Ice Cube for “Barbershop”

Rapper Ice Cube shows us his gentler, comedic side in the fresh, new ensemble comedy “Barbershop”. Cube is not exactly renowned as a screen comic, but here the rapper-turned-actor is happy to play straight man amidst the comic craziness in which he finds himself.

“I think with movies like this, where you’ve got so many people, so many different personalities trying to come across, it is important for everybody to kind of play their position and to do what they do best. I can’t do what Cedric the Entertainer can do, but I CAN do what I do which is basically hold the tone and the reality of the movie at a high level.”

“Barbershop” is an ensemble comedy about a day in the life of a barber shop on the South Side of Chicago. A big reward offer for information about a heist in the area turns the shop into even more of a fountain of gossip than it already is, and the barbers are apt to read clues into just about anything. Cube plays the shop’s initially unwilling owner, having inherited it from his late father.

Cube remembers being very nervous the first time he went to a barbershop at age 4 “because of the sound of the sheers; I just figured I was going to get my whole head cut off. So, sitting in the chair, with a booster seat and I remember how rough the barber was with my hair. He was just combing it and he was not doing it like my mom and pop would do it. My first one wasn’t a good experience, and it took a while to get me back,” he laughingly recalls.

It was John Singleton’s Boyz ‘n’ the hood that established Ice Cube as a major presence. He has come a long way since his appearance in that seminal film, one which bears parallels with Barbershop, in the way both films explore a sense of community. “That is what attracted me to this movie. I think like Boyz ‘n’ the Hood was a slice of life, this is a slice of life, too. You know without this movie being made you would never really get to feel this world and what it means to the community because it is kind of overlooked at what the barbershop means to the community. This is like our teepee, where our elders and youngsters can talk about all subjects brutally honest and it is a good place to be.”

The 33-year old Ice Cube, born O’Shea Jackson, was born and raised in south central Los Angeles, and his parents both worked at UCLA. He penned his first rap song in the ninth grade when a friend challenged him to write a rap in the middle of typing class. He did and the rapping bug bit.

At age 16, Ice Cube sold his first rap song, called “Boyz N The Hood,” to rapper Easy-E. He also began rapping with his partner, Sir Jinx, at parties hosted by rap king Dr. Dre. Cube caught the ear of Dre and other rappers, quickly earning himself a spot in CIA, Dre’s fledgling rap music production company.

Before committing himself to his music, Cube took a year off to study architectural drafting at the Phoenix Institute of Technology. He returned to Los Angeles to start the first incarnation of N.W.A. with Dre and Easy-E. Their first album, 1988’s Straight Outta Compton, was a huge, yet highly controversial hit which put N.W.A. at the forefront of gangster rap.

After run-ins with management, Cube left N.W.A. in 1989. He released several successful solo records but branched out into other ventures. He launched the careers of other performers, including female protege Yo-Yo, then took on Hollywood.

His gritty performance in John Singleton’s 1991 Oscar-nominated Boyz N The Hood earned Cube some big-screen attention. Cube says that he has changed considerably in the 10 years since that film came out, “just growing up and my views of the world have changed. You know, when you are 17, 18 you have one view of the world, you think is all one way until you are able to travel and see what it is all about and just grow as a man. If you really see me in Boyz N The Hood, then go back and look at Barbershop, you could see an element of growth.”

Cube admits that at the time of Boyz, he wasn’t sure if he would pursue an acting career. “I didn’t even think I was going to do Boyz N The Hood you know; I never pursued that. John Singleton pursued me to do it, and kept on telling me I was right for it. It took two years for that project to get made, so when it got made I was proud and excited and I got bit by the bug and I’m glad to still be here.”

Cube’s success as an actor is clear, with films such as The Glass Shield, Higher Learning, the Friday films, Anaconda, The Players Club and the acclaimed Three Kings, amongst his credits. Asked if acting was merely an extension of music, Cube merely feels that “it is just all about whether you got it or not; the camera don’t lie. Either you have it or you don’t. A lot of people, you know, LOOK like they got it but the camera doesn’t agree with that.” The former rapper says that he uses “the rhythm of timing” in his acting, the lesson he has derived from his music. “I think doing music, and videos, have kind of set me up to do what I am doing now.”

Cube has emerged as one of the most successful musical artists to have made the transition to acting. Unassuming and shy off screen, Cube is quietly philosophical in how he deals with the fame that has been thrust upon him. “You know, it is part of what I have asked for. I take it as another extension of who I am. Not ALL of who I am but just a piece.”

The other piece is his music, and Cube has no attention of letting a successful movie career get in the way of his music. “I love music and right now I am in the process of changing labels, getting off my original label, Priority. I gave them my whole career and it is time for me to step it up to a major label and doing it in just a major way. So you know that just takes time to get that process to where it is to a point I can say, okay I’m ready to make a deal and make records. So in a few months you will probably see something.”

In the meantime, apart from Barbershop, we will see Cube in the third and final Friday comedy, which he co-wrote. “I think it is as funny if not funnier than the first one if you ask me and that is saying a lot coming from me. But, you know, I think it is a hell of a movie.”

Ice Cube has done it all and says that he remains fearless in tackling whatever is asked of him. “I have a philosophy that anything is hard until you learn how to do it, so I was always able to just stick my nose in there and just kind of pay attention to who I needed to pay attention to and how to write people, experts, at what they are doing and letting them, you know, do what they do without getting in their way or without having to cross every t and dot every I myself and just being able to allocate power a little bit.” Cube adds that he feels “like I am blessed, I really do and that gives me a lot of confidence to do what I do.”