Ice Cube is no stranger to storytelling with his lyrics. The legendary South Central, Los Angeles MC is responsible for one of Rap’s most beloved tales: “It Was A Good Day,” as well as penning Eazy-E’s breakout anthem, “Boyz-n-the-Hood.” Cube’s albums, both solo and group, often have songs that follow storylines and narratives.
On the latest episode of People’s Party With Talib Kweli, Ice Cube opens up about how important he views the art of storytelling. Kweli, who describes Ice Cube as the one rapper who “might have the most cultural currency in anybody I’ve ever met in my life,” picks Cube’s brain for 90 minutes. The discussion covers the mogul’s acting career, Big 3 basketball league, his conversation with Angela Davis, and so much more. Near the 24:00 minute mark, Talib brings up Ice Cube writing “Boyz-n-the-Hood” for Eazy-E.
“I wrote it for a group called H.B.O.—Home Boys Only,” Cube explains. “They was out of New York— Queens, I believe. The lyrics was just… foreign to them. They was like, you talking another language man. And I was, you know. It was the sh*t we talk out here. So they didn’t understand what I was talking about so they rejected it. And then [Dr.] Dre convinced Eazy to do it.”
“Did you imagine it would become the name and inspiration for this film?” Kweli asks, referencing the 1991 John Singleton film, Boyz N The Hood. “It’s written in such a cinematic fashion.”
Cube then explains that inspiration for the original song was taken by rappers like Ice-T, Schoolly D, Slick Rick and KRS-One. “Yeah man, it was in the nature of [Ice-T’s] ‘6 ‘N The Mornin’,’ which is from [Schoolly D’s] ‘PSK’. And so it was in that vein of telling a story. We were all fans of Slick Rick, and fans of KRS, who, you know, that ‘wa da da dang, wa da da da dang.’ I mean that story is just crazy. So you know, those was my favorite cats at the time. And so I wanted to make a rhyme that talked about what I knew about everything going on in the neighborhood. So it came out in ‘Boyz-N-Da-Hood.’”
Kweli then brings up when Slick Rick’s name recently trended on Twitter, after XXL magazine asked followers about Hip-Hop’s best storytellers. “We all look up to Slick Rick as a great storyteller,” Kweli tells one of his Rap heroes, “but you can’t have that conversation without mentioning Ice Cube.” The Black Star MC mentions how many tweets were praising the pen game of O’Shea Jackson.
“I’ve always put storytelling rhymes on the top shelf,” Cube tells Kweli. He adds that he “A rap is a rap, a rhyme is a rhyme, a riddle is a riddle. But to walk somebody through a story in a masterful way, in a flawless way, is to me, the paramount—the tip-top of the game. And the reason why Slick Rick is, to me, the best, is delivery. Presentation, the change in the voice and the styles. I got dope rhymes and I could deliver them, but he was almost like turning a page in the book. So to me, he’s the best at it because of those reasons. And [Doug E. Fresh & Slick Rick’s] ‘‘La Di Da Di’ is like, I mean, it’s not like a singular story—but damn, to this day, nobody can fade ‘La Di Da Di.’”
Kweli says he agrees and has challenged himself to be a storyteller too. “I agree with you. I agree that it’s the top shelf,” he tells his guest. Cube continues, “It doesn’t even have to be a hit record. It doesn’t even have to be something people like. But you know, as an MC, when you deliver the perfect story and laid it outright, and you get the most satisfaction from them records—no matter if anybody else like ’em or not.”
Talib Kweli points out that Ice Cube has studied architecture. “That’s what it feels like, it feels like watching someone build an architectural structure.” Cube reacts with a smile. “I got rhymes [where] I go after that; I go after that mental. I think that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day. ‘What can you say in a rhyme that can help my mental?’ To me, the best songs, the biggest songs to me, do that. But I’m trying to do that most of the time. Not all of the time—because I think rapping should be fun too. And I think it should be the good, the bad, and the ugly of the culture. Why not? Put it out there. Nobody is exempt on my records—Black people, white people, Mexicans, Asians—everybody. [Laughs] Every pencil needs to be sharpened: put it that way. Even mine; I even talk about me. I think that’s the form to do that. A real MC does that.”
Elsewhere in the discussion, Ice Cube recalls an onstage confrontation with rapper King Sun that Talib Kweli witnessed during the 1990s. He also details the formation of Westside Connection, and praises the work of Chuck D and Public Enemy as a primary influence on him and N.W.A.