There are renaissance men, and then there is Ice Cube. Born O'Shea Jackson in South Central Los Angeles, Cube first rose to fame with the incendiary, revolutionary rap group N.W.A. But he made as much of an impact with the solo records that followed as he did with the group's 1988 single "F--k Tha Police," which provoked bureaucrats as deftly as it defined an era in West Coast hip-hop.
After going solo, Cube also went Hollywood—if roles in the seminal John Singleton film Boyz n the Hood and cult classic Friday can be described as going Hollywood.
He's remained a big-screen and hip-hop fixture since, but neither of those pursuits was the inspiration for his recent New York press junket. Instead, it was Cube's latest venture: the second season of the BIG3, a three-on-three, summerlong basketball league and tournament intended to showcase the talents of retired NBA veterans. During the media run, he spoke with B/R about rap, activism and how he thinks Seattle can, once again, host an NBA team.
Bleacher Report: Who's the best rapper in the BIG3?
Ice Cube: Aw, man...you know what? I don't even know who really gets down in the BIG3. I'm not sure if any of those guys rap.
B/R: Gary Payton does have his one song on B-Ball's Best Kept Secret.
IC: He's got a song? Damn, I guess he's the best right now.
B/R: What's your take on the athletes who rap?
IC: I think it's a good thing for people to be creative. It's a thing where the only person who I've really seen take it and run with it is Shaq. He had a record deal and those kinds of things.
I think ballers need to take it a little more seriously if they're going to do it. Right now, they're dibbling and dabbling. It still seems like a hobby, and it doesn't seem like anybody's really trying to get a deal, trying to do it for real.
B/R: In the BIG3, you have a woman head coach in Nancy Lieberman and a woman running the league office in Amy Trask. Was it important to you to make sure that women had a role in the league?
IC: It's very important to hire the best people for the job. That's the most important. Gender really doesn't matter to me at all when it comes to getting the job done, unless you're talking about lifting some couches and s--t. I've always believed that women were actually better in those situations than men, because they feel like they have a lot to prove, and they pay attention to detail. They really concentrate on the job at hand.
I've always worked with women. I had a woman manager for my first 10 years in the business. I've never seen the big deal with hiring women or understood why guys feel intimidated by it or don't do it.
B/R: Do you ever think there would be a place for women basketball players in the BIG3?
IC: Yeah, maybe. They can come try out for our draft and see if they get picked. Why not? I don't think it's a big deal, to be honest. I think people make more of a big deal out of this stuff than is really necessary. But then again, I'm a guy, so I guess that's easy for me to say. In my eyes, the sex of a person really doesn't matter. Either they can do it or they can't.
B/R: BIG3 games have become sort of a destination for people to wear their best gear. What's your favorite piece?
IC: I have a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar jersey—OG. Shaq signed a shoe for me, it's about this big [holds up hands more than a foot apart]. It's pretty amazing.
B/R: Are there any athletes who you meet and still geek out over, even after having met as many people as you have?
IC: Of course, man. That's how I feel every time I see Dr. J, or Iceman—George Gervin. Those were like my heroes growing up. To be able to work with them [as coaches in the BIG3] and to be able to interact with them and see the things that make them tick is pretty cool.
B/R: There's been a lot of discussion about athlete activism recently, and of course you played an important role in activism in hip-hop. Do you think that rap is currently as tied to social justice movements as it was when, say, Angela Davis interviewed you on Rap City in 1992?
IC: Yeah, I think the power of rap is that you can always turn people on to a topic or a subject. The fanbase goes through its waves, but the music still has that power when done right. You gotta hit the right frequencies to get people's attention. You see rappers doing it more and more now than ever, with people like Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino. They're trying to put rap in its proper place, which is telling us about what's going on and helping us navigate through the pitfalls.
B/R: Does it ever frustrate you that so many of the critiques you leveled on your early albums are still relevant more than 25 years later?
IC: It's sad. But, you know, I listened to "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye growing up. It was the same thing he was talking about that's still happening. You go back to songs like "A Change Is Gonna Come." ... You think back, and it's not quite the same [now], but it's pretty close to what was going on. We've got a lot of work to do.
B/R: You've spoken about Colin Kaepernick and the police brutality protests in the NFL previously, but what's your reaction to athletes taking up the mantle of activism in general?
IC: You should always speak out if you have it in your heart. I don't think you should do it just because you have a platform, if you don't [believe it]. You shouldn't bow down to public pressure and say something that you're not really behind.
But I think it's one of the coolest things when you have the platform, and you say what needs to be said. To me, that's where you want to be. If you really think about it, most of the time, your favorite people and your favorite artists are the ones that stood for something.
B/R: If someone took a knee to protest police brutality during the national anthem at the BIG3, would there be consequences?
IC: You can do whatever you want to during the anthem at the BIG3. It's become so divisive that it's almost time to take the anthem out of the sports arena. It's totally unnecessary to do the national anthem before you play a game. They don't go together like peanut butter and jelly.
B/R: To end on a lighter note, on "It Was a Good Day," one of the most iconic lines is, "The Lakers beat the SuperSonics." In performances, you've since changed it to "What happened to the SuperSonics?" Do you think Seattle needs an NBA team again?
IC: Yeah, y'all want the Clippers? You can have them. You can get 'em for cheap. If y'all take the Chargers too...
B/R: Seattle already has the Seahawks!
IC: We got two teams! The Tacoma Chargers, that sounds good.
B/R: How do you feel about having two NFL teams and neither of them are the Raiders?
IC: I feel like I don't have no teams. I mean, I can get behind the Rams, so I don't feel as bad. But I do feel almost like telling the NFL, "Thanks for nothing."
Watch BIG3 basketball on Fridays all summer on Fox and FS1.