Intro to Cubism

The other day, the McNally Smith College of Music held a press conference to note the creation of a special scholarship in the name of producer, actor, and rapper Ice Cube. The school is housed in St. Paul’s old Science Museum building, and the feeling one has in its familiar corridors and public spaces is, Shouldn’t there be a river ecology diorama in that corner? Since Mr. Cube himself would be attending the event, the school’s intimate auditorium was filled with a range of young people, from those merely interested in seeing a celebrity to long-standing N.W.A. fans in a state of high excitement. The students were just finishing final exams, and the commencement ceremony for the graduating class of 2006 was only hours away. Teenagers from a local hip-hop academy slid into the last untaken seats, bringing a hyper, field-trip energy with them. In the sonorous voice of a movie-trailer narrator, school cofounder Jack McNally formally announced the new Ice Cube Scholarship and welcomed the guest of honor onto the stage. (The rock band Queen, and bassist Mike Watt from the Minutemen have also been recognized with McNally scholarships.)

The man of the hour wore a gold necklace with a pendant that spelled out “Ice Cube” in diamonds, but otherwise his outfit—black shirt, blue jeans, dark brown leather parka, light brown leather sneakers—was so subdued that only the crisp, impeccable brand-newness of every item hinted “self-made multi-millionaire.” He expressed how honored he was by the school’s recognition, and admired the advantage McNally Smith gave aspiring music producers: Musing that some of his contemporaries—Dr. Dre, for example—“can’t play instruments,” and have to hire musicians, he pointed out that a McNally Smith education gave the next generation of hip-hop producers the chance to be more like multi-skilled performer/ producer “Lil Jon, who’s keeping all that money.” Then he answered questions from the crowd, offering back-in-the-day anecdotes and dispensing advice with goodwill and authority. “Don’t keep equipment at your house,” he cautioned a music production student, explaining that while “musicians are cool … they ain’t cool in your den.” When asked about his dream collaborator, he answered, “Prince, no doubt!” and the home team responded with victorious applause. It was time for souvenir photos and informal meetings.

An entourage of hungry entrepreneurs moved toward the stage, wearing matching T-shirts with “Page Music” in gigantic lettering. Richard Schultz, a recording engineering student affiliated with the group, later confirmed that they had made the most of this opportunity: “We gave him the demo.”

Bass performance student Lee Carter had crafted himself a special T-shirt for the occasion. The words “Ice Cube” were written a few inches above a crude line drawing of what was apparently an ice cube. Underneath, Carter, who passed one of his homemade tees on to Ice Cube, had scrawled the question, “Why you gotta be so cold?” Did interest in N.W.A. motivate Carter to go to such great lengths? “More of just a seeing-famous-people interest,” admitted Carter. In that case, had he gone to the Prairie Home Companion parade the previous day, to see starlet Lindsay Lohan? “No, but she came to see me—that was later, though. At my apartment.”

As Ice Cube left the school, the teenagers swarmed around him. Donley McIntosh, one of the hip-hop academy kids, had brought a VHS tape of Ice Cube’s movie Friday, which Cube graciously autographed. McIntosh’s classmate Adrienne Duncan, zipping through the crowd, also got a last-minute autograph. Overwhelmed with the intensity of the moment, she used the autograph to fan herself furiously, and the superstar rode away in a black SUV.