Melting the Cube

For better or for worse, the evolution of the hip-hop subculture -- that vaguely defined manifestation of the creativity of black youth -- never stops.

As a part of that growth, Ice Cube, the rap icon who made his acting debut in John Singleton's "Boyz N the Hood" (1991), has completed his own feature film, "The Players Club," which he both wrote and directed. True to the audacious rapper-producer-actor and screenwriter-turned-director's unique vision, the film percolates with ideas and truths on modern, inner-city life.

And Ice Cube's craft steadily expands. While many platinum-selling rap artists settle for simply making more records, Cube has scored a first for hip-hop. Excepting the Louisianan impresario Master P (who last year released his own self-produced, low-budget film, "I'm Bout It," to video), Ice Cube is the first rapper to direct a feature film -- and the first to get one nationally distributed in theaters.

This auteur's vision is indisputable. "Just like gettin' my vision on the screen," Cube explains by telephone, "it does a lot for me in the business. Just bein' able to get through it and say that I'm the first rapper to direct my own movie. That right there holds a lot of weight. Plus, I don't think a story like this would've been told correctly like I told it, unless it was someone who had insight, like myself.

"And what a tale it is. The seamy location after which the film is named is a meeting ground where mostly horny, socially detached, bachelor-type males drink and leer at female strippers. Ambitiously, and no doubt surprisingly to many, Ice Cube's script centers around a dancer working at the club -- a powerhouse named Diana, played by model-turned-actress Lisa Raye. And while it follows Ice Cube's suit by intensively limning the powers of women, "The Players Club" contrasts with his many previous sexist narratives by dealing with women's trials and tribulations in society.

"When you writin' a movie," Cube points out, "you want to deal with something that intrigues people, something people want to know about. I took that a step further and wanted to talk about a subject that was slightly taboo, but it's a phenomenon that's runnin' across America. Strippers and strip clubs and dancers, that whole concept got my juices flowin', as far as 'Damn, I could do a story about a girl who's tryin' to keep her head up, but standing in quicksand.' 'The Players Club' represents the quicksand." It's a familiar style of symbolic storytelling for anyone accustomed to Ice Cube's narratives on his rap recordings.

The young maven has also acted in a number of choice yarns on film, from John Singleton's offbeat flick "Higher Learning" (1994), to a picture by the critically acclaimed Charles Burnett, "The Glass Shield" (1995). Despite all this, as well as the success of his writing-producing debut, "Friday" (1995), which was made for $2.3 million and has raked in $30 million in video sales, it was unclear when an Ice Cube-directed picture would actually happen.

"Most people think that Hollywood is this closed group of people who figure we wanna do it this way and make movies," Cube continues. "What I realized is that Hollywood is open to new movies and concepts, long as you can show 'em that they can make money. The studios can care if your movie's like 'Titanic,' or your movie's like 'Con Air,' or you got a movie like 'Sling Blade.' They don't care, as long as it makes money. That's why I was looking at a lot of scripts in Hollywood and none of em was nothin' that I would even act in, let alone direct."

Ice Cube knew when starting the script for "Players Club" that he would direct it. On the success of his script for "Friday," New Line Cinema coughed up $5 million for "The Players Club." It was shot in 33 days. Cube notes that the executives from New Line showed up on the set "once," as they did with "Friday," directed by F. Gary Gray.

And so his success reproduces itself, the possibilities seeming very great for him at the moment. Although the flick hardly seems lacking, Cube admits to wanting to go to film school to improve his techniques. On this turn, Cube notes, "I just hope to be inspired by stuff to the point where I'm doing what I wanna do. I'm having fun, making dope movies. And that right there will bring all the acclaim from the studios and that kinda stuff. But right now, my goal has gotta be makin' sure my next film is bigger and better than 'The Players Club.' And everything else will come."

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