Ice Cube has been a Hollywood player for two decades, producing a string of films including the “Friday” franchise, “Ride Along” and the “Barbershop” films. But the hip-hop mogul said his latest project, the N.W.A biopic “Straight Outta Compton,” took years to get rolling.
“It was one of the hardest movies I ever had to get made. It’s been a four-year process and that’s just actual process,” Ice Cube told TheWrap about the Universal Pictures release, which hits theaters August 14. “But as the dream, it goes back almost 10 years.”
The film traces the origins of N.W.A (an acronym for Niggaz Wit Attitudes) — the gangsta rap group Ice Cube co-founded in Compton, California, in 1987 along with original members Dr. Dre, DJ Yella, Arabian Prince and Eazy-E, who died in 1995.
The groundbreaking group sold millions of records and helped put West Coast rap on the map. But its members also sparked controversy for their explicit lyrics, “glamorizing gangs and drugs” and eyebrow-raising singles such as “Fu*k tha Police,” which drew condemnation from law enforcement agencies.
The stigma from N.W.A’s past, coupled with the fact that the group’s surviving members had long since moved on, made the project a tough sell. “You gotta make a lot of people comfortable with the material,” Cube explained.
Among those who needed convincing was Dr. Dre, who’s now one of the music world’s wealthiest artists after selling his Beats Electronics to Apple for $3 billion.
“It had to be great for him to want to be a part of it, and it is great and that’s why he’s a part,” Cube said of Dre, who eventually came on board as a producer along with Eazy-E’s widow, Tomica Woods-Wright, Matt Alvarez, Scott Bernstein and longtime N.W.A collaborator F. Gary Gray, who also directed the film. DJ Yella and MC Ren, who joined the group in 1988, served as consultants.
During the years of struggle to get everyone on board, Cube refused to give up.
“It’s a great thing to fight for your life in your movie, because it’s a movie about us, and it is our life on screen, and we are fighting to get the best thing we can on screen — the best representation of what the group N.W.A went through,” he said. “I think we were able to accomplish that.”
The film, which analysts say is on track to make at or near its $29 million production budget on opening weekend, stars Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre, Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, Neil Brown Jr. as DJ Yella and Aldis Hodge as MC Ren. Ice Cube is played by his son, O’Shea Jackson Jr.
“That’s another dream that I had, but a few things had to happen for it to come true,” Cube said. “My son had to step up. He had to become a great actor very fast and he had to do the work… Then he had to convince the brass over at Universal, the studio, that he was the right person for the part and not the other actors that they had auditioning.”
R. Marcus Taylor plays fallen hip-hop mogul Marion “Suge” Knight, who is in jail awaiting trial in connection with a deadly hit-and-run on January 29 — the same day that Cube, Dre and fellow rapper The Game were in Compton shooting a promo for the film.
Witnesses told police that Knight was involved in an argument on the set. According to law enforcement, he later followed two men to the production’s base camp at nearby Tam’s Burgers and intentionally plowed into them with his truck. Terry Carter, 55, was killed and Cle “Bone” Sloan, an actor and activist, suffered serious injuries.
Prosecutors have charged Knight, 50, with murder and attempted murder in the case. However, Knight contends he was acting in self-defense and has pleaded not guilty. He remains jailed after losing a bid to have his $10 million bail reduced.
When asked what he would tell Knight, who co-founded Death Row Records with Dr. Dre, Cube told TheWrap, “I don’t know what I would say to him but, man, ‘I hope you get out the situation you’re in.'”
“Straight Outta Compton” arrives in theaters on Friday, August 14.
Watch the video above with Ice Cube talking about the making of “Straight Outta Compton.”