“WE’RE DOING SOMETHING”RENAISSANCE MAN NICK CANNON HAS BUILT A CAREER ON DOING EVERYTHING. NOW HE’S PLAYING THE EPONYMOUS RAPPER IN SPIKE LEE’S CONTROVERSIAL GREEK TRAGEDY, CHI-RAQ.
Whether you love or hate him, it’s hard to deny that in 2015, Nick Cannon is the quintessential Renaissance Man. Seemingly involved in every project birthed into existence, Cannon is the host of America’s Got Talent, the chairman of TeenNick, and the founder of Ncredible Artists. And yet none of his innumerable jobs compare to his work in new film CHI-RAQ, Spike Lee’s controversial Greek tragedy where a pussy strike stops Chicago gang violence in its tracks. Here, the multi-hyphenate talent plays the titular rapper, Chi Raq, with raw emotion and blustering bravado, signifying a new chapter in Cannon’s varied career.
THE RED BULLETIN: You were born in San Diego, but you grew up in North Carolina?
NICK CANNON: Back and forth, the boys in the hood story. My mom, when I would get in trouble, she would send me to my dad.
From NC to Chicago, was it a culture shock?
I’ve been going to Chicago and working out here for ten, fifteen years, so I was quite familiar with the neighborhoods, the people. One of my first music videos was in Chicago with R. Kelly, in like 2003.
Which one was that?
Gigolo. I’ve done so much in Chicago and created some great alliances with the people there. But to experience Chi-raq, as they call the Southside of Chicago, and Inglewood and all of those areas, it’s definitely a different monster. I went in full speed and embraced everything about it. It’s powerful, it’s potent, and it’s haunting at times. But we were in there.
Was that intimidating?
I wouldn’t say intimidating. We got at the real raw core of what’s going on. These brothers are ready to talk, ready to represent themselves in a way that they want everyone to know that there’s a lot of pain in their communities. A lot of people are hurt and crying out. We hide behind these guns, we hide behind this bravado and this idea of egotistical man: I can do this, I’m big and I’m bad. But ultimately, violence begets violence, and it’s a constant cycle of genocide that if we don’t stop or change something, we’re gonna perish.
Do you believe if women sexually withdrew that the cycle would end?
I believe that the power of this film is that it only takes one person to start a movement. And that’s real. I honestly believe that when you can utilize things like art to raise awareness, when you can get people talking and everyone wants change, it’s just taking that call to action and saying, “We’re going to do something about it.”
Do you think people who are perpetrators of violence want that change?
I believe so. I believe that those people are pain stricken. I believe those people need help.
My theory is that for many they see no other alternative.
I think we have failed them and they’re saying, “There’s no other alternative, what else am I supposed to do?” It’s no coincidence that the most violent places in America are also the places with the least opportunity. They’ve taken away all the after school programs so there’s no upward mobility. We don’t own any business in our neighborhoods. There’s no other way out, other than slangin’ and bangin’. These young people don’t even make it off of their block, they don’t go to downtown Chicago, they don’t go to the north. They know their block. We’ve got to recondition their mindsets.
How do you stay connected to the community?
I live all over. I’m a citizen of the world. I purposely make sure I’m in the community, whether it’s my own community or Southeast San Diego.
The opposite often happens with fame.
I gotta stay grounded. I gotta stay connected to my people. I’m a people person. I visit as often as I possibly can, but not only because it’s meaningful to the community, but because it’s meaningful to me. It shows, This is where I came from, this is what I worked hard for. I’m gonna work hard and stand there as a fixture and as a pillar of the community, and say, “You can do it too, you can do it better than I did it. Let me show you what I did, and then you can figure out how to do it for yourself.”
What did you do?
I don’t want to say what I did, I want to say what I’m doing. [Laughs] I think it’s more about really using my art to help provide for my family, my community. I’ve had so many opportunities and nobody ever handed me anything.
Any major roadblocks along the way?
Yeah, all the time, still to this day.
I take pride in making my own trail. I’ve never done anything in an orthodox manner in entertainment. Whether it’s the shows I’ve created or the jobs that I’ve had or even the films that I’ve done, it’s always, Nick Cannon, really? [Laughs] That’s always what it is, and I love that.
Why is there always a “really” after?
I love it, though! Because, you know what, I’m not in it ultimately for the media accolades. I’ve been doing this for twenty years and I’m just getting started. People are gonna step back and be like, He did this, he did this, he created that.
Any challenges in balancing it all?
To me, it’s all one job. It’s all entertainment, and it goes back to the days of people liked Bob Hope, Desi Arnaz.
I’m not sure anyone has ever placed Nick Cannon and Bob Hope in the same thought.
That’s the thing: Bob Hope, he was an incredible dude, he hosted the Oscars, he was a comedian, an actor, a producer, he made music, he owned half of Hollywood. People didn’t know Desi Arnaz was one of the first producers of Star Trek. It’s stuff like that where it’s a business, but it’s all connected.