Ice Cube: America's Modern Day Renaissance Man From South Central L.A.

Most Americans under the age of, say 50, are at least familiar with Ice Cubes' music and some are aware of his acting ability, but few know he has also produced, directed and written the screen plays for a lot of the movies he's starred in.
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"I have great people, smart people that are around me and we love the challenge. I guess it's like climbing a mountain, or building a building." -- Ice Cube

O'Shea Jackson, better known as Ice Cube, is a modern day renaissance man. His rare blend of talents has made him a huge player on multiple fronts in Hollywood. Most Americans under the age of, say 50, are at least familiar with Ice Cubes' music and some are aware of his acting ability, but few know he has also produced, directed and written the screen plays for a lot of the movies he's starred in.

Regardless of your demographic it's hard not to like the characters Ice Cube has presented on-screen. Whether it's Craig in the Friday franchise, or Doughboy in Boyz in the Hood, or Nick Persons in Are We There Yet?, it just seems like audiences consistently click with each Ice Cube-involved project. Perhaps it's that million-dollar smile? Maybe it's his is easy-going manner, or the fact that he resembles the kind of guy you'd want your sister to date?

Remember though, Ice Cube wasn't always viewed in such glowing terms.

Ice Cube was a founding member of the legendary and controversial gangsta rap group NWA, which drew the ire of Tipper Gore's PMRC, the police, federal government and frightened parents around the country who thought the music would inspire a gangsta uprising. I was a fan of NWA, but not because I identified with growing up gangsta in Compton and South Central Los Angeles -- I'm a computer and entertainment nerd, raised in Orange County.

My interest in gangsta rap was based more in the beats and the music itself, and not so much about the narrative content. My love for NWA was more about the rhyme and flow of tracks like "Express Yourself" and "Gangsta Gangsta" than what the lyrics actually said; not that I tuned out the message completely.

Gangsta rap in the late '80s and '90s, NWA in particular, was educational for my generation growing up in suburbia. It illustrated the emotions and problems associated with inequality, prejudice and institutional racism. The musical result of these cultural problems hit me at an age when I was impressionable, and it left a positive mark. Politicians and ignorant parents during this time feared gangsta rap would drive its listeners to crime, when in reality we were gaining an education.

Ice Cube was the driving force behind NWA's success, along with a slew of other gangsta rappers. According to a number of different biographies, he wrote over half of the songs for the group's debut album, Straight Outta Compton and fellow-NWA member Eazy-E's debut album, Eazy Duz It. Amazingly, both albums achieved double-platinum status!

Ice Cube parted ways with NWA in 1990 over a contract dispute, which was for the best. He went solo and his music career exploded ever further. The pinnacle was probably the album Predator, which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved double-platinum status. Predator was recorded during the 1992 L.A. riots and released shortly thereafter. Much of the anger and emotion that took place during the riots can be felt in Predator. It is a chilling reminder of our social history.

Ice Cube's acting career began in 1992 with John Singleton's groundbreaking film Boyz in the Hood. As he has stated in resulting interviews, he caught the acting bug with this initial effort and took it further than his fans likely expected.

In 1995 Ice Cube wrote, produced, directed and starred in the movie Friday, which achieved cult-like status and today is one of the most referenced movies in terms of movie quotes. Ice Cube smartly franchised Friday, resulting in Next Friday, Friday After Next and the soon-to-be-released Last Friday. With the character Craig, Ice Cube crossed over from the gangsta rap audience to a much wider demographic because his character was so likeable. During the same time period he also helped produce and starred in the popular Barbershop I and Barbershop II series, furthering Ice Cube's comedic resume.

Then Ice Cube made his longtime fans head spin in a move that widened his appeal with new audiences even further. In 2005, he produced and starred in Are We There Yet, and Are We Done Yet, two family-oriented movie productions with Ice Cube playing a father figure role. Suddenly, the kid from South Central had grown up and had become a family man and role model, just about the same time my friends and I started getting married and having kids. Are We There Yet has since been turned into a syndicated television series.

The transitions Ice Cube has made in his career are fascinating. His talents are so diverse that I don't think he is done surprising his audience with new, compelling endeavors. I, for one, will keep buying whatever he's selling. In fact, I just purchased I am the West, his 9th solo album, which was released in 2010. It is classic Ice Cube and I look forward to what comes next.