Longevity in hip hop has just not been a thing. From Tupac and Biggie to Nipsey Hussle and Takeoff, premature, violent deaths have been a norm. And job insecurity is even more common, with many rappers not even making it past five years. But even those who do, find themselves aged out of the genre before age 40. That’s why rap legends Ice Cube, Too $hort, E-40 and Snoop Dogg coming together to form the supergroup Mount Westmore is so epic. Brought together during the pandemic, the group has been performing to sold-out crowds and released a self-titled album. There’s even a fashion collection under the same banner at Forever 21.
“This is the equivalent of if The Temptations, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson and The Four Tops all got together and made an album together after they already went platinum and went around the world. This is the same magnitude,” offers Too $hort. “Numbers wise, how many platinum albums we made individually and how many accolades we have individually and then you put us together, I don’t think anybody did that this far down the line in their careers.”
It's even deeper than that for E-40. “We got two from Northern California, which is me and Too $hort, and then you got two Southern California; everybody is iconic,” adds E-40. “And to come together and put all egos aside and get along. Been friends for years. People don't get along like this, especially this many years. It was just a perfect thing to do.”
Too $hort says them joining forces is better than perfect. “When I understood how good of a business decision it was, I didn’t realize it was going to be this much fun. Like literally the first time we walked out on stage it was so far from work as possible. We even had to have a meeting about ‘hey stop fanning out on each other on stage,’” he shares.
Recording came just as natural. So much so that they created 50 songs. The hard part, they insist, was picking the sixteen songs, which include “Activated,” “Too Big,” and, of course, “California,” to place on this first album. What makes it easy, shares Ice Cube, is “we come from those eras where you had to do a whole album yourself. You weren’t going to have 30 features. It was just you. So to be a part of a group where you don’t have all that weight on your shoulders to hold sixteen songs, three verses, maybe a feature here and there, easy is the word we use but we’re so polished in the game that when you break us down to just one verse, one sixteen, it does look like easy money.”
Speaking with the L.A. Times, Snoop Dogg, whom Ice Cube believes “has one of the most diverse portfolios out of all of us,” said ‘We want to show the youngsters how to grow into Ice Cube, Too $hort, E-40, Snoop Dogg—how you can grow into your 50s and still be relevant.’
That’s on Ice Cube’s mind too. “I hope we are an example to youngsters with a career trying to figure out what they need to do to keep their career healthy,” he says. “We protect our brands. We understand that our fans are the most important to us and we cultivate those fans, and they reward us when we do things outside the box. …. it's an example if you protect your brand and you pay attention to your fan base and you know your fan base that when you come along with other ideas and other things, they’ll get behind you. They'll watch your movies. They’ll go to your sports events. Whatever you got going on, they’ll come participate just because you have always been solid and always kept it a thousand with them. And that's just the blueprint, hopefully, that we're setting for the people that come behind us.”
That template, Ice Cube makes clear, is not one either of them created. “Russell Simmons,” he shares, “set a blueprint for us in a lot of ways when he showed us ‘hey the music can be bigger.’ You can do more things. You can do clothes and be very diverse in what you do. Once people learn to respect you, they trust you.”
E-40 also notes how they’ve each ran with that knowledge. “It’s not likely for a rapper to own a basketball league. Cube’s got his own space with that. With me selling wine, I’ve been doing it for nine years, so I got everything under the sun as far as adult beverages. $hort is into a little bit of everything too.”
One of hip hop’s greatest gifts, adds Ice Cube, is “the entrepreneurial spirit that it evokes in the people who participate in it, and, hopefully, the people that are just watching it and are fans. I think before [hip hop], it was all about 'go to college, get a job.' I think hip hop, in general, has shown that you don’t always have to do it like that to be successful; you can be an entrepreneur.”
Stigmas, as Too $hort notes, still swirl around the genre. “There’s a lot of ageism in hip hop,” he chimes in. “What we’re doing is setting examples. … look at what we’ve already achieved, and we’re still going for more.”
Ice Cube also hopes Mount Westmore will inspire their peers. “I think it’s huge for every coast because, if you can pitch a Mount Eastmore and a Mount Southmore, you can pitch what can be done in the future.”
Ronda Racha Penrice is the author of Black American History For Dummies and editor of Cracking The Wire During Black Lives Matter.