For the first time in over a decade of Double J Mornings (formerly Triple J) host Zan Rowe encouraging musicians and creatives to look introspectively at what music inspires them, or what influences their music, she’s been able to take it live. With Ice Cube, of all god damn people.

Before his fourth and final sold-out Vivid Live show in Sydney Opera House‘s Concert Hall (the big one), the man known to his family as O’Shea Jackson sat down with Rowe to talk about the five songs that changed his life.

The packed out crowd was boisterous and supportive, yet hung on every word that Ice Cube said, as he delved through his early years, family, and career, talking about how rap has changed over the three decades that he’s been in the game.

The full conversation is on Double J this Friday morning from 10am, and you can catch it after that on the Take 5 Podcast, but after heading along here’s the tracklist and some pearls of wisdom from the N.W.A. founding member.

“The Message” – Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five

As a young kid, Ice Cube remembers being so starved for anything that he could relate to as a young black kid born and raised in Los Angeles in the late ’60s and early ’70s. He remembers having to listen to the radio for hours before something that even slightly resembled hip-hop would come on, and even then it was only a song or two.

Cube remembers the first he heard ‘The Message’, it was the middle of the night and the lyrics really rocked him; he’d never heard anything so potent, stories that were so real. It was rap that he’d never come across before, affecting him so deeply because he “never knew rap could be that powerful.”

“The Payback ” – James Brown

“As a kid, you’re not worried about girls, it’s boring,” Ice Cube says to introduce James Brown“You seek music that’s not so ‘baby, baby, baby’ because you’re dealing with different emotions that you feel.”

Cube notes that James Brown is one of the “true original rappers”, who was making beats before people knew how to make beats. An artist who was breaking the moulds of traditional guitar-driven music. Instead of running through the same motions of verse, bridge, chorus, verse, Cube notes that Brown found that one funky bit before the bridge kicks back in, and made that his whole song.

“This song is not about making it fluffy for TV, this is about payback; about revenge.”

“What’s Going On?” – Marvin Gaye

A running theme for the music that changed Cube’s life is the concept that every song is telling a story, saying something of substance and importance, and Marvin Gaye is no different. A song that Cube wanted to play “over and over and over” to get it embedded in his brain, ‘What’s Goin On?’ evoked a lot of emotions out of a young Cube – happiness, sadness, a longing for home.

“(Not Just) Knee Deep” – George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic

Ice Cube admires the sheer, unadulterated funk that George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic brought to the table; it was hip-hop before the world knew what hip-hop was. Recognised as “lightyears ahead of its time”, Clinton inspired Cube to remember that there’s no rules of creativity, and that you can that “the corniest things and make them funky.

Cube notes that the G-Funk era (West Coast artists like Dr. DreTupacNate DoggBig Boi and Outkast) was strictly because of the philosophies of funk artists like Clinton, Rick James (bitch), Bootsy Collins, reminding everyone that you don’t have to be “squeaky clean“, and that it’s totally fine to be yourself.

A Change Is Gonna Come” – Sam Cooke

Finally, Sam Cooke reminds Cube of the constant, unending struggle for equality. In the retelling of the heartbreaking story of how and why his father moved from the deep south of Louisiana to Los Angeles when he was 19, the entire Joan Sutherland Theatre was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop.

“It reminds me that the struggle for equality is a never-ending battle. It reminds me of what my mother and father had to go through growing up in the segregated South. I do have hope because I know that there’s no way you can suppress the Black spirit. There are chains, there are prisons, there’s even death and you still can’t break that spirit and that connection to God… so that’s the hope.”

Catch the whole thing this Friday on Double J from 10am, or after that through the Take 5 podcast.

Image: Supplied / Prudence Upton