Ice Cube abruptly departed N.W.A in 1989 and embarked one of rap’s most remarkable solo journeys. Although his persona on record and film was frequently that of a politically minded, grizzled L.A. gangbanging vet, just like the hot-tempered character Doughboy he portrayed in 1991’s Boyz N’ The Hood, the menacing individual Cube produced on record was fictional. According to one man who knew him during his 1990’s heyday, O’Shea Jackson was often quiet and reflective away from the microphone and never went through the gangland battles claimed to experience in his recordings.
Contrary to his often rough and tumble guise, Ice Cube had a fairly uneventful suburban upbringing in South Central Los Angeles, was a solid student and short of some minor criminal acts, never joined a gang. This information leads to the question of how Ice Cube maintained his gangster image for legions of frequently rugged fans that accepted his tales of urban violence as first hand accounts. Was it the well-ironed khakis, glistening jheri curls, black baseball cap and ominous scowl? Perhaps, but more importantly it was the people he surrounded himself with.
In the post N.W.A. days, Ice Cube recruited folks who lived the life he portrayed in song. One of these people was Shorty of the gold selling rap trio Da Lench Mob, a one-time gangbanger who began his criminal career as a teen and became a feared presence in L.A.’s notorious Marvin Gangster Crips. Weed smoking, guzzling 40s, skirt chasing and of course, hardcore violence were normal activities in his existence.
After finishing up a robbery bid in California’s Corcoran maximum security state pen--also home to Charles Manson--Shorty got back with an old pal, future Da Lench Mob member J-Dee. J-Dee had just returned from a trip with Ice Cube to New York to record Cube’s solo full-length debut, Amerikkka’s Most Wanted. Soon after in 1991, Shorty finally met with Ice Cube through J-Dee who fraudulently told Cube the two gangbangers were cousins. Not knowing much more than what he saw on Yo! MTV Raps, Shorty assumed Cube was a gangbanger like himself. “The style of dress that they had, you’d think, damn, these niggaz gangbanging,” Shorty said about N.W.A. and Cube from his West Side L.A. home. “We went over to Cube’s momma’s house and I’m sizing him up. I’m looking like, ‘O.K.,’I don’t know. It’s a trip how TV can lie to you. I’m like damn. This dude is square as hell.”
Square or not, Shorty leapt at an opportunity to tour with Cube as a member of his security team on Cube’s first series of solo concerts. The early touring crew was deep—sometimes as many as twenty--and full of Cube’s Street Knowledge posse including Yo Yo, Sir Jinx, J-Dee, T-Bone and Chilly Chill.
As Shorty tells it, a typical tour stop went like this: Shorty and J-Dee would venture into the hoods and hang with local ghetto dwellers representing Ice Cube, thereby validating Cube’s gangster persona in the absence of Cube himself. “This is something I grew up with all my life,” Shorty said. “Hanging around cutthroats and weed smokers and heroin addicts, alcoholics. This is all we knew. So of course, any state we go to, that’s what we comfortable with…but Cube, it was uncomfortable for him.”
Shorty maintains that he and his pals legitimized Cube’s gangster character on tour. “We made it comfortable for Cube to go to these states man. Because, now they seeing tattoos all over my back. They seeing J-Dee’s tattoos. They like damn. Keep in mind, everyone hear about Crips and Bloods, but damn, when you like in Oklahoma or in fucking Nebraska, they up front close talking to a Crip…It’s like damn. These Lench Mob niggaz is real.”
According to Shorty, future thespian Ice Cube kept his rep through what might be described as stellar acting. “Brother was never a street dude man,” he said. “He would never let nobody see him out of character. Hear me? He would always be in character when you see him.”
Despite serving as Cube’s shield from the public, Shorty didn’t have a problem with his methodology. “We wasn’t really trippin’ like ‘Damn homie, you using our image to capitalize on. We didn’t trip because we felt that it was family.”
And of course, it was business. Shorty admits to being cool with the situation because he was promised a record deal (Da Lench Mob released two LPs on East West records) and the allure of seeing all of America was too great to pass up for someone that rarely crossed the California border.
Not only did Ice Cube utilize Shorty and J-Dee’s gangland image, but their battle tales as well. Shorty says during a flight from Dallas after a gig with the Geto Boys, he and J-Dee told Cube about how some of their out of town Crip brethren got into a St. Louis gang brawl. “After landing, we walked through that tunnel thing,” remembered Shorty. “We walking. [Cube’s] like ‘Listen to this.’ This dude’s like busts a whole rhyme. I’m like ‘Damn nigga, you write pretty fast. The story that we told, he just put it on paper.”
That story became Cube’s graphic gang laced track “My Summer Vacation” on his Death Certificate LP. Shorty didn’t have a problem with how Cube got his info at the time, but now reconsiders, “I’m not tripping on that shit. But I wish I would have man [laughs]. You know. I would have cashed in on it…then I started really looking to the other stuff and like damn. We’re hustling, [he’s] taking shit and writing, putting our story on paper and capitalizing on it man. But that’s just how he was. None of the things that he ever kicked as far as in the street, the ghetto stuff, he never did none of that man. None of that.”
Even with the way Cube used Shorty’s background for his benefit, Shorty remains thankful for his experience and the two LPs his group Da Lench Mob put out. “I learned a lot from that dude,” Shorty admitted. “I love him to this day even though we got some unfinished business we have got to deal on. By going on tour with him, it changed my life completely around.”
It was a change that involved becoming a Muslim in 1991 after a lifetime of not even knowing what a Muslim was. The transformation came after he befriended a Public Enemy soundman that toured with Cube who introduced him to the Nation of Islam. This ultimately led to the end of his gangbanging days and taking on the name of Jerome Muhammad.
On the music side, Da Lench Mob enjoyed gold selling success in 1992 with their first album Guerillas In Tha Mist, largely written by Ice Cube. According to Shorty, their money wasn’t properly divided because other Ice Cube protégés Yo Yo and Kam released albums that didn’t fare nearly as well. Additionally, the crew went through heavy turmoil when J-Dee was arrested for attempted murder and eventually landed in prison. Instead of disbanding, Da Lench Mob returned in 1994 with the poorly marketed and disappointingly received Planet of Da Apes featuring a new member, Oakland based rhymer Maulkie. Shorty says someone may have been trying to break up the group and one day his anger over the unforgiving record biz and woes over music friendships gone sour led him to want to “kill everybody at Street Knowledge” with 100 rounds of ammunition at his side. Instead, he was coincidentally called to his mosque and reflected on the situation in tears.
Now in his mid thirties and having often scraped by financially in his post Da Lench Mob days, Shorty is aiming for a comeback. He spent several years in the late 90s learning the music business from people like producer QDIII and Wendy Day of the Rap Coaltion. After a lengthy industry education, he’s releasing a solo album in September called Short Stories on his own imprint, Bow Tie Entertainment. Among the guests slated to appear are Coolio, one time Cube pal (and frequent Cube critic) Kam, Boo Ya Tribe and RBX. His former partner J-Dee continues to be housed in same California state prison that Shorty himself was in and isn’t due to come home until 2004. Shorty has also commissioned L.A. marketing firm The Radio Bums to create a website at http://www.dalenchmob.com and has multiple documentary film projects in the works.
Although Shorty claims Da Lench Mob is owed over 1.5 million dollars by Ice Cube and his former boss turned his back on the group when the chips were down, he still has love for the man who put him in the game. “If none of this had went down and J-Dee never went to jail, we’d probably be some arrogant ass rappers to this day. It really humbled me,” Shorty said thankfully.
Even with years of acrimonious rap game experiences in tow, Shorty remains optimistic. “I’m not bitter because I’m gonna get mine regardless.”
Unfortunately, Cube’s high profile perch has prevented the two from speaking since L.A.’s 1997 hip-hop summit after the death of the Notorious B.I.G. Nonetheless, he’d still like to see Cube dish out some well-earned payback and “do what’s right and take care of those who helped you.”