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Social Studies

MC Knows Best

Emily Flake

By Vincent Williams | Posted 4/11/2007

Y'know, there are really only three or four different types of family movies, and Are We Done Yet? fits pretty comfortably in the genre. You got a family who've moved into a new home in a new neighborhood, which leads to wacky house and neighbor hijinks. Particularly in the case of the house hijinks, you know there are going to be some pratfalls and physical humor, with the father being the butt of the jokes. Dad will fall and get hit in the head and try his best to accomplish something, and he'll get wet or electrocuted or something. Again, these are the type of movies that an actor like, say, Tim Allen could do in his sleep. What makes Are We Done Yet? significant, however, is that the long-suffering, pratfall-ridden, comically motivated father figure is played by Ice Cube. Wow, what a long strange journey it's been.

In 1988, N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton hit the public consciousness like a nuclear bomb. Brandishing guns, scowls, gang-inspired clothing, and barking nihilistic, misogynistic, and, hell, apocalyptic songs with titles like "Fuck tha Police" and "Dopeman," no one personalized white fear and fetishizing of the threatening black male image like N.W.A., aka Niggaz With Attitude, and no one personalized N.W.A. like Ice Cube. He was so hard-core that he was evidently too wild for N.W.A. and had to leave. Not missing a step, he went on to record harrowing solo songs like "The Drive-By" and "The Nigga Ya Love to Hate." And even after he started expanding his oeuvre, turning in a surprisingly nuanced performance as Doughboy in Boyz n the Hood, Cube was a genuinely scary dude.

But then a funny thing happened. Ice Cube decided to let his human side show. Arguably, this public transformation began with the 1992 classic "It Was a Good Day." Over a hypnotic Isley Brothers' sample, Cube takes the listener through a day in South Central Los Angeles, and it does sound like a good day that anyone could relate to. "Good Day," of course, served as the inspiration for the Friday movie series. Like the song, the movies follow the comedic misadventures of Ice Cube's character and went a long way toward further humanizing his image. Almost a decade later, Cube was cast in Are We There Yet?, a by-the-numbers family movie that did well enough to warrant the current sequel. Now, in 2007, the "nigga ya love to hate" has positioned himself as the "beloved African-American personage you love to love." How crazy is that?

What to read something crazier? Think about this: If you were throwing a fundraiser for, like, I don't know, the First Annual Social Studies Fundraiser for Poor Children Who Need Things, and you needed a speaker--just someone to come and talk and warrant the $500 plates and not stir things up--in 2007, Ice Cube would be a safer choice than Bill Cosby. No, seriously, think about it. Whether you agree with Cosby or not, you have to admit ol' boy is a little off the grid at this point, and you don't really know what's going to come out of his mouth next; your nice fundraiser might end up on CNN or something. Cube, on the other hand, is a pretty straight shooter who's going to put on his tux and make small talk and eat his chicken Marsala and stay on script.

The public transformation of both of these men relates to something my wife and I talk about fairly often: the evolution and maturation of hip-hop. The wife is a bit of a Run's House fanatic, and she's observed, pretty spot-on I think, that the reality TV show about Rev Run and his family is a postmodern Cosby Show. I mean, Run and his wife Justine have a fun, sexy, mature marriage. He has a wonderful relationship with all five of his kids and, seemingly effortlessly, is a great role model. And while, even in their heyday, Run and Run-D.M.C. were nowhere as infamous as Ice Cube and N.W.A., I think it's a pretty significant paradigm shift in the way in which we define hip-hop that the most emotionally grounded, stable, and fully realized black father and husband in the public sphere is an MC.

And in the movies, we have someone like Cube in the position to make, yes, a forgettable, run-of-the-mill family movie. I just find the whole transformative potential Cube represents pretty inspiring, and it looks to me that this is the way America is supposed to work. Because if Cube can successfully make a public journey from one place to another, who knows how far we can all go in our private journeys? Huh. That almost sounds like a moral doesn't it? Look at Ice Cube! Now, he's teaching lessons.

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