There’s a poignant moment at the end of Boyz in the Hood, where Trey (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) and Doughboy (O’Shea Jackson aka Ice Cube) share a moment of reflection in response to the violence that took the life of Trey’s best friend and Doughboy’s brother. The scene lingers, if only because audiences were sure—even before the film’s closing credits confirm it—that this would be the last time the two characters would have such a moment; Trey is headed to Morehouse for college and Doughboy will inevitably be killed by the gun violence that was destroying their neighborhood.
The power of director John Singleton’s debut came from its realism—a realism that many in America viewed as wholly linked to the “noise” that echoed from urban America via the sounds of hip-hop or what some called “Gangsta Rap.” For far too many and for far too long, there was no distinction to be made between Ice Cube, the politically conscious lyrical genius and budding entrepreneur, and Doughboy, “the n*gger you love to hate”; In those early days, O’Shea Jackson, in fact, encouraged that little distinction be made between the two as a measure of the lack of representational diversity for Black men.
By all accounts Ice Cube should be dead, both literally and figuratively. Yet as the rapper, turned Hollywood maverick, and mainstream pitchman turned 43, his longevity and adaptability stands as testament to both his vision as an artist and business person and the ability of hip-hop culture, as Gaye Theresa Johnson recently argued, to celebrate Black humanity.