an underground group like Blowfly or somebody – somebody who did these records that were for adult ears only. We thought our records would be put in the same category as those Richard Pryor or Eddie Murphy records.”

And they were at first, but as the rap trio developed, eventually releasing its breakthrough sophomore record “Straight Outta Compton” in 1989, so was the American consciousness. Sure, those parental-advisory stickers were everywhere, but kids were stepping out in support of N.W.A., Too Short and their foul-mouthed brethren – and some parents did, too.

The groups sold records. And N.W.A. acted as a springboard for everybody involved – especially Cube, who quickly moved into the realm of film through prominent roles in “Boyz N the Hood,” “Higher Learning” and “Friday,” the latter of which he also wrote and produced.

“Movies and music work hand in hand,” Cube said. “Without movies, I don’t know exactly where my career would be, so I’ve definitely been able to sustain longer than the average rapper who just does records.”

Lately, though, Cube has been the opposite – a rapper who just does movies. His last record, “War & Peace, Vol. 2,” was released in 2000, while he’s seen multiple films through the pipeline in that time. But the hiatus changed nothing in Cube’s mind. He’s still a rapper who acts as opposed to the other way around.

“In my life, music is the most important thing to me right now,” Cube said. “Careerwise, movies, you know, are more visible and make a lot more money. But as far as my love and what I enjoy doing the most, music is No. 1.”

A manifestation of this love will come to fans June 6 when Cube’s “Laugh Now, Cry Later” hits stores on his Lench Mob label.

“I’ve been recording for about a year, so I had to push movies aside just to do it,” Cube said. “It’s my best record in years, because I was able to put all my concentration into the record and not worry about being pulled away from it. I was able to focus totally on it, so I really, really think that this record is exactly what my fans want from me.

“It’s a totally different record than ‘War & Peace,’ which was what it was. This record is contemporary, but a lot of the people who hear it say that it sounds like the old Ice Cube, because I am the old Ice Cube. But people who have been my fans for years, the hip-hop community, are responding to the record really good.”

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