Portrait by Leslie Hassler
Ice Cube is one of the most visible West Coast rappers of all time, having helped originate gangsta rap. He is an internationally successful rapper, songwriter, actor, screenwriter and producer. Straight Outta LA premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival and then will be shown on ESPN for part of its "30 for 30" series next month. The documentary is about the how having the Raiders in LA unified the city, the genesis of Ice Cube's rap group N.W.A, and how N.W.A's use of the Raiders' uniform and spirit changed the face of sports forever.
Ice Cube showed up to be interviewed and photographed looking every inch the rapper superstar: bodyguard, publicist, beautiful wife, and diamonds that would make Liz Taylor weep with envy. But when I sat down and met his gaze, with his wife since 1992 Kimberly Woodruff looking on, I met a philosopher, a sociologist, and most unexpectedly, a happily married marriage counselor!
Who came up with the title for your new documentary?
IC: It was pretty simple really. We named our album In 1989 Straight out of Compton and the Raiders were in and out of LA so quick. The title was an easy way to sum up what the picture was about.
The fusion of music and sports?
IC: That's right. In a lot of ways. Music has done a lot to enhance the emotions of sports. It's played in arenas. Whenever there is footage cut together they're always using music. And it goes together, you know. Sports without music is just a game. Music makes it entertaining.
How did you choose the soundtrack for your film? Just as music heightens the emotions in sports, a soundtrack can make a film or ruin it.
IC: We really were using the music in this film to go back and make sure your brain cemented the time the era the place the feeling . We really used the music in this as bookmarks, when we wanted to talk about the great 80's we used "So Excited" by the Pointer Sisters. Wherever we felt like we needed to kinda stamp the brain and take the brain back. The visuals and the music do the same thing. It made it a more enjoyable movie.
Definitely. Music is like smell isn't it? You smell a fragrance or hear a song and think, "Wow, I remember exactly where I was when I first heard that!"
IC: That's right, you suddenly smell the smells in the room and feel the presence of the people who were there. You feel how you felt. You even feel the time. Each year has its own feeling in your brain.
What did this particular time feel like for you in real life?
IC: It was a lot of mixed things going on, you know, in LA. It was the cross between gangs, drugs and hip-hop. It was another ingredient that was new. Injected into the neighborhood. A lot of people went those other ways, and I'm glad that I had music to be able to escape through the hip-hop. This was the route that I wanted to take. Course it was sports too. So a lot of things were happening that were good and bad. It made the neighborhood that me and my wife come from, it made it dangerous because it's unpredictable. You can have a great week, and then the next week can not be so good. You have mixed emotions.
Is this film in some ways also a tribute to people you have known who didn't make it out like you did?
IC: Yes, and I really wanted to make a record of the time. The effect that the Raiders had on the city. And the effect that NWA had on the world. From there on out. To me, it was the perfect story for me to tell. I was in the perfect position to tell it, and it was my story too, in a lot of ways. So I was excited to be able to put this together for ESPN.
ESPN came and said "You can do a sports movie about anything you can think of" from small to the Super Bowl. They gave me carte blanche. So, I was happy to do this, because I feel like otherwise this story would never be told.
You've gotten some incredible talent to participate on this film!
IC: Yeah! We've got Ice-T, Snoop Dogg, Chuck D, got John Madden, Al Davis, Marcus Allen, and we've got a lot of politicians who were around at that time. So, to me, we've got a full array of ideas and points of view. It makes for a good documentary.
I see your beautiful wife here on the couch with us. How did you two meet? (the two smile and look down. They're not telling!)
IC & KW: We've known each other for a long time.
Any advice for me?
KW: (whispers) It's hard. (and grins)
True! I can tell you two have been together a long time. What do you know that I need to know?
IC: I would say, keep everything between you and your husband. Keep family and friends out your business, out of your arguments.
KW: Easier for you to think then, and make a decision, you know what I mean?
IC: You and your spouse make up, and now the people that you've told is calling, "What happened? Now they're rekindling something that you've put to rest.
"What about that time...."
IC: Yeah, they bring things up and it mucks up the water so we decided...
KW: It doesn't matter cause you're loving.
Is this time in LA important to you too, Kim?
KW: Yeah, because it's our childhood. You know? It's our childhood.
What do you hope people will take away from this film?
IC: To understand that music and sports go together. The craziness with sports wouldn't be like it is today without music and the merchandise and all these things that used to only happen when the team played, now happen year round. Even when the teams aren't playing because it's more than a team thing, it's a fashion thing, it's a pop culture thing and that's what music brought to sports. We made sports go from something that your father did on Sunday to keep from going to church to something the whole family does. I mean together. Watch the Super Bowl. It's become a family thing. It's for everybody, not just the sports lover and I think music has had a lot to do with that.
Did music and sports come into your life at the same time?
IC: Sports came in first, and then music. Music is a career now, but I'm still a fan like I was in 1989.
Is it all about the Raiders?
IC: In football, yeah, and in basketball it's all about the Lakers. We're from LA, so, those are our only options!
Ice Cube will play Gabe Kotter in the upcoming Hollywood adaptation of the sitcom classic Welcome Back Kotter.