The black nationalist rapper is an unusual kind of conservative
In the past few years, former N.W.A. rapper Ice Cube has assumed a self-conferred mantle as a spokesman for black politics. As a result, his reputation has been shattered for — among other things — dabbling in conspiracy theories, sharing antisemitic memes, and previously pledging to work with the then-President Donald Trump on a plan to invigorate black America.
More, in a recent carpool interview he gave to Tucker Carlson, Ice Cube admitted to not taking the Covid-19 vaccine that was required for a movie production he was joining, because he thought it was “rush job”, and wanted to be a role model for his children, to “show them that I want to stand on my convictions and that I was willing to lose $9 million”. In a later studio interview with Carlson, Ice Cube claimed that he had been “excluded” from certain platforms such as The View and Oprah due to his “independent thinking” and because he doesn’t “follow their brand of politics”.
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Many, especially fans, may be bewildered as to how the same man who rapped “Straight Outta Compton”, who composed “No Vaseline”, the gangsta-turned-black radical renegade who went by “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted”, would now serve as the ghetto tour guide of Tucker Carlson.
But this is all in keeping with Ice Cube’s evolution over the past few years — more so than is often understood. Although he says he isn’t aligned with either side of the political aisle and conceded to Carlson that race is very much overplayed in America, the influence of black nationalism on his worldview has always been there, the same set of beliefs that influenced his antisemitism and conspiracism.
The sleeve booklet of his 1991 album Death Certificate declared that the “best place for a young black male or female is the Nation of Islam”. He denies ever being a member of the Nation of Islam, though he has expressed admiration for Elijah Muhammad and the “honourable” Louis Farrakhan. The organisation is notorious for promoting antisemitism and a conservative politics based on religious moralism, communal solidarity and economic self-sufficiency. The conservative residue of this influence can be detected in Ice Cube’s interview with Carlson about how black people have been shut out of “access to capital” by the banks, and describing how black people in the ghetto struggle to set up their own businesses, while “outsiders” come in and succeed more easily. This is framing that is commonplace in black conservative and nationalist petit-bourgeois thought: promoting black entrepreneurship as a solution to racial inequality.
Further, a lot of rappers, at least historically, have expressed respect for Trump in their songs. According to FiveThirtyEight, between 1989-2014 “only 13 percent of all Trump references were negative, while 60 percent have been positive”, which would be because of the former president’s machismo and unapologetic display of wealth. Jay-Z, who is by no means a fan of Trump, once proclaimed in “Hova Interlude” that “I’m the ghetto’s answer to Trump”. In addition, Lil Wayne once rapped about how he wanted to “get money like Donald Trump”, while in 2020 50 Cent urged his fans to vote for the Republican President because a Biden administration would mean increased taxes, to which he quickly performed a volte-face on after a backlash.
Despite the racial difference, there is more commonality between black nationalists and the “white” hard Right than one would think. Eldridge Cleaver morphed from a flaming Black Panther into a Reagan Republican. The Nation of Islam had a parley with the American Nazi Party around their mutual distaste for racial integration. Now, the friendliness between black nationalists and Trumpists is due to their common aversion to progressive liberalism, wokeness and the Democratic Party.
Part of Ice Cube and his co-thinkers’ gripe is the belief that black Americans are enchained to the Democratic Party. Even though black Americans overall are more religiously observant and socially conservative than their white counterparts, the “black vote” is still overwhelmingly Democrat. However, there has been a modest decline in support since the Obama presidency, perhaps exemplified by a low turnout in 2022.
The problem is that Ice Cube’s own brand of identity communalism will be no more transformative for black Americans than the Democrats’ “progressive” version. But his lasting popularity shows that there is a level of discontent with the status quo among some sections of black America. A thirst for alternative views like those of Ice Cube, and even Tucker Carlson, provides a vivid testament to that.