Ice Cube knows where he stands among younger fans coming to Sunday’s Soundset hip-hop festival: Many know him more from saccharine Hollywood movies such as “Are We There Yet?” than from bitter and incendiary landmark rap albums such as “Straight Outta Compton” and “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted.”
Turns out he actually kind of likes it that way.
“School is in session,” he said in his unmistakably stern voice. “I have 60 minutes to show them why I still do hip-hop and what I’ve meant to hip-hop. I want them to get the full picture of who Ice Cube really is.”
The whole world is about to learn or relearn the gritty origins of the rapper-turned-actor come August, when the much-ballyhooed movie on Ice Cube’s old group N.W.A. lands in theaters, already riding a wave of hype and controversy.
Titled “Straight Outta Compton” after the quintet’s groundbreaking 1988 debut, the N.W.A. biopic is the pet project of Cube and fellow alum Dr. Dre.
“I’ve been very hands-on as a producer ever since my first one, ‘Friday,’ but with this one I’m hands and feet on,” he said proudly. “This is the most important movie of my career, even though I’m not starring in it. It’s very personal.”
Cube himself (O’Shea Jackson, 45) proved personable and quite funny at times when he called last week from the set of “Barbershop 3” in Atlanta. He’s squeezing in Soundset and a Detroit club gig while filming is on break over the holiday weekend. As if he doesn’t have enough to do.
Q: When and why do you decide to do rap gigs like this?
A: I love performing. I’ll never get that out of me. It actually makes a lot of sense for me to do shows like this right in the middle of filming a movie, because it keeps my energy level up. Shooting movies can feel a little stagnant.
I get freedom out of hip-hop, too. I get to be a true artist without any shackles or harnesses. The movie industry is one big collaboration. Music gives me that freedom to create things straight from my heart and my mind.
Q: Are you surprised Minnesota now has one of the biggest hip-hop festivals in the world with Soundset?
A: Not at all. To me, Minneapolis has always been a live town. My first time coming in to play First Avenue was a big deal. I saw the movie [“Purple Rain”] when it came out in 1984. I had been a big Prince fan from Day 1. I’ve always been intrigued by the scene there because of him. I loved the Time back in the day, too. So for there to be a good hip-hop scene there now is not a surprise.
Q: We’ve been expecting a new record from you since you dropped the single “Everythang’s Corrupt” two years ago. What’s the holdup?
A: What happened was “Straight Outta Compton,” the movie. I commanded all my attention toward making it perfect. I wanted to be fair to the movie and to the record, and I couldn’t do that by trying to do both projects at the same time.
Q: For people who aren’t fans of N.W.A., why is that a story that deserves to be made into a movie?
A: It’s a story about standing up for yourself, about courage, about David vs. Goliath, about freedom of speech, about being yourself, about taking a negative and turning it into a positive. Even though we talked a lot of gangsta [expletive], hip-hop made it so that talking was all it was. We didn’t have to go out there and kill nobody, rob nobody. We rapped about it.
We turned our negative energy into something positive, which was to make a record.
Q: How much correlation do you see between N.W.A.’s music and the issues faced today in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore?
A: This movie is so timely with what’s going on today, and with the protests around the country. It feels like it’s full-circle. Twenty-five years later, the same topics are still troubling us. So this movie needs to come out. It’s a perfect time for this movie to come out, and for people to understand that not enough has changed. A lot has changed, but not enough.
Q: Your son [O’Shea Jackson Jr., 22] plays you in the movie. How well did he nail the part?
A: He’s a chip off the old Cube, that’s for sure. He’s [expletive] great. I mean it. He really was the best guy for the job. We auditioned people. We had to. A studio as big as Universal is not going to just let you put your own people into a movie. He had to do the screen test and everything. They had to believe he was the best guy for the role. I knew he was.
Q: Does your son still go around imitating you, like for laughs at family barbecues?
A: No, but I’ve caught him wearing more Raiders [football] gear than he used to.
Q: You came out of the N.W.A. gate running with your solo debut “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted,” which just marked its 25th anniversary. What do you think its legacy is?
A: To me, it was the Panama Canal of records. It showed that East Coast and West Coast could be one hip-hop nation. It showed that no matter what part of the country you come from, you can always come together to make groundbreaking hip-hop.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658