Ice Cube is widely hailed as one of the most important rappers of his generation. Scour the archives and you’ll find countless artists who have cited him as an important influence, but who was he influenced by? At the end of the day, every musician starts their career as a pale imitation of somebody they up look up to. The road to success means coming to the point where these influences are imperceptible. Sucess itself means that the next generation has started imitating you. Ice Cube has been sitting in this comfortable position for decades now, but it wasn’t always that way.
Born in South Central Los Angeles in 1969, Ice Cube spent much of his early life in a particularly hostile neighbourhood that, as he grew older, became increasingly shaped by the presence of drugs, guns, and violence. Cube’s parents recognised that if their son stayed in the neighbourhood, it would only be so long before he wound up with a bullet in his chest. They decided to pull him out of his local school and place him in a suburban high school in the San Fernando Valley. Until this point, all Cube had seen of LA was his own crumbling neighbourhood. But in San Fernando, things looked different. Arriving in this affluent part of Los Angeles every morning, he started wondering why the violence that afflicted his hometown seemed to affect only certain areas of the city, and why it wasn’t being talked about more widely.
To secure a better life for himself, Cube decided to enrol at the Phoenix Institute of Technology, where he graduated with a degree in drafting in 1988. At the same time, he’d continued pursuing music, with the blossoming world of rap making a huge impact on him while he was studying in Pheonix. By the mid-1980s, he’d started his own group known as CIA, who quickly caught the attention of Andre Romelle Young, an ambitious young rapper going under the alias Dr. Dre. The pair joined forces with a local crew comprising of DJ Yella, Eazy-E and MC Ren, and so NWA was born.
NWA went on to inspire a whole generation of artists, but where did Cube draw inspiration from? Describing the artists he looks up to in an interview back in 2019, he said: “I always look at the influencers, the pioneers, the ones who virtually created a style or a flavour all their own. To me, those are the trendsetters, the ones who changed the trajectory of the game in a major way,” Cube continued. “It was about skills and talent, and really having their own style and taking it and running with it.”
Its this eye for innovation that has allowed Cube to remain relevant for so many years, whether that be through his music, films, or entrepreneurship. As he once put it: “There’s people who are ahead of the curve, there’s people who are waiting for the curve, and there’s people behind the curve. Sometimes, being ahead of the curve, you lose out because you’re ahead of people and they can’t see what you see.” For Cube, the sign of a truly great artist is one who has the ability to deliver something new and innovative in such a way that people can still see where the beats are going to fall.
One rapper Ice Cube has long sung the praises of is Chuck D, member of the seminal rap outfit Public Enemy. “They had Knowledge Of Self; we were still mental zombies, as far as our place in the world,” Cube began, describing the influence of Public Enemy on NWA. “We was just thinking that the police was the biggest obstacle until we got the letter from the F.B.I. Then, we started to really understand our place in the world, and me personally, I started to understand what it is to be Black at that time. These dudes helped us get over the hump with that. I’m always saluting Public Enemy. Chuck is my favourite rapper of all time, because of the message and content. Those skills in Chuck D are off the meters compared to any other rapper in the game. Salute to Chuck; he really kicked this off.”
Elsewhere Cube has mentioned the likes of Grandmaster Flash, Body Count The Bomb Squad as essential influences on the sound of NWA. Below, we’ve put together a list of the five rappers that Ice Cube treasures above all others.
Ice Cube’s 5 favourite rappers of all time:
- Melle Mel
- Chuck D
- KRS -One