Born O’Shea Jackson in South Central Los Angeles, Ice Cube is a founding member of N.W.A., and is considered one of the most vivid and inventive lyricists in the Gangsta Rap genre. He’s known for his angrily furrowed brow, his strong, stentorian voice, and for courting controversy in N.W.A. and on his early solo albums, with what critics called violent and misogynist imagery.
Cube was a key presence on N.W.A.’s explosive debut, Straight Outta Compton, but after a bitter dispute with the group’s manager, he left to launch a solo career. His 1990 debut, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, was co-produced by the Bomb Squad (the studio team behind Public Enemy) and sold more than a million copies within three months of its release. Rolling Stone’s Alan Light was among those who took offense at what White called Cube’s “relentless profanity” and “simply despicable” depictions of women, but Cube insisted that he was delivering the unvarnished truth of ghetto life. “We will tell you exactly what black youth are thinking today,” he said at a press conference later that year, “regardless of whether you like it or not.”
On subsequent albums, Cube expanded on the socio-political narrative and tested the boundaries of taste. The 1990 EP Kill at Will featured a cover image of him offering a handgun butt-first; 1991’s Death Certificate showed him standing next to a toe-tagged body draped in the American flag, while racially charged and sexually graphic content drew calls to ban the album in the U.K.
That same year, Cube co-starred in the John Singleton film Boyz N the Hood, and received critical acclaim for his portrayal of a street-smart ex-con leading the thug’s life in South Central Los Angeles. The role established him as an actor, and led to another co-star turn in director Walter Hill’s 1992 crime thriller Trespass.
Success seemed to temper Cube’s aggressive streak, at least temporarily. 1992’s The Predator featured the hit single “It Was A Good Day” — one of his most enduring and influential songs, and unusual for its relaxed, almost sunny mood. Lethal Injection followed, reinforcing Cube's Gangsta cred, but the single “Bop Gun (One Nation),” with a guest appearance by George Clinton, was a Top 40 Pop hit, cementing his crossover into the musical mainstream.
Since 1993, Cube has recorded five more albums — a marked decrease in his musical output as he directed more energy toward his acting career. Many consider the years 1988 to 1993 to be his most focused and wide-ranging as a Rap artist, while in the ensuing years, he emerged as a successful actor, screenwriter, and producer, particularly in spoofs and family-oriented comedies such as Friday, BarberShop, Are We There Yet?, and The Longshots.
Although Ice Cube remains a lion of Gangsta Rap and an outspoken voice on issues that affect South Central and urban black communities in general, he has also been able, like Ice-T and LL Cool J, to manage the delicate balance of maintaining both his “street authenticity” and his mainstream popularity.