"It's much more than a film about a rap group," explains Ice Cube during our recent chat (listen below) about "Straight Outta Compton," which chronicles the rise of Cube and his hip-hop group N.W.A. in the late 1980s. They popularized gangsta rap and sparked controversy with their angry lyrics about police brutality. That topic is still of widespread concern a quarter-century later. "These issues have not been addressed or dealt with properly," he says. "If we just let these things go on, then the country is not going to get any better. It's just going to get worse and worse. You can't keep people down. You just can't do it."
In addition to being one of the film's subjects, Ice Cube is a producer, along with fellow N.W.A. member Dr. Dre. It was a "monumental task," he admits, "putting 10 years into two-and-a-half hours." It was also challenging to relive some of the conflicts of that era: "There's certain things you don't want to rehash but when you're doing a movie like this, you've got to let it all hang out as much as you possibly can."
Making the film even more personal was the fact that Cube's son, O'Shea Jackson Jr., was cast to play him. Cube knew that Jackson "could handle the rapping on-stage and performing, but he really developed the chops of a great actor. I'm extremely proud that he honed in his craft like that." That work paid off on December 9 when Jackson and his co-stars earned a SAG nomination for Best Film Ensemble.
More than that, "I believe that he understands me more doing this movie, which is a great thing," Cube adds. "I had another son producing the movie, my other son Darryl. Just having them on the set, reliving these events and bringing them to life, understanding the passion behind the scenes and the passion behind the project, I think it all brought us closer together."
But Ice Cube also knew to be prepared for controversy, having faced it during N.W.A.'s rise. "There was going to be controversy around the movie," he admits. "There was controversy around the group, so expect everything."
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Ice Cube photo credit: Jonathan Ng/Newspix/REX
"Straight Outta Compton" photo credit: Universal Pictures