The scene in Friday framed the N.W.A. rapper and actor in a whole new way
EC: How a Bowl of Cereal Changed Ice Cube's Career
Credit: Courtesy New Line Cinema

In 1995, the rapper Ice Cube was public enemy number one—until a mishap with a bowl of cereal softened him up to the world. The cereal incident occurs during the opening scenes of the movie Friday, a stoner comedy based on a screenplay written byIce Cube himself and directed by F. Gary Gray, who had forged his reputation by commandeering a series of hip-hop videos for artists like Cypress Hill, Outkast and Queen Latifah. But before recounting the details of the scene, it’s important to underscore just how edgy Cube's rap sheet was back in the days before the tropes of gangsta rap had become woven into the fabric of mainstream pop culture and lost much of their shock value.

When N.W.A.blasted out of Compton in the late-'80s and introduced the suburbs of the world to the street-wrought, wantonly profane, agitprop sounds of gangsta rap, it was Ice Cube's pen that was responsible for the invective powering songs like "Fuck Tha Police" and "Gangsta Gangsta." As a calling card, N.W.A. liked to dub themselves the world's most dangerous group. For once, the hyperbole was correct. Usually dressed head-to-toe in militant black garb—and with Cube favoring a furrowed brow in press photos—the image conveyed was one of angry, volatile and pissed off young African American rappers ready to strike back. The shots that Cube was firing off via the group's lyrics were so incendiary that "Fuck Tha Police" was banned from certain radio stations and stores, and a stern letter from the FBI was even sent the group's way. Presumably lines like, "Ice Cube will swarm on any motherfucker in a blue uniform" and the subsequent threat of “a bloodbath of cops dying in L.A." did not sit particularly well with the boys at the Bureau.

When Ice Cube fell out with Dr. Dre, Eazy E and the rest of the gang and left N.W.A. in bitter circumstances, he managed to up the ante again. This time he cast himself as AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted on his solo debut album, a superbly antisocial record that included Cube reveling in his role as "The Nigga Ya Love To Hate.” The rebellious button-pushing continued throughout the first half of the '90s with Cube writing songs that fantasized about killing Uncle Sam, depicted women through a misanthropic lens, characterized white people as devils, and endorsed a pro-looting response to the Rodney King incident that also involved a novel way for Sergeant Koon, one of the arresting officers, to interact with a broom stick.

As a hip-hop persona, this was thrilling stuff—but it didn’t exactly pitch Ice Cube as someone the stereotypical family from the golden age of advertising would want joining them for small talk and coffee around the breakfast table. But that’s exactly what one simple scene in Friday managed to do.

As Ice Cube’s character, Craig Jones, wakes up and trudges to the kitchen, bleary eyed and with a growling tummy, he reaches for an oversized bowl and proceeds to enthusiastically fill it up with cereal. He grabs the milk, sits down at the breakfast table and begins to pour.

Then comes the punchline: Only a trickle of milk dribbles out of the carton, leaving Ice Cube with that most heinous of early morning situations—a bowl of ruinous cereal that's turned semi-mushy and unpalatable. For good measure, the rest of the fridge is empty and then Cube's father turns up to yell at him.

At this point you feel sorry for Ice Cube. And that's the genius of the scene: It's serves up one of those small moments of daily humdrum life that we can all relate to. Every morning, we wake up with the fresh and optimistic promise of a new day and all that it can bring. No matter what happened in the previous 24 hours, a simple fried egg and a perfectly browned piece of toast—or a bowl of favorite cereal with just the perfect amount of milk—promises that everything will be better. It’s an image that breakfast product advertising has been mining for decades. But this food-based reverie is also easily broken by realizing you forgot to buy eggs or discovering someone else has used up all of the milk and yet still put the carton back in the fridge.

Friday was released during a time when it seemed that every successful rapper was attempting to transition into the movie world. Often the roles they snagged were typecast or terrible: Ice Cube himself played a gang banger in Boyz n the Hood, Tupac Shakur was cast as a hoodlum who goes over the deep end in Juice, while Ice-T wound up as some sort of kangaroo creature in Tank Girl. But Friday resonated more like a warm and goofy sitcom, with Cube taking the first steps on a path that would eventually lead to roles in flicks like the corny, family friendly Are We There Yet? It's a journey that started with that one scene in Friday, where the man who stoked the ire of the FBI by portraying himself as AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted suddenly seemed more like the sort of pudgy cartoon bear that you'd find on the cover of your favorite cereal box.