An Incomplete History of Ice Cube's Career Architecture

From PHX to NWA to Are We There Yet?

1987 A young man named O'Shea Jackson studies architectural drafting at the Phoenix Institute of Technology. There, he learns "Everything starts with a plan."

1988 Having rhymed and rapped since 10th grade, he ditches school to record music with his pal Andre "Dr. Dre" Young, leading to the formation of the groundbreaking rap group N.W.A.

MAY1990 Leaving N.W.A. over contractual disputes, Ice Cube drops a solo bomb on the nation. AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted evokes the rawness of life as a black American via relentlessly driving and funky beats. Cube positions himself as white America's worst nightmare ("Let 'em see a nigga invasion/Point blank for the Caucasian"). The brutally honest and comically violent record was a critical and commercial hit. Soon after, he stars as "Doughboy" in Boyz n the Hood, beginning a career-long straddle of music and film.

DECEMBER 1993 Like any good architect, Cube recognizes that his style is no longer in tune with popular taste. He releases Lethal Injection, aping Dre's G-Funk sound. The style is glossy and languid. Critics hated it; fans weren't impressed. The first cracks begin to show in his once-unshakable foundation.

1995–2005 Cube diversifies, writing a movie called Friday, which earns $28 million at the box office and spawns two sequels. Where the rapper Cube was an in-your-face hard-ass, he now seems aware that even the greatest buildings get old. To retrofit himself, he spends years immersed in moviemaking, drafting plans for Hollywood franchises Friday and Barbershop.

2006 On a major label, a middle-aged Cube would have been ignored. Since unattended buildings crumble, Cube decides to build his own home, a label called Lench Mob. For those who dissed Cube as Hollywood's latest black teddy bear, his second self-released album, Raw Footage, offers this lyrical gutpunch: "Fool, I'm the greatest/You just the latest/I'm loved by your grandmamma/And your babies."

2010 Cube's family show, based on his 2005 film Are We There Yet?, premieres on TBS. His latest album, I Am the West, is also released. Across 16 tracks, he throws shots at young rappers and promotes a few family values. The album is divisive—some liken the post-40 Cube to Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, others applaud its purity and honesty. But everyone agrees that when it comes to his music, Cube is like Frank Lloyd Wright in his later years—he's not concerned with appealing to the masses. He's got Hollywood for that.

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