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"My kids have heard every record," he says during an early September teleconference. "They sing to it, they rap to it, and they know it's just songs, just like they know a movie is a movie and a magazine is a magazine. They know what's real and what's fake, too, and I sit down and explain to them what's real and what's fake. I ask, 'Do you know what a Glock is?' And then I explain it to them. Or I ask, 'Do you know what a pimp is? Well, here's what he does.' And they might say, 'That's not cool,' and they might say, 'He is cool.' But they're always going to have a perfect understanding. I was never shielded from anything, and I don't believe in shielding my kids from anything this world has to offer."
If multiplatinum sales and movie stardom have mellowed Cube, he's trying his best not to let on. He's currently on the cheekily titled Family Values tour with Korn, the hugely popular metal-rap act whose new album, Follow the Leader, features "Children of the Korn," a frequently profane bark-off with the Ice man. He also has not one, but two discs of his own set to drop. War, which he describes as "dark--really dark," hits stores in November, while a companion CD, Peace, is slated to come out in summer 1999.
"Peace has a whole different vibe from War," he says. "It's more of a look at how could we--how should we. But it's not a soft record. It's still hard-core hip-hop to me."
That Cube is even interested in rhyming these days may come as a surprise to folks plugged into the hip-hop grapevine. Rumors that he's been planning to stop rapping in order to concentrate on his film career have been buzzing for most of the year. But he insists he's still committed to music. "Everybody screams that I'm about to retire, I'm about to retire, and I'm not," he says. "I still think I can rap as good as anybody. I figure, why should I quit? Why should I stop? These records have the potential of being my biggest records ever. They're my best records in years, because I set aside everything to focus on me, my record, what I want to do. For the last year and a half, this has been it."
Has it? Further into the conversation, Cube says he began working on tracks that would wind up on War and Peace in 1995, before stopping to make Bow Down, by Westside Connection, a trio featuring Cube, Mack 10 and W.C. And in the less than two years that have passed since Bow Down bowed, Cube has toured with Westside Connection, contributed to the soundtracks of Dangerous Ground and I Got the Hook-Up, appeared on albums by Ant Banks, Mack 10 and W.C., co-starred in the so-bad-it's-hilarious flick Anaconda, and produced, wrote and acted in The Players Club, a gritty look at the life of a stripper that earned mixed reviews and theatrical receipts that fell far short of Spielberg territory. Not that Cube is complaining.
"Players Club did exactly what everybody expected. It did $24 million, and nobody expected more because everybody knew what New Line [the studio that released it] would put behind this kind of movie. But with the budget we had, after we did $12 million at the box office, everybody was smiling. And the video sales are going to be out the roof."
To put it mildly, Cube is prone to contradicting himself, and during the conversation, he does so often. He contends that the idea of juxtaposing War with Peace is unlike anything he's ever done, then acknowledged that it mirrors the format of his 1991 aural fusillade, Death Certificate, which was split between a "Death Side" and a "Life Side." He maintains that his pairing with Korn is a fresh concept, only to subsequently concede that it was predated by Public Enemy's collaboration with Anthrax, Rage Against the Machine's aborted tour with the Wu-Tang Clan and his own participation in the 1992 Lollapalooza festival.
"Hard-core hip-hop fans don't like nothing that's above the street level, and I can't really concern myself with that," he announces a few minutes later--but before long, he's offering reassurances to such supporters that he really hasn't changed that much after all. "People are always asking me, 'When are you coming out with another hard-core record?'" he says. "Well, here it is. I'm giving them what they want--and I know it's good, because I'm the definition of hard-core."
Coming from anyone else, this boast might provoke an argument--but Cube has a point. He was raised in South Central Los Angeles, and by the time he was 15, he was already in his first rap group, C.I.A., with locals K-Dee and Sir Jinx. Two years later, Jinx's cousin Andre Young, a.k.a. Dr. Dre, recruited Cube to join him and comrade Eazy-E in a crew called N.W.A (Niggaz With Attitude). By 1988, the group (supplemented by DJ Yella and MC Ren) had sold enough independently pressed copies of the Cube compositions "Boyz-n-the-Hood," "Dopeman" and "8 Ball" to get the attention of Priority Records.