Ice Cube: Too Cool For His Own Good

Cube's become such a professional at talking about gangsta life that it almost feels like he's expending little effort or thought in the process.

Since Ice Cube's early days as a hungry rapper in NWA, he's climbed the

social ladder. Where he was once rhyming about hustling corner deals,

he's now issuing orders from the boardroom -- still a gangsta, but now

making the world go 'round.

With his first solo album in five years, War and Peace - Vol. 1 (The

War Disc), this upgrade in perspective and status isn't merely of

trivial note.

On "Limos, Demos and Bimbos" Cube knowingly taunts all up-and-comers,

scoffing, "While you worry about five mics/I'm in the limelight/with

movies coming out/you're time is running out." Almost spoiled by his

success, Cube tries to tell a war story, but as an untouchable general,

not a muddied street soldier. And that makes all the difference.

Cube's become such a professional at talking about gangsta life that it

almost feels like he's expending little effort or thought in the

process. Maybe his abilities have gotten the better of him -- Cube's

become so nimble that songs like "Cash Over Ass," "X-Bitches" and "Dr.

Frankenstein" sound like he could've written them while sleepwalking.

It's great to have so much talent that your songs sound effortless, as

on "3 Strikes." But too much expertise can make for mechanical passion

and over-wrought toughness ("If I Was Fucking You").

Too much of War falls into the latter camp, making the bulk of

the album a simple exercise in Cube-isms without ever challenging the

listener to actually pay attention to the more ambitious "morality"

songs, such as "Greed" and the title track.

The music is similarly bloodless and uninteresting. While "Ask About Me"

starts things off with a hard hit, the record quickly descends -- by the

third track, "Dr. Frankenstein" -- into garden-variety gangsta-funk that

lacks any particular distinction. One of the exceptions is the funky

track "Once Upon A Time In the Projects 2," which turns what could have

been a paint-by-numbers sequel into a likable surprise.

On songs like "Extradition" and "Ghetto Vet," Cube showcases his

compelling talents. On the latter, "Ghetto Vet," he tells the tale of a

wheelchair-bound gangsta, stitching together a complex story of bitter

loss, tenacious spirit and uncertain morality in the process.

Had War and Peace... maintained the spirit of this song, it could

have been a comeback album for the ages. Instead, Cube opts to sit and

snarl harmlessly, sacrificing his once-vicious bite for an empty bark.