On Monday night (March 13), Ice Cube will unveil a new version of Hip Hop Squares on VH1. With Cube serving as the show's executive producer, he hopes to remix the game show, which was on-air for one season in 2012 on MTV2.
Hosted by comedian and actor DeRay Davis, Hip Hop Squares follows the blueprint of the popular TV staple Hollywood Squares. While the format of the program will be similar, Hip Hop Squares will implement a tinge of diversity by nabbing stars from the worlds of music, sports and entertainment. For the show's inaugural season on VH1, Cube enlisted a bevy of hip-hop favorites including T.I., Fat Joe, French Montana, Remy Ma, Wale, Machine Gun Kelly to bring the humor and personality to his newest endeavor.
Billboard recently spoke with Ice Cube and host DeRay Davis on the creation of Hip Hop Squares, Tupac's legacy, their memories from filming Barbershop, Chance the Rapper's philanthropic efforts in Chicago, and the possibility of another Friday movie.
Cube, what made you decide to make a hip-hop version of the Hollywood Squares?
Ice Cube: Well, you know, there was a version that MTV2 did awhile back and we had did something cool with VH1 when we was doing Barbershop 3. We did a town hall meeting in Chicago with VH1. It went so well that when they brought up this Hip Hop Squares idea, they asked if we can come on and just help give it the flavor that it needed so that it can work this time a little differently.
How will this version be different from the MTV2 version that Peter Rosenberg hosted in 2012?
IC: I think VH1 gotta be the top cable station right now. So, I just think the timing is right. Plus, we got DeRay and we got different stars who have a higher profile. We're dealing with some reality stars, too. I just think the energy is perfect this time, so hopefully, it'll work.
So DeRay, when the show approached to you, what were your initial thoughts?
DeRay Davis: I was excited about it because I knew what potentially it could have been before. I knew that once Ice Cube got a hold of it, it put a different brand on it. Before, it was just called MTV's Hip Hop Squares. When you hear Ice Cube produced [the VH1] version, that solidifies the hip-hop in it. It's like if a homeless person is trying to sell you a house, you're not paying attention to it as much. [Laughs.] But if you have somebody that's a realtor like Cube in the hip-hop world, you're willing to buy a house [from them]. So I think that definitely got me excited about it.
Did you go back and study previous hosts from Hollywood Squares after you took the job for Hip Hop Squares?
DD: I had watched it before so I knew who the hosts were. I didn't want to get too tainted by watching it and Cube, or somebody telling me to do something totally different. You know what it is. You know how to play the game. It's like the evolution of basketball. It's the same game, but the shoes have changed, the highlights are different, and the dunks are different, so I didn't have to research that.
IC: Having DeRay was great because he not only knows his comedic timing, he could snap with the best of them. He can keep the game going and professionally moving. We wanted somebody like DeRay who can master all three of those phases, because we don't want nobody that's like Alex Trebek and shit, just delivering lines. We don't want somebody who's too into joking around instead of being a serious game show host. When we found out that DeRay was perfect at all three angles, he just fit it like a glove.
When we previewed the first two episodes, we noticed how unrehearsed the show was. How much leeway did you decide to give DeRay and even the stars who participated?
IC: The only thing that was really set up were the questions. Everything else was the flavor and the flow that we wanted. We wanted people to be unhinged and unscripted, of course, and to be themselves. The bar that we had backstage didn't hurt either. [Laughs] People got loose and that's what we wanted. We had the biggest names in entertainment. So, we wanted to treat everybody right, make sure that they had a good time, and set the tone and all. Let them know that this ain't no stubby game-show. This is like playing cards with your homie. Y'all gotta let loose.
You guys teamed up for Barbershop and Barbershop 2. What are some of your fondest memories shooting those films together?
IC: Shooting Barbershop 2 was a lot warmer. It was a lot funner. That first one was cold as hell. That was the first time I shot a movie in the snow like that. It was cold, but it was fun. Everything was new.
What I really remember about DeRay was that he was cast perfectly, because he reminds you of a hustler. I just remember that everybody was perfectly cast in that movie.
DD: It was a lot more crazy in Chicago, too. It was fun. The cool part was I was so confident when Cube called me back. I was like, "Oh. They cast me again. I'm funny." So I was coming in a little lackadaisical on my feet. I came in and Cube said, "Hey. Go back out. Come in, and this time, be funny." [Laughs.] The second time around, everybody knew everybody and you could see the potential in the cast from the first time. Everybody had an idea of what they wanted to do, from the Eves to the Mike Ealys. Cube set up everybody in that.
Sticking to the theme of movies, DeRay, you'll be in the new Tupac biopic set to be released in June. Talk about your experience shooting All Eyez on Me.
DD: It was probably the most nervous I've been. Lately, I've been getting the serious roles, from Empire to other stuff, but I was more nervous about [All Eyez on Me], because I was a character that was involved in Tupac's life. People are gonna be real skeptical. I've never met the man, so when people watch, they're gonna say, this is what happened, or this isn't what happened. I was a little nervous, but my comfort came in. I know people like the character I played, so I just hope it reads well for everybody, as far as his legacy goes.
In December, Tupac was elected to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Cube, can you talk about how big of a win that is for Tupac, and for hip hop?
IC: I mean, it's enormous, and it shows that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is really getting it right. Ever since Public Enemy, it seems like they've been getting it right. So it's cool to see an artist like that make it, because I think he transcended hip-hop. People really, really identify with his passion. To me, he's a Hall of Famer, and the definition of one, fo' sho.
Your BIG3 basketball league is picking up steam. You guys have six teams with their assigned captains. Which team intrigues you the most so far?
IC: The Chauncey Billups and Stephen Jackson team is going to be pretty tough to beat. I'm interested in "White Chocolate" [Jason Williams] and Rashard Lewis' team, because I think they'll be able to move around and hit big shots. Kenyon Martin and Al Harrington seems like a bruising team that's rough in the paint, so it's really interesting to see how this thing develops.
I can't wait until we have our combine, because we have close to 50 players signed already. It's gonna be interesting to see who still got it and who don't in our draft, and see who gets picked and who won't. It's gonna be a very special year. We're gonna have our growing pains but for the most part, it's gonna be fun.
When you last spoke with Billboard, you were adamant about trying to lure Kobe Bryant or Tracy McGrady over to the BIG3. Any progress there?
IC: We sent the word out. A couple guys got other commitments and you know, to be honest, I think some guys are going to sit back a year and see what we do. If we don't get them this year, we'll get them next year. One thing I know is that if you're a baller, you're going to get the itch. These are you peers and you're going to want to play with them.
Switching gears, Chance the Rapper recently donated $1 million over to Chicago public schools. How do you feel about Chance giving back to the community of your hometown of Chicago?
DD: I wanted to donate a mill, but they ain't want my Jordan money man. Chance got the regular money. They ain't want my kind of money. [Laughs.]
I think it was big, man. It's a step like anything else that needs to get done. You keep kids in school, then it's less likely that they're robbing and stealing, which leads to all of the deaths in Chicago. It also inspires you to get money like that so you can donate it. Although he gave it to the school system, it shows and inspires kids, like, "Yo, you can go and get a mill by doing something you love, and be able to put it towards something you think is important." I think it was huge, man. He's making some big moves. He didn't do it too early nor too late. He did it in the right moment.
What more do you feel will be needed to help rebuild the city and move forward?
DD: Ah man, it's hard. We've been talking about this for years. It feels like every angle we take, it's like being in one of those mazes. You're in a maze and you run into one of those blocks and they shut you down. I don't know, man.
We don't have any strong visionary rappers like when Cube and them was making music that broke it all down. Now, everybody wanna dance to it instead of paying attention to it. If it don't make your fingers snap, people are not loving it the way they used to.
Cube, with Nicki Minaj and Remy Ma being the biggest feud in hip-hop right, what's your take on how beef plays out today?
IC: I really only know the broad strokes of that. I haven't been following the day-to-day and this and that. As far as I know, they're keeping it on wax, even though I heard [about] a few incidents, but I don't know if they're true. As long as you keep it on wax, that's the tradition of hip-hop. I'd say definitely go for the jugular if you're gonna do it. You can't play with it. To me, it's healthy for hip-hop.
Now, where it starts getting into dudes wanting to fight, that's no good. Even like the Chris Brown and Soulja Boy thing, I ain't really feeling that, because to me, that ain't them at their best. They're at their best in music, and they should keep it on wax because that's the battle we really want them to get into. Them fighting -- we don't know how that's gonna turn out. You definitely don't wanna take it to the streets. Real shit happens when people get hurt or injured. My thing is, if you guys are rappers, then rap it out.
In a past interview, Chris Tucker said he wouldn't be able to do another Friday because it was a "moment in time." At this point in 2017, do you feel the same way and consider leaving the franchise alone for good?
IC: Nah, I don't think that. I think that our community always has humor to offer. It's all about finding a story that could be dope. It ain't about us trying to be kids like we were in 1995, it's really about us coming up with a story that works in 2017 or 2018. That's the key, and it can be done. It's just all about effort and attitude and not being denied. Right now, I think we got the movie company on-board. They know it's not gonna be as inexpensive as the other ones, because these guys are household names now. So, I don't agree with Chris. I think there's a movie that can always be made about what's going on in the hood. That was a place in time, but every movie is a place in time.
DD: I'm not knocking Chris for whatever he's talking about, but remember, they've made four different Spidermans in the last 10 years. They casted them four different times. It worked well, because that audience wanted to see him -- because he's a superhero. What Cube and Chris did, they were superheroes to the hood. People always want to see them, and the characters they created. They always want to see them again, no matter if they changed the cape or the suit, the kryptonite is the same.
It's the weed. It's the Fridays. It's the same. Friday can be done. Remember how excited people got when they saw Cube's son and DC Young Fly doing it? Dude, there's kids quoting Friday who's not even supposed to curse. They're hood heroes, so you'll always wanna see that.