Almost 25 years since Rodney King was beaten by LA police, sparking riots when the officers who did it were exonerated, the man who penned the rap anthem F*** Tha Police says nothing much has changed.
As Straight Outta Compton, a film about his band NWA, hits cinemas in Australia, Ice Cube recalled the mood of the late 1980s for young black men in LA, particularly his home turf in the city’s South Central.
“We had the influx of gang banging, crack cocaine was new in the 80s,” Ice Cube told ABC’s 7.30 program.
“Daryl Gates, who was our police chief, had considered a war on gangs, which was really a war on young black youth that looked like gang members, so it was pretty hard.”
NWA’s debut album Straight Outta Compton, released in 1988, was revolutionary for its honest and explosive social commentary on gang culture, drugs and police brutality.
“When you’re dealing with a police department who has targeted your youth or your friends, family members, what do you do, you know, how do you fight back against that,” Ice Cube said.
“You know we didn’t want to go out in the street with guns, weapons, Molotov cocktails, we didn’t want to burn down our neighbourhood, we didn’t want to do any of that, we wanted to make a record.
“We wanted to give people somewhat of a verbal weapon and not a physical weapon.”
Ferguson rioting an eerie parallel
Ice Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson Junior, plays his father in the new Straight Outta Compton biopic.
For him, the recent cases of police brutality and subsequent rioting in Ferguson, Missouri provided an eerie parallel during filming.
“You started to feel it on set,” he said.
“We are doing the riot scenes in Detroit and LA, and then you go home and Ferguson is on the TV, the whole hands up movement starting.
“The relevancy of the film is not something that we wanted.
“It is a film that is talking about the past, but is still talking about the present.
“If you make people aware of a problem it usually leads to a solution, but we are still dealing with the exact same problems, it’s just more camera phones, more social media and you are allowing people to see more cases of it and the cases are piled up.
“It is a matter of people in positions of power, abusing that power before NWA, during NWA and sadly way after NWA.”
Film criticised for omission of dark elements
The film has been criticised for leaving out some of the darker elements of NWA’s history.
Hip hop journalist Dee Barnes recently spoke up about an incident in 1991 in which band member Dr Dre allegedly assaulted her over the way her TV program reported an NWA story.
Other women, including Dre’s former girlfriend Michel’le, have also claimed he was violent towards them.
These events were not depicted in Straight Outta Compton, but Ice Cube defended the decision.
“When you are trying to put 10 years into two hours, there is no way of getting everything in there,” he said.
“We had those conversations, you know, and we left out even darker things.
“We have a laundry list of things we couldn’t put in the movie, that probably should have been in there, but what is in there is so great.
“People are being nitpicky because what we put in the movie is the story of NWA, everything else you can Google it and there have been a thousand things said about NWA in its existence.”
Last month, via a statement to the New York Times, Dr Dre apologised to the women he had hurt.
“I deeply regret what I did and know that it has forever impacted all of our lives,” he wrote.
Rap lyrics a reflection of society
Gangsta rap is often criticised for glorifying guns and violence.
But Ice Cube said he believed the lyrics were just a reflection of what is actually happening in society.
“I don’t think it is overly emphasised because there is a lot of guns in our neighbourhood,” he said.
“What we are doing is being a mirror of what is happening on the ground, and the music usually does that when it is great.
“America is obsessed and over flooded with guns.
“That is something that we have to get a hold of, because you can’t just put a gun in everybody’s hand, that is just not good for society.”
However he said he believed that artists should be able to express themselves freely.
“The world has no censors,” Ice Cube said.
“They want us to censor our music but when I walk out my front door the world is raw, the world is in your face and it is vivid.
“The music should be the same way.”