When you’ve been interviewing people for, oh, a hundred years or so, you build up quite a backlog of banter and chat. A lot of this stuff is inevitably ephemeral — the day will surely never come when anyone cares what Vanilla Ice ever had to say about anything. On the other hand, it is kind of interesting to look back on the vintage natterings of people who are still on the scene and still entertaining us, either with their work or with their dotty behavior.
We’ve been exhuming a ton of this stuff over the last several months — interviews from the vaults going back not only to the early ’90s, but even beyond. Most of these ancient tapes are fun in one way or another; some are scary, which is even more fun. We’re going to be posting these old interactions every Tuesday from now on, and if some of what you see seems a little silly at times, well, the past is filled with silly things. Much like the present.
N.W.A may not have been the first gangsta-rap act (ask Schoolly D), but they were the most sensational at the time, and probably the most lastingly influential.
Their classic 1989 album, Straight Outta Compton, with seminal beats by Dr. Dre and his partner, DJ Yella, and furious-young-man lyrics by Ice Cube, MC Ren and Eazy-E, was packed with brutal street-gang fantasies, a chillingly ambivalent portrait of a ghetto crack dealer, and bursts of unfortunately prophetic misogyny. The album also contained a broadside against the race-based harassment of black kids by the L.A. police force — a track called “F— Tha Police” — that was so incendiary (“gonna be a bloodbath of cops dyin’ in L.A.”) that it drew an angry letter from the FBI, complaining that the lyrics encouraged “violence against and disrespect for the law enforcement officer,” and warning N.W.A’s record company to “be aware of the FBI’s position relative to this song and its message.”
Naturally, the album got zero mainstream radio airplay. And the group’s live appearances were targeted by a national police faxing campaign, which sometimes resulted in either a refusal by local departments to provide security for N.W.A concerts, or a determination to break the shows up. Despite all this, though, after Straight Outta Compton was released in 1989, it went on to sell a couple of million copies strictly on buzz.
MTV News set up an interview with Ice Cube in September of that year, at his parents’ house in Compton, where the 20-year-old rapper was still living. By that time, this L.A. suburb was nationally perceived (thanks in part to N.W.A) as a pretty nasty place. (It’s still rated as one of the most dangerous towns in America.) Ice Cube and his folks, however, lived on a deceptively sunny street of tidy houses and neatly mowed lawns. The gangs and guns, Cube said, came out at night. In fact, just recently there’d been a drive-by attack on this very house, which had sent even his father running to grab a weapon. Cube didn’t seem particularly worried by this incident, but clearly the self-fueling proliferation of guns hereabouts made daily life a tense business. “I gotta ride around with my stuff now,” he said, “just in case they pull up on the side of me.”
DJ Yella stopped by to sit in on the interview, and afterwards Cube took us out in his van for a tour of the ’hood. We only saw one gangbanger on the street — a guy perhaps unwisely wearing too much red. Apart from that, however, things seemed quiet. At least nobody pulled up alongside us with a Mack-10 blazing. We never saw the gangs that came out after dark. As veteran white guys, we were gone by then.
Shortly after this interview, Ice Cube left N.W.A in a dispute over money. In 1990, he released the first of three powerful solo albums — records showered with both acclaim (for their music and for Cube’s rhyming skills) and condemnation (for their racial and sexual hostility). He’s still putting out albums, of course, and in 1991, he launched an acting career with a key role in John Singleton’s classic drug-gang movie, “Boyz N the Hood.” He’s gone on to write, produce or act in a number of hit films, among them “Three Kings,” “Barbershop,” and a trio of pictures with “Friday” in the title (not to mention his recent turn toward family flicks with “Are We There Yet?” and “Are We Done Yet?”).
DJ Yella moved on into movies, too, in a way. Over the years since N.W.A fell apart in 1991, he’s been a very busy director of porn films.
Enjoy digging through The Loder Files? You’ll find more here, and there’s much more to come from the vaults — check back every Tuesday!