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 Madonna raps about soy lattes, and upsets her inner circle ...

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 Missy Elliott gives her stamp of approval, and Madonna rejects Hollywood and "stuff" ...

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 The Ethereal Girl explains why there's so much suffering in the world ...

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 Madonna: Her American Life

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Among those who gave her rap the thumbs up was Missy Elliott, who even provided one of the many remixes of "American Life," due in stores the week after the album, on April 29.

Madonna: Oh, it's the best. I've always been a huge fan of [Missy] and I've been waiting for the right song to ask her to do a remix and she did the most amazing job and I love her! She raps on it, too.

Still, one of the world's richest, most celebrated women declaring that riches and fame and power and "stuff" are unimportant? Some will scoff, of course. But that's OK, Madonna says — she knows of what she speaks.

Madonna: Who better to say those things don't matter than somebody who's experienced them? [People may say], "How can you say they don't matter? How can you say that money won't bring you happiness if you don't have a lot of money? How can you say that fame and fortune are not a guarantee for happiness and joy and fulfillment in your life?" You have to have that experience to know. 'Cause you have all those things, I've had all those things, and I've had nothing but chaos around me. So I'm just sharing what I know with the world. 'Cause I do think that we've become completely consumed with being rich and famous, our society has. And I just want to tell people, take it from me, I have all those things and none of them ever brought me one minute of happiness.

John Norris: So as I understand it, the first three tracks are a trilogy, in a sense. Thematically, you're addressing those things that you're putting behind you.

Madonna: Well, I think they're an extension of "American Life." They're examining things I valued and things I found myself worrying about, caring too much about, and realizing that those things aren't important and wanting to get out from underneath that cloud, the world of illusion.

Norris: Which "Hollywood" pretty much represents.

Madonna: Yeah, the entertainment business, so to speak. Hollywood is not the only place it happens, it's kind of a metaphor for what Hollywood now means to us. It's like the world of tinsel, glamour and make-believe.

Norris: There are other tracks on the album where you seem to deal with things that really do matter. And there's a track where you seem to be as open as you've ever been about the relationship with your parents ("Mother and Father"). All that stuff was something that you didn't seem to be that comfortable dealing with in the past.

Madonna: It's funny, because as you say, the beginning of the record is kind of clearing away what isn't important. And once you clear the cobwebs away you can see things that do matter and are important with a fresh pair of eyes and approach them without fear. A lot of times you go through life looking for distractions to cover up pain, when what you should really do is face the pain and then you don't need the distraction.

  "[Studying kabbalah] has affected me as a parent, it's affected me as a wife and as a friend."

Without a doubt, a major factor in Madonna's emotional housecleaning and newfound clarity has been kabbalah, the study of Jewish mysticism, which she first embraced in the mid-'90s. Her interest in it seems to have only increased — other members of her family now study it as well, including husband Guy Ritchie, and there was kabbalistic imagery in last year's "Die Another Day" video.

Norris: What is the single biggest change in your life over the past few years? Is it marriage, is it children, is it kabbalah?

Madonna: Well, it's all of those things. Obviously studying kabbalah has changed my whole outlook on life, so it's affected me as a parent, it's affected me as a wife and as a friend. All of those things.

[Kabbalah is] several things. One is that we are all connected. That you and a person that lives on the other side of the world is an extension of me. And that feeling things like envy or jealousy or hostility or any of the negative things that we all feel for each other as human beings is like hating yourself. And that conscience is everything and that the power of your thoughts and the power of your words determine your environment, the things that you draw to you. When I say in "American Life," "I'm not a Christian and I'm not a Jew," it's the idea that I don't want to be identified with any sort of religious thought, because to say that I'm black or I'm white or I'm Catholic or I'm Jewish is to think in a fragmented way. And because we think in fragmented ways, we have wars, we don't see each other as extensions of ourselves, as humanity. So that's the biggest concept I think.

NEXT: The Ethereal Girl explains why there's so much suffering in the world, and pushes away her past ...
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Photo: Warner Bros.

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 "American Life"
American Life
(Warner Bros.)

 "Die Another Day"
Die Another Day
(Music from the Motion Picture)

(Warner Bros.)

(Warner Bros.)

 "Don't Tell Me"
(Warner Bros.)

 "Nothing Really Matters"
Ray Of Light
(Warner Bros.)