Mount Westmore: “It’s hard for us to make a bad song together”

West Coast hip-hop icons Ice Cube, E-40 and Too $hort on forming a supergroup with Snoop Dogg, twerking with the Na’vi from ‘Avatar’ and taking inspiration from Frank Sinatra

Snoop Dogg is in full Mandalorian armour, helmet in one hand and a blunt in the other. Ice Cube is propping up a bar that looks uncannily like the Mos Eisley cantina (did Cube shoot first?). E-40 is dancing with an alien with three breasts straight out of Total Recall, while Too $hort is spitting bars as a couple of blue-skinned Na’vi drop it low. Welcome to Planet Snoopiter, the setting for this mash-up of sci-fi classics from Star Wars to Avatar that is Mount Westmore’s gloriously entertaining video for their bass-rumbling single ‘Big Subwoofer’.

Now that these four icons of West Coast hip-hop have teamed up, the clip makes one thing clear: even the sky is no longer the limit. “We feel like this group is out of this world,” chuckles Ice Cube to NME, safely back at home in Los Angeles. “We wanted to do something that was gonna be eye-catching to all ages, that everybody across the world could relate to.”

In their respective Zoom screens, E-40 and Too $hort nod in agreement (Snoop is away on movie business). Formed during the dark days of lockdown, rap supergroup Mount Westmore have wasted no time in grabbing the planet’s attention. The idea to work together originally came from E-40, who suggested it to Cube.

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“Towards the end of 2020, 40 called me doing a wellness check: ‘How you doin’? How you survivin’?’” remembers Cube, who made his name coming straight out of Compton with NWA before becoming one of the essential solo artists of his generation. “He mentioned that we should do a group with me, Too $hort and Snoop Dogg. Immediately I was into it, because we’re all friends, we’ve all toured together, we’ve all done records together, we’ve never had any issues with each other. It’s all love and respect, and it’s been that way for over 30 years.”

E-40, who first burst onto the rap scene in Vallejo, northern California back in 1986, thinks a collaboration like this was always on the cards. “Oh, man, it was written,” he tells NME. “It was supposed to happen this way. It was natural, it was genuine. I’m honoured to be in a group with such iconic legends. We got love for each other majorly. We just let our hair down.” He pauses to stroke his bald pate. “What hair we got!”

Too $hort was another pioneer of Californian rap, having started recording in 1983 at the tender age of 17. He’s barely stopped for breath since: the success of his 1987 album ‘Born To Mack’ led to a contract with Jive Records, while his 1988 follow-up ‘Life Is… Too Short’ went double platinum and is a classic of the genre. As a mark of the esteem he’s held in in  Oakland, a local street was recently renamed “Too $hort Way” while December 10 was proclaimed to be ‘Too $hort Day’.

Having started out hand-making cassette mixtapes, he’s understandably proud of the longevity he and his new bandmates have established. “We’ve got a big thing that we ushered in in the late 80s and early 90s, and it’s West Coast hip-hop,” he says. “Those who follow behind us, they uphold it. All us OGs are proud of how West Coast hip-hop has evolved. We have present-day superstars, and we know for a fact that the legacy is gonna keep going.”

With the group’s all-star line-up assembled, all they needed was a name: cue Ice Cube. “Hopefully everybody reading this interview will know what Mount Rushmore is,” he says. “It’s a mountain that has four so-called ‘Founding Fathers’ of the country carved into it. The name Mount Westmore popped up: it’s a play on words, of course, but with us you are getting the West and you are getting more, so it was the perfect name for the perfect group.”

Mount Westmore
Mount Westmore (Credit: Press)

As if to prove they have ambitions beyond merely being a legacy act, back in June the group released their debut album ‘Bad MFs’ exclusively on the blockchain. For those of us still getting our music the old-fashioned way, though, December’s ‘Snoop, Cube, 40, $hort’ served as a reintroduction that brought together some of the previous record’s hits with a healthy dollop of fresh material. The group now say they’ve already recorded more than 50 tracks in total.

“It’s hard for us to make a bad song together,” says Cube, eschewing false modesty with a smile. “It’s just hard for us to do it because we all bring so much to the table and we respect the gang. We’re not going to let our brothers down by not coming correct with the song and the idea. We do songs that are cohesive, and we all sound good together. No matter how you blend us, it works.” $hort jumps in. “None of us, going in, could have predicted how much fun it would be, or how productive it would be,” he adds. “It’s just a great thing, man. It’s fun. It makes a lot of sense on many different levels.”

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As with many modern friendships, the quartet’s relationship revolves around an all-important group chat. When they first formed they were stuck at their respective homes across California due to pandemic restrictions, so they would swap beats on WhatsApp before each adding their own verses. For solo artists accustomed to shouldering all their songwriting duties alone, contributing just one of four verses meant less work – but also a new challenge.

“Somebody we’ll lay a verse, or a hook, to lay the foundation, and then we want to enhance that idea,” explains Cube. “We want to make the idea better if we can, with whatever vocals we’re adding to it. When you’ve got four people smoothing it over and keeping it going, they’re constantly making it better. It’s like a relay race: ‘Here you go, you take it from here’. The songs would come out well-rounded. You look forward to each verse because you don’t know what you’re gonna get. It makes for a great album, for sure.”

As $hort points out, the fact that they’ve all known each other for decades helped ensure they could be honest with each other from the start. “Going into this, it was real friendship,” he says. “From day one you could voice your opinion. You could be friendly, you could argue about sports, you could tell the other guy: ‘I don’t like this one line you said’. Everything was OK because everything was intact before we got started.”

Together they have more than 125 years experience in the rap game – not to mention over 100 million albums sold collectively – but Cube says they were each still able to learn from one another. “I’m learning how to make better records because I did this record with $hort and 40,” he says. “I learned from Snoop too. It did make me a better artist. There are always little techniques and things that make them great. Things I will use in the future, and hopefully make myself…” he stops himself before saying ‘great’. This is Ice Cube, after all. “…Continue the greatness that I have already laid down,” he concludes with a sly grin.

While ‘Snoop, Cube, 40, $hort’ doesn’t skimp on the sort of rap pyrotechnics that prove these four elder statesmen can still outpace the young pretenders, it’s also notable for having more than its fair share of laugh-out-loud lyrics. Many of these come courtesy of E-40, who reflects on the fact that back when they were starting out, visibly having a good time was frowned upon.

“I’m gonna be honest with you, we really wasn’t allowed to smile when we was coming up!” he says. “We was mean-mugging. We used to have that mad-dog face on because we had that street mentality. We wasn’t that happy! When you start having some bread, you’re a whole other person. Right now I’m in a great space man, and I appreciate this.”

Cube agrees that ‘Snoop, Cube, 40, $hort’ captures the four artists enjoying themselves: established icons with nothing left to prove. “When you’re a youngster, you’re trying to understand how the world is constructed around you,” he points out. “As you get decades into the game, you understand how things work: your emotions don’t take over, you’re more cerebral and calculated. Being madder than the next man ain’t gonna solve the problem, what’s gonna solve the problem is critical thinking and execution. It makes you a better person, hopefully. As an artist, you become a little more thoughtful. We did have fun making this record. I hope that’s ‘Snoop, Cube, 40, $hort’ is a breath of fresh air to people. We can have fun in hip-hop, and nobody having more fun than us.”

That palpable joie de vivre is also proof that there’s no age limit on rap. Mount Westmore are all in their fifties: Too $hort is 56, E-40 is 55, Ice Cube is 53 and Snoop Dogg, who E-40 calls “the baby of the group”, is 51. Of course, that still makes them significantly younger than rock stars like The Rolling StonesMick Jagger and Keith Richards, who are still recording and touring into their late 70s. “It’s funny when they put this sort of ageism on rap,” says Cube. “We’ve seen Frank Sinatra singing to the end. We’ve seen a lot of artists go to the end.”

$hort throws B.B. King into the mix, while Cube is still warming to his point. Given that they’ve already been to outer space and back, he sees no reason why Mount Westmore can’t keep representing West Coast hip-hop for decades to come. “Why can’t we rap to the end if we still can flow?” asks Cube. “If we’re still the coldest on the mic, still iconic and still spittin’ game, then why should we retire? We’re not athletes: our knees have nothing to do with what comes out the speakers! That’s what it’s all about. If we can keep making cool shit come out the speakers, we on top. My message to everybody is: ‘See you on top!’ It’s hard to go higher than the top of the mountain.”

E-40 nods approvingly, a born wordsmith acknowledging that he couldn’t have put it better himself. “There it is,” he says. “There it is.”

Mount Westmore’s ‘Snoop, Cube, 40, $hort’ is out now

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