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When soul crooner Isaac Hayes was asked to lend his velvety voice to a ribald TV cartoon last year, the respected 1971 Best Song Oscar winner ("Theme from Shaft") was amused but skeptical. "I read the script and started laughing out loud," Hayes, 56, says of South Park, the hit toon on cable's Comedy Central in which he plays Chef, the beloved but lusty school cook and mentor to four foul-mouthed kids. "I thought someone was playing a joke on me. Then they said it was for real, and my question was, "Are you guys covered for lawsuits?' "
Now juggling careers as a popular New York City radio deejay and actor (It Could Happen to You), Hayes has also lent his musical talent to Chef Aid: The South Park Album. Featuring Hayes singing tunes written by cartoon creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, plus real-life guest stars Elton John, Ozzy Osbourne, Meat Loaf and Wyclef Jean, the American/Columbia CD documents a mock benefit concert held to bail Chef out of legal trouble. "Everybody loves Chef," says Hayes, whose fans range from grade-school kids to celebs like Janet Jackson. "I went to her show, and she had a Chef doll in her dressing room. It's funny. All your life you strive for artistic excellence, and then this off-the-wall hit comes along. This is a really fun time for me."