Seething with righteous scorn over a contractual money dispute, in 1989 Ice Cube bailed on NWA, the incendiary hip-hop quartet he co-founded and helped elevate to international superstardom. As detailed in the hip-hop biopic Straight Outta Compton (which arrives in theaters Friday), the firebrand rapper left a string of hit records, the bruised egos of group mates Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, DJ Yella and MC Ren, and a trail of Jheri Curl activator in his wake.
That bad blood manifested itself in a series of diss tracks including Cube’s “No Vaseline“—arguably the most virulent lyrical take down ever committed to wax—and “Message to B.A.” on NWA’s EP 100 Miles and Running. Yet, after the group finally broke up, Dre and Cube put aside their difference and reteamed to record the single “Natural Born Killaz” in 1994.
Outside their reunion to co-produce a film version of their lives, the two have pursued separate creative endeavors ever since. Until the release of Dre’s Compton: A Soundtrack, that is, the multi-platinum-anointed producer’s first solo LP in 16 years. On the song “Issues,” Ice Cube turns up as a featured artist (along side alt-hip-hop crooner Anderson .Paak), snarling along to beats by Dre as though no time was lost.
EW caught up with Cube to find out what it was like getting back into the studio with his former NWA-mate, whose long-gestating, never-to-be-released album Detox has become the stuff of hip-hop legend.
Entertainment Weekly: What was it like to record with Dre again after all these years?
Ice Cube: He has a lot of musicians and MCs and people floating around. But when it’s time to work, he just clears out the studio. It’s just me, him, and the engineer. It’s all about making sure your voice can do everything he wants it to do. Because the way you hear a rhyme, he might hear it a different way. You really want to be produced by him so you want to give it to him his way.
Probably nobody is surprised to hear he’s a perfectionist.
If you give it to him his way, he makes the magic from there. If you give it to him your way—I’m not saying he won’t make magic with it—but it’ll always have those flaws that hinder him from maybe even using the record.
I understand he shelved the entire album Detox for precisely that reason.
Yeah, if he had any hangnails, he won’t put the record out. So he has to fix any flaws with the record that he hears. He gets rid of music that most people would kill for. It’s strange.
That must be a different approach to how he recorded with you back in the day.
Not really. That’s what he’s always done. Even if you look at the movie, he’s like, “Yo, we’re about to punch this s— in 59 more times.” He don’t mind punching the whole record in if he has to, to get the flow perfect.
In the movie, it shows Eazy-E doing four takes of “Boyz-N-the-Hood.” Director F. Gary Gray told me he thought Dre’s process is the same whether he’s making music, designing a headphone or producing a movie: he doesn’t try to over-intellectualize things. He knows he’s just got to “feel it.”
Yeah, he got a way that he sees things and feels things. He won’t be swayed by the crowd. Sometimes people see something cool and go, “Yeah, that’s dope. That’s great.” Just put the rubber stamp on it. He’ll be like, “Not feeling that.” He’ll point out all the stuff that need to be changed. When you change it, you realize how much better it is. He never dials it in. When he gives his opinion, he really gives a point of view. It’s spot-on for most things.
Any plans to record anything else together in the near future?
I’ll ask him and we’ll see how it turns out. Depends on if the song is how it should be. If it ever come out or not.
So does that mean you’ve some things recorded that nobody knows about?
One or two things that he still said he’s working on. That he’s messing with. So we’ll see.
What about recording or performing as NWA? That can’t exist as an entity without Eazy anymore, can it?
Not in its entirety. Of course we can go out as NWA—me, Ren, and Dre can do a record that I’m pretty sure people will love. But it’ll always be missing that one voice and element. But it still can be done. I still think we can do a record that people would enjoy.
Any discussion about that?
No. [laughs] It can be done but it has to be a total commitment by Dre and Ren.