Ice Cube

Ice Cube makes some of hip-hop's fiercest, funkiest records—contributing to the moral dilemma of being a fan. Woven into the beefed-up bass lines, the Parliament-Funkadelic samples and the crisp, staccato attacks arc disturbing and often destructive messages. In the past Cube has lobbed verbal grenades at gays, Jews, Koreans, police and "bitches." The sheer venom of 1991's Death Certificate prompted many groups to urge a boycott and Billboard magazine to condemn the record. No surprise that Cube goes for payback on The Predator's title track ("Mother——Billboard and the editor/I am the predator").

But the core of Cube's fury this time is directed at the Rodney King verdict and the sense of oppression that triggered the riots. A variety of provocative, sometimes lengthy sound bites (a fragment of a Malcolm X speech or the jury foreman reading the King acquittal, for instance) introduce songs. Even when Cube resorts to cartoonism (a goofy cop begs the young blacks in a car he's stopped to give him some doughnuts and is blown away), this is powerful stuff. The ballistic "We Had to Tear This Motha——Up," with its mixture of glee and pain over the L.A. riots is compelling and frightening, as the antigang "Now I Gotta Wet 'Cha" (meaning: bloody you).

Most of Cube's aggression is aimed squarely at "pigs" and "white devils" and the power they represent, but he resorts to his old tricks, scape-goating gays (the pulsating "Check Yo Self," featuring Das EFX) and women. Despite boasting of having a black female manager, he still singles out "bitches" for slimy abuse. Yes, mean, sneaky women exist, but to fixate on them is juvenile and compromises the integrity of Cube's politics. The Predator is a difficult, intense and perversely engaging disc. But as long as Cube insists on bashing other minorities and disenfranchised people and lets hate cloud his vision, he diminishes his power to expose the real problems. (Priority)

Paris

You may not know who Paris is, but the Secret Service does. The Bay Area rapper's sophomore album would have hit stores last September had not some of its content—particularly a proposed photo montage to illustrate the cut "Bush Killa" showing a young Uzi-toting black man ready to ambush the President outside the U.S. Capitol—triggered alarmed statements by the Secret Service and the New York State Sheriff's Association, which had earlier protested Ice-T"s "Cop Killer."

The Warner Music Group, which had backed Ice-T in the "Cop Killer" fracas, refused to let its Tommy Boy subsidiary release the album. So Paris look the record to PolyGram's 4th and B'way label. But two weeks before the election PolyGram, too, nixed the deal. Finally, armed with a low six-figure compensation from Tommy Boy, Paris put out Sleeping (with "Bush Killa" and the antipolice "Coffee, Donuts and Death" and the offending photo hidden inside) on a label of his own. By then, Election Day had passed.

Whenever you hear it, though, "Bush Killa" is fierce, funky and often brutal—and, like the rest of Sleeping with the Enemy, works as both polemic and slamming hip-hop. With a steely delivery over a chunky beat, the 25-year-old rapper warns in the song, "So don't be tellin' me to get the nonviolent spirit/ Cause when I'm violent is the only time ya devils hear it."

After the release, Marjorie Heins, director of the ACLU's arts and censorship project, defended the song as "a protest, not a meaningful threat against the President." And the rapper himself took pains to explain that the track "is not meant to glorify violence, and it is not meant to incite black youth or anyone else who happens to hear it.... 'Bush Killa' is meant to express my outrage at what I take to be the violence directed day after day at the African-American community during the last four years, violence that a lifetime of songs from me could never equal."

Luckily for fans of hip-hop and the First Amendment. Sleeping with the Enemy has surfaced, better late than never. (Scarface)

Lucinda Williams

Country-rocker Williams is one of those artists who attracts a rabid, if small, following. She's also a critics' darling, and much as it's fun to pour cold water on the verdicts of the pack, in this case you can't. Williams is the real thing, a knowing, cliché-proof songwriter with a careworn soprano twang.

Stylistically she's an earthier Mary-Chapin Carpenter (Carpenter has covered Lucinda's "Passionate Kisses"), a latter-day, female Gram Parsons. She's a sophisticated primitive—a master of the stripped-down image. The title tune, a heartbreaker, is a catalog of common pleasures ("A sweet and tender kiss/ The sound of a midnight train") gently addressed to a friend who has committed suicide: "See what you lost when you left this world." "Six Blocks Away" is buoyant pop-rock. The arrangements are plain as dirt, and the band's not especially stellar, but the raw simplicity is a foil for Williams's rainbow of emotions. Long may she rave. (Chameleon)

Joe Satriani

In this age of dainty disembodied synthesizer music, it's a relief to know there are still some flinty guitar gunslingers like Satriani, Steve Vai or Eric Johnson slouching around.

Instrumental rock guitar just doesn't offer sustained enjoyment unless the player has a fluid and forceful style. Satriani does. His lyricism is nearly the match of Jeff Beck, the father of this form. But, you ask, can Joe jam? Does Ozzy Osbourne munch bats? There are a host of gale-force gut checks here, and the overall sound is richer and fuller than on, say, Satriani's 1987 Surfing with the Alien.

Guitarists like Satriani are the audio equivalent of centerfolds: In their own way they inspire fantasy. And the arrangements on The Extremist have drama and grandeur enough to excite the most showy air guitarist. Gentlemen, pretend to plug in your instruments! (Relativity)

>Ice Cube

TARGETING' THE BIGGER ENEMY'

SINCE HIS EARLY DAYS WITH HARDCORE rappers N.W.A., Ice Cube has been a controversy machine. None of his inflammatory statements supporting Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam or denigrating gays and women have damaged either his standing in the hip-hop community or his sales. The Predator, his third solo disc, entered Billboard's pop and black charts at No. 1, the first record to do so since Stevie Wonder's 1976 Songs in the Key of Life (but Predator hit both the same week).

"I'm pro-black," says the 23-year-old L.A. native (who stars with Ice-T in the new film Trespass). "The only thing I'm anti is poor." Well, not quite. "I'm talking to the brothers out there who are killing their own kind, and I ain't with that.... There's a bigger enemy than another black man in the same situation you're in."

For Cube, "the standards of beauty in America, the TV shows," are part of the bigger enemy. "When a black person tries to follow that, they look at their own features and say, 'Damn, I'm far from that.' You end up hating yourself and anybody who looks like you." Another facet is white complacency: "I'm talking about the whites who ain't speaking out, who sit back and enjoy their luxuries and have no sympathy....We got a race of 400 yards; I done carried you for 300, and now you wanna run the rest out? You got fresh legs. Everything ain't equal, ain't fair, ain't nice. Can we all get along now? It can't happen 'cause we're mentally, physically and economically not in the same position as white America, who we helped to build this wonderful, beautiful country."

  • Contributors:
  • Amy Linden,
  • Tony Scherman,
  • David Hiltbrand.