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Ice Cube Tries to Explain What in the Hell He Was Thinking

Hip-hop legend and activist talks what he hoped to gain — and perhaps stood to lose — from discussing his Contract With Black America with President Trump’s campaign

Ice Cube was widely criticized for working with the Trump campaign. But the rapper explains why he'll talk to any party that will help black Americans.

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In the preface of the Contract With Black America that Ice Cube published in late August — amidst the ongoing global civil-rights uprising — professor and economist Darrick Hamilton wrote about what the 22-page document hoped to accomplish. Encouraged by the reinvigorated movement he’d seen around the world, Hamilton wrote that “younger generations and social movements may be redefining economic good to embrace the principles of morality, humanity, and sustainability,” and that “This Contract with Black America is a patriotic pathway to promote our shared prosperity and achieve racial economic justice.”

If this did indeed characterize the Contract, why would Donald Trump or his campaign be interested in it? Moreover, why would Cube want to talk to his people about it?

I get why Trump’s people did it. The optics, for one, are good. The president has allowed a plague to kill our people with greater speed and breadth than any other group, while at the same time discouraging safety measures. He has bragged about lower black unemployment numbers that his policies did nothing to bring about, and ignored disparities and exacerbated discrimination with his administration’s policies. Why not, in the interest of looking Not Racist to white voters, have his campaign appear to embrace the ideas of one of the hip-hop greats; a man whose records and tapes they may have enjoyed as children, even thought they couldn’t rap all of the lyrics aloud? Why not welcome this legend to help you tweak your “Platinum Plan” — the list of racial-reform agenda items that Trump announced in October?

The “Platinum Plan” is precisely the kind of vague list of policy goals and action items that we’ve seen from too many candidates. (“Eliminate Long-Standing Healthcare Disparities” — magically, I guess, after they kill Obamacare.) This one happens to include a ton of things Trump could have accomplished in his first term, had he truly given a shit about black folks.

However, this was Cube’s contention when we spoke: neither side of the political equation cares enough about black people, or about putting dollars into our neighborhoods and municipalities. He sees this as a moment of desperation for black Americans, where we cannot afford to rely upon merely one party for solutions — particularly if Republicans are holding the White House at the moment. “I would hope our friends would help us change the narrative,” Cube tells Rolling Stone. “But I think we’re at a critical point where I don’t know if we can fuss or argue about which way the check or the relief is coming from.”

“With all this controversy over a meeting, I mean, damn,” Cube says — his June ruckus over tweets with anti-Semitic images not that far behind him. “Jesus met with power. Moses lived with power. I mean, damn, you got to go talk to power.”

It wasn’t just the Trump campaign that he spoke with; he talked to Joe Biden’s people. But since Trump senior adviser Katrina Pierson crowed in a Tuesday tweet about Cube’s “willingness to step up and work with @realDonaldTrump Administration to help develop the #PlatinumPlan,” he’s been catching hell.

First things first, man: can you tell me what it is that you did with both campaigns exactly?
I had a Zoom call with the Biden campaign. People on the call from Congress, to people working directly with the Biden campaign. They actually said that they agreed with 85 percent of the Contract With Black America. They [said that they] basically want to win the election, and then they would bring me in to discuss it and try and get things pushed through. Basically a seat-at-the-table situation.

Then we got contacted by the Trump administration. They said, “We saw your Contract with Black America, and we have a Platinum Plan. We’d like to pump up our Platinum Plan” — because we all know “minority” is a trick word, try to direct some of these things directly to black people. So we did that. You know, it got to a point where they actually wanted to sit down.

We went to Washington. I didn’t go to the White House and I didn’t meet Trump. I never met Trump in my life. We met and talked [with the campaign] at a hotel, and when they brought out their plan, they implemented some of the things that they had got out of the Contract with Black America.

What adjustments did they actually make to their Platinum Plan based off of the Contract?
Both Democratic and Republican plans are light. There’s language in both plans that needs to be made better for black Americans.

That being said, [Trump’s] plan was pretty thin — and they boosted it up in several areas. Because the problem with all these plans, they say “minority,” “people of color,” “diversity,” and “urban,”and all these words that don’t necessarily mean money going into the hands of black families. They mean money going in a big old pot, and we still got to get our scraps from the bottom of that pot.

“They mean money going in a big old pot, and we still got to get our scraps from the bottom of that pot.”

It’s not only with a Republican candidate, Democratic candidate, whoever. Whoever becomes the president has to focus on black people specifically. I love all minorities, but we have to pinpoint things to go specifically to us because we are the specific reason the country’s in the situation that it’s in, with the turmoil and the huge wealth gap that’s now a Grand Canyon between black families and white families. I believe anybody who becomes the president has to refocus on us as a people.

What does that focus look like to you in a concrete and tangible sense? In Biden’s case, at least, there’s no legislation that can be put forth.
It starts with at least an agreement to do it — and making that agreement public so it’s not a promise to Ice Cube. It’s telling the world.

Once people get into office, you have to apply the pressure where you can. You could do it not only with candidates who want to be elected, but also in the midterms or whatever, but you also can do it through the legal system. And we have all those options available, so there’s pressure points that you can apply that I don’t believe are being applied by the people that we’ve trusted to apply that pressure.

I only can deal with the point that I’m at in this journey with the Contract with Black America. To me, this is an eight- to 10-year journey to change business as usual to business that benefits American descendants of slaves. So that’s the goal, and I don’t know who is going to be the president through this time. I just know this is a bipartisan issue. This is not a Democratic issue. This is up to both parties to solve. Just like they come together to figure out the debt ceiling or figure out giving money to the military. You seem to see all the “bipartisan” go out the window when it’s time to do those things after a certain point.

So, we’re going to have to approach this the same way, and I don’t care who the president is. I really only care about [black Americans] getting capital and equity because we’re not even part of the game. We think we are. We pretend to be. But you’re not even part of the game in a capitalistic society without no money.

“I really only care about [black Americans] getting capital and equity because we’re not even part of the game.”

Do you think both major parties and people from those parties are equal opportunity offenders with regards to this, though? You got Democrats and Republicans. Both parties have done terrible things to our communities — but at the same time, especially in this particular instance, are people from both parties working equally towards those solutions?
No, of course not. People are looking like they fixin’ the solutions, but they’re actually making it more confusing. They’re actually making it where the money still doesn’t reach the bottom. They still have their tricks when it comes to language. “Minority,” “diversity,” “people of color,” and all these words that they use, and we think we get a big chunk of that, and we don’t. So both parties are guilty.

But let me just ask you this because one party we’ve been very loyal to: What’s worse, if your enemy does you wrong, or your family do you wrong?

It may feel worse when your family does wrong, I’ll give you that. But the effect is the issue, and the problem is to consider any of these politicians “family” in the first place. These people aren’t family.
Well, friends.

We’ve got friends.

Yeah. Friends, perhaps. But I would say that we’re trying to explore getting seats at tables to which we’re not invited in the first place. Should we instead be putting our focus on gaining power?
We’ve been playing the same game since the Sixties, pretty much. Between now and then, there’s been [thousands of] black people, men and women, elected to prominent positions in power and government throughout this country. But we haven’t moved one inch. So we may have a seat at the table, but we still don’t have the power — and we don’t have the power because we don’t have any money. We don’t have equity. We don’t build enough anything. All we got is basically, for lack of a better word, black ass. That’s all we got, is being black and maybe an opinion or two.

So we have to change that narrative somehow, some way. I would hope our friends would help us change the narrative. But I think we’re at a critical point where I don’t know if we can fuss or argue about which way the check or the relief is coming from.

“We may have a seat at the table, but we still don’t have the power — and we don’t have the power because we don’t have any money.”

With all this controversy over a meeting, I mean, damn … Jesus met with power. Moses lived with power. You got to go talk to power. I don’t care what you think you trying to get in the world, you have to go talk to power.

Now, I didn’t talk to Trump. I’ve never met him in my life. So I talked to his people and he made the adjustments in his plan. That’s just the truth. I can come up with some bullshit and lie about what happened. That’s the truth. That’s what happened. And the Democrats still had the opportunity to do the same thing. They have the opportunity to do this.

And look, I’m not telling nobody who to vote for. I’m not endorsing anybody. I think that’s a decision where people got to make on their own. But this is what happened. And I’m going to go talk to every president until we get this done. I’m not playing this game no more of jumping on this team and that team and this side and that side. I don’t care. I’m saying I’m a single-issue voter.

But getting back to the point that you just made — do you think the Trump administration is trying to take advantage of your willingness to make a good faith effort at speaking with all sides in this equation and improving the lives of black Americans by speaking with Republicans about this issue?
I mean, it’s politics. Both sides are taking advantage of whatever little piece of information they think could swing something. So it’s like, has Biden taken credit for everybody that’s running out to vote for [him]? So who knows? They doing it. That’s politics. Not concerned with those games.

Even given the pushback on you? Considering everything that’s happened in the last week after that tweet from Katrina Pierson?
I never met her. I don’t know her, didn’t meet with her, or work with her, or had nothing to do with her. So, I don’t care what she tweeted. To me, that’s politics. She’s part of the Trump campaign. The Biden campaign, they would tweet it out, too. Both of them would do the same thing. So I’m not looking at that as, “Ah, shit. They using me.” Nobody using me.

People are free to make their own mind up. I’m just telling people they got to take a double look at what’s really happening. That’s all. And we got to make sure that we’re focused on us, and not everybody. We’re in a race. And in a race, you try to reach the finish line first or as close to first as you can. You’re not looking back and seeing if everybody [is] going to cross the finish line together. That’s our problem. We got to think about us, or we will not survive another hundred years in this country.

“I’m not playing this game no more of jumping on this team and that team and this side and that side.”

Where do you get your news to process everything that’s going on in the world?
We’re herded into sometimes going against our own self-interest just so we can be comfortable in the herd. I try to make sure that I break away from the herd as much as I can. There’s plenty of money in America. Don’t let America make you think it’s broke.

We got to stop worrying about being so friendly and happy to be invited to the table. It’s kind of like all right I’m here, where’s my piece? If I don’t get my piece we’re turning over this table. We’re turning over this table. We all know a homie that, you invite him to the barbecue and you don’t give him a plate, he might kick over the pit. He might kick over the pit and turn over the table. Nobody eating. So we just got to change our approach.

I’m looking at the Contract, and I’m seeing that there are items in it that the Trump administration has specifically been working against during this term in office. And I think there’s a balance between working with those in power to achieve outcomes and, unfortunately, legitimizing what they’re doing. How are you trying to find that balance in these talks with politicians and I don’t mean just the Trump administration?
Well, you can only control what you can control. He can lie to anybody, or he can do it. You never know what he [is] going to do. He ain’t a politician, so you don’t know what he [is] going to do. He may want to be cool with black people and do a whole lot. From my understanding, don’t too many people go there and ask him to do too much for the black community. They ask him to do stuff for them and their little projects and their little shit. [Around 40 percent] of black businesses went down. We need capital to hopefully bring some of those businesses back.

Now, he lies. But when you really look, all of them lie. They all do the same thing. And Trump, I don’t know if he [is] a good guy or not. I don’t really care because they all been bad guys to us. Let’s just be real. So at the end of the day, we got to figure out how we [are] going to get capital into our hands because everything else is not going to get us the freedom that we’re looking for. These dignity and social issues definitely need to be handled, but until you have money and capital, you get no dignity in a capitalistic country.

Who is going to get the money to the people? All these people are doing is sucking money out of the community, and both sides [are] guilty. We got to shake something up. I don’t know how, but we can’t go with business as usual.

“Until you have money and capital, you get no dignity in a capitalistic country.”

Well, let’s go to some of the solutions that you offer in the Contract. You’ve got bank lending reform and federal funding of baby bonds. You got federal reserve finance oversight. You talk about stuff that, frankly, during this administration, they’ve had a shot at doing this — and it just hasn’t happened.

When you talked to them, did you say, “Hey, why were the PPP loans during Covid funded in a discriminatory manner?” Did you address any particular things that have happened during this administration — since they are still in power — and did they have any response to that?
Well, of course, everybody think they’re doing great and they are doing a lot. They’re like, “We’re doing this for minorities and we got opportunity zones, and we got this, that and the other.” But when somebody actually come in and say, “No, man, stop clumping us in with 70 percent of the people in this country and calling us ‘minorities.’ You need to deal with us as black people and solve this problem. We’re the one with the grievance.”

So, I don’t know if any side has been that laser-focused on our community because they put a spell on us with these words “diversity,” “urban,” and all this stuff that. At the end of the day, we only get 2 percent of that stuff. That ain’t enough to sustain 13 percent of the country. This is why we raggedy. And so, to me, you look at both sides of the coin now. One guy gave more things to destabilize the black community than the other. [Biden] made sure that we got people still in jail, because of those policies in the Nineties.

“[Joe Biden] has actually hurt us way more than Donald Trump.”

He has actually hurt us way more than Donald Trump. Donald Trump might have hurt our feelings, but this dude hurt our bodies and put people in jail. We got the data, brother, if you don’t want to-

No, no, no, I’m not defending Biden’s crime bill — but I got data, too. I mean, I can start with Covid-19.
Both got their hands dirty. We can’t dismiss one over the other, because one knows how to play the politics game and one is sloppy with it.

Covid-19 has killed one out of 1,000 black people who are alive in this country, period. We are talking beyond the economics here.
I understand that.

And Trump is just letting it run rampant in this country, without-
I understand Covid. It’s a pandemic. We don’t know what any administration would have did to handle it, to be honest. You think that no matter who’s the president, that [in] January … Covid is gone, we going to just come with the solution and be able to fix it and everything about to go to normal? We’re still going to be a mess.

But it would have been less of a mess if somebody else was in charge.
OK. I’ll give you that. I’ll give you that hypothetical. But at the end of the day, it’s a hypothetical. Whoever’s in power at the time-

Yeah, that’s all we got.
… deal with it how they deal with it, and then you had the data on one, but don’t have the data on the other.

Us, as black people, really need to be independent. And as independents, not to be independent to raise a candidate to be the president. But to say, “Look, whichever party does the most to help our community get off our backs will get our vote.” And I think with that, things will actually move. I think if we continue to be locked into one party, exclusively, who are not really coming close to meeting our needs, we are going to be stuck in this situation until we change that.

Well, here’s where I would counter that argument. One party not only has shown no interest in-
Well, why should they?

No, no, but hold on. Have shown no interest in furthering our goals, furthering our prosperity, furthering our survivability, in fact. And they’ve shown so little interest in doing so, that they really can’t even win national elections without us. And they do so, because frankly, they have an agenda of plutocracy and white supremacy. That’s what they’re about.
You don’t think the Democrats is about white supremacy?

Perhaps to some degree, yes. But the point is, I’m saying explicitly, that’s what Republicans are about.
No, I think it’s the same thing. I think it’s good cop, bad cop, man. You know their game. They both cops. They both will lock your ass up quick. They both got the power to lock you up. One mean, one nice. OK? But it’s still the same thing. This is what we dealing with, but they still got the same goal and that’s why we’re in the position that we’re in. It’s not them that got to do something different; it’s us that got to do something different.

So then my question is, do we just completely divest ourselves of the system?
No. I’m not saying that.

“[Both parties] will lock your ass up quick. They both got the power to lock you up. One mean, one nice. OK? But it’s still the same thing.”

So, then what do we do? Do we not vote?
Yeah, we do vote. We vote for the people who are doing things in our interests. And so right now, everybody’s got their own measurement of that and they going to vote according to that. But that don’t mean you shouldn’t try to push your agenda all the way to the day you vote, even when you pick a candidate. The mistake that people make when they pick a side, they pick their side and they feel like, “I’m on this team” and I just want to win at all costs, basically.

And so that, to me, is an issue. Because you continue to push your candidate hard to continue to do things, to better what he’s offering to your community. [They say], “I got this plan I put out months ago and that’s just it, can’t do no better.” Don’t even want to think about it. It’s like, “Man, what the fuck you talking about? That plan is weak. We got to pump that shit up, for black people. All this minority language don’t mean … That’s hocus-pocus. That ain’t us. That’s everybody but us. It’s time for us to get it.” And we can’t get it doing the same things. We got to shake it up.

Now, that I agree with. But isn’t there a bit of equivalence between the two sides that goes too far here? Because to what degree is there, should there be more nuance between what’s going on? Because we’re talking about a president who claims he’s our savior, but who thought John Lewis wasn’t about shit. But you got another side over here that’s imperfect — but, well, they ain’t that.
You got to figure out what kind of person you are. Are you a feelings person or are you an actions person? So if you don’t like people hurting your feelings, and you don’t look at their actions because of the words they say, then that’s the kind of person you are and you’ll make your decision. If you’re a person that actually looks at people’s actions and people think, “Oh, he just did this one little bill and it was cool.” Nah, they fought for months and weeks over that. So it was like pushing it hard line; wasn’t no, “Oh, he was just part of this thing.” And his partner made sure it went through, even when the federal government said, “We’re going too hard, y’all need to let some people out.” She was like, “Nah, we need work for fire. We have fires out here. We need prisoners to put out fires.” That’s actions, man.

So me, I’m an actions person. [Trump and Biden] have been in power, one of them has just been in the top seat. But they both from the 1950s. One has sat and watched Barack Obama do little for us as black people. And so I’m nervous that he’ll say, “Hey, man, you had a black president; he didn’t do it, why should I?” At the end of the day, my daddy said, “No matter who the president is, you got to get your ass up and go to work in the morning.” So, that’s just the reality. They all lie.

“Nobody is going to take us for granted because I ain’t letting that happen.”

What kind of change, if any, have you seen that you find meaningful in this regard?
We did a song called “Fuck Tha Police.” Everybody was mad at us. When we did “Fuck Tha Police,” people were mad at me. All kind of elders calling for us to be censored. The FBI came after us. Everybody said we was the worst thing in the world.

Police were never held accountable. If you was on trial against an officer, if he pointed at you and said you did it, [then] you did it. Nobody questioned the officer’s character at all or his motives or his attitude on that day or his procedures. At the end of the day, I saw years later, when Rodney King got beat up and it got caught on film, that these cops was now on trial? They didn’t get convicted, but they were on trial. Now they were being questioned. Now people was asking their motives. Now people had them on trial, the police was on trial. Even with O.J. Simpson — police again on trial for their motives and tactics and procedures.

So now, you have police going to jail for murder, you have police getting fired, you have police being held accountable in all different areas. So, that’s what I see. From doing that song, it put emphasis on a problem in America and it kept you right there. It just manifests itself in the country. It just took a long time.

Do you see what you’re doing now in the same light?
Whatever happens with this election, I know by the next one they’re going to take black people seriously, regardless. Nobody is going to take us for granted because I ain’t letting that happen. No party is going to be able to take us for granted.

From Rolling Stone US