Eminem isn't the first hip-hopper to make the jump from controversial upstart to mainstream icon by doing movies. Nowadays, Ice Cube is your typical Hollywood hyphenate — you know, actor/producer/director. We barely remember when he was known only as a member of N.W.A., the gangsta rap group that caught flack from the FBI (among many others) for songs like "F--- tha Police!" His kinder, gentler roles in Barbershop and the Friday trilogy — Friday After Next opens today — are a marked change from his tough guy persona. As Cube tells TV Guide Online, this is purely a professional transition.

"I'm not worried about image," he insists. "Rap music is a different thing from acting. It's ego-driven. There's a lot of bravado in it... But with movies, you've got to give more of yourself. It ain't all about masking; it's all about giving and showing, and being true to the character."

Topping Next Friday's $57 million box-office gross wasn't Cube's reason for making a third Friday movie. "People come up to me all the time asking, 'When is the next one?'" says Cube, whose Cube Vision also produced the films. "So we made an effort to see if there could be a next one because we didn't want to do it for the wrong reasons, [like] just because we could make a lot of money."

If you must label him, Cube says he prefers "entertainer" to "cross-over artist." Still, he looks forward to returning to the recording studio, where fellow N.W.A. alum Dr. Dre will produce his new album. "Next month, movies are going to be forgotten about. Working with Dr. Dre excites me to the fullest, because my next record could be my best one. But," the baby-faced 33-year-old sadly adds, "the rap game is a young man's game.