N.W.A was revolutionary, and not just because of their mark on music. The group’s signature hit — the one that had Tipper Gore calling press conferences and the FBI writing them ominous letters — was “Fuck Tha Police.” And it was more than just a song: When four LAPD officers were acquitted of beating Rodney King on video in 1992, and riots broke out, the track became the unofficial motto, spray-painted on walls around South Central L.A. That real-world impact is one of the biggest takeaways from Straight Outta Compton, the new movie about N.W.A. and easily the best hip-hop biopic to date.
The film makes it clear who the group’s most powerful mouthpiece was: Ice Cube (and son O’Shea Jackson, Jr. plays his dad). Not only was he N.W.A.’s main songwriter, frequently penning verses for Eazy-E and Dr. Dre, but he was seemingly its conscience. The group’s music became decidedly less political after he left, while his solo material — starting with the self-explanatory, mission-statement 1990 classic AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted — saw him become more outspoken than ever. In 2015, although he does drop a surprise verse on Dre’s new album Compton, Cube’s more known recently for his outsize Hollywood footprint — acting, screenwriting, directing and producing in hit movies including Friday. Speaking to Billboard a week before Straight Outta Compton’s Aug. 14 release, he’s still as vociferous as ever, speaking his mind on police brutality then and now and N.W.A’s history and legacy.
Watch the full interview after the jump.