By Doctor Boyce Watkins
My favorite rapper in the world is Ice Cube, the man who represents the West Coast more than any other artist in the history of hip hop. There are a few moments that a man remembers in his life: his first kiss, the first time he does you-know-what, his first job, and his first child. Added to my list is the first time I heard “Dopeman” bumping out of a speaker system at a house party. I didn’t like music or hip hop very much until I heard NWA, so Ice Cube was responsible for the birth of hip hop power in the west, and also for the birth of hip hop into my teenage psyche. Call me strange, but the other stuff just didn’t inspire me as much.
As Ice Cube has gotten older, things have changed. Some of the changes are astonishing, like the manner through which he has been able to create relatively low budget films and turn them into blockbusters. He also makes incredibly good albums for his age, making him the only artist I actually go to the CD store in order to purchase.
But one area where I can’t sign off on my favorite rapper is his decision to dismiss young artists and spend so much time criticizing them. Don’t get me wrong – a lot of young artists are straight garbage men, producing music that lacks the type of intelligence and vision that Cube used to build the gangsta rap industry. But there are many young artists with incredible talent who could even go pound for pound with Ice Cube, Tupac and any of the other great rappers of the present and past.
In a recent statement on his blog, Ice Cube had this to say:
“What’s up with these local MC’s in L.A. who keep disrespecting me? They’re just mad cause I don’t fuck with they wack-ass. They ain’t on my level, why should I waste my time. I don’t even remember ever meeting these or even being in the same room with any of ’em. They can’t make a name for themselves so they need help from the O/G’s. I refuse the throw’em a life line. Fuck’em. It ain’t my job to make nobody famous. And for the record, I ain’t scared of no nigga. Especially, no rappers….seriously people.
OK, here’s the deal with Ice Cube. The truth is that what he’s saying is correct in some aspects. When you make it to the top of your industry, there is always a person who wants the short cut or some kind of phone call that will make them instantly famous. I am not nearly as visible as Ice Cube, but I get my share of the “Can you show my book to (fill in the blank)” conversations every single day. Quite honestly, I become a bit irritated that some people are not willing to do the hard work to make themselves successful, but I understand why they ask for help.
But there is another side to the issue. Ice Cube, in all of his bravado (a necessary by-product of navigating an environment where 14-year old kids shoot each other down with machine guns) is responding to the other artists in a manner that is probably harsher than it needs to be. By simply referring to the “New West,” Cube is missing the opportunity to simply give a shout out to other young artists he respects and he is making an added mistake of lumping all of the young artists together into a bunch. While Cube is a strong dude, the truth is that he doesn’t want the headache of having every young rapper on the West Coast feeling that he has disrespected them.
Secondly, Ice Cube is the OG, the adult in the situation. I listen to his lyrics carefully (as I did back when I was in college), and noticed that while Cube may be correct in his critiques, his statements can sometimes lack empathy. I wonder if Cube has the ability to respect the plight of the young artist, who may or may not be well-educated, but who is also trying to find a place in the industry. Instead, he seems to feel that every 18-year old rapper should have the wisdom of a 40-year old who has made $100 million dollars in his career. The truth is that if a young Ice Cube had run into this kind of resistance, he would have responded in a highly disrespectful way. At this point, as the elder statesman, Ice Cube would be well-advised to overlook the pettiness of some young artists and focus on providing mentorship.
Old folks can never win the battle of trying to tell young people to shut up and do things their way. This only breeds resistance and resentment. Eventually, young artists like Jay Rock are going to take over the West Coast, and Ice Cube will be the true senior citizen of the industry. Whether they choose to respect or acknowledge Cube in his old age will, by and large, be a function of whether or not he showed respect for them. A father may be able to abuse his children when they are young and weak, but he eventually pays a price when they are grown up and strong. Ice Cube needs to find a way to understand and appreciate young artists, not to try to fight them all at once.
With that said, Ice Cube will always be my favorite rapper. The brother has changed the world.