Hardcore Act

They're everywhere these days: Movie actors like Juliette Lewis, Jared Leto, Russell Crowe, and even Jeff Goldblum all have one. No, we're not talking about Laotian adoptees or fashionable drug habits. We're talking celebrity rock projects, and actress/wife/mom Jada Pinkett-Smith has joined their ranks. When Wicked Wisdom, her spiritually minded hardcore band, self-released its debut, it gained enough media buzz that the group was picked up for this year's Ozzfest. Whether you buy into her rocker-chick persona or dismiss it as vain wankery, Pinkett-Smith is serious about what she's doing. Outtakes caught up with her during a recent tour stop in San Francisco.

Outtakes: Have you been getting good reception from audiences or has there been any celebrity backlash?

Jada Pinkett-Smith: Oh, no, no, no. Well, when we first started, it was very challenging. Something started on the East Coast, but as the tour progressed we kept moving on. We had pretty much changed by the second show in New Jersey. And from there, the audiences have been really receptive, considering you know, everything: that we're a new band and who I am or the fact that we don't have a CD or videos out.

Why do you think there was some opposition?

Well, you hear that Jada Pinkett-Smith is going to Ozzfest -- that certainly doesn't fit. When I was asked to come, I thought it was a bizarre request. I totally got why a lot of people didn't get it and why people were skeptical. People who don't know all the aspects of me would never think this would be a scene or kind of music I'd be into.

So you are willing to go all out for this?

Oh yeah, definitely. We wouldn't be at Ozzfest if we weren't serious, 'cause this is the real deal.

Most people know you as an actress. Has music been something that you've always wanted to do?

Yeah, it's something I've always wanted to do. People have always asked me to do R&B stuff. I love R&B music, but it's not the kind of music I've wanted to perform. I've always wanted to rock. You know... the Led Zeppelins, Ozzy? I've always just loved that genre of music.

What's the meaning behind the name of the band?

I feel that one thing we all share as human beings -- we're all tied in the wicked womb. We are all affected by wickedness. And Christ pretty much reminds me of what we are all up against. And that we all have to pull the strength of humanity to fight against it. Then there's the bad meaning good and wicked meaning woman part of it: Bad Woman. That's the other mission. There was another CD we did before the one we have now -- and that was pretty much the Christian rock one.

I read that Will [Smith] was on-stage with you at a recent tour stop.

Yeah, he came up on stage and was very excited. Kids love him out here. It gives him an opportunity he wouldn't get behind the ropes of Hollywood. So it's been really good for him to come and sign autographs, go out into the crowd and walk around.

Do you have any plans of collaborating with him at all?

Yeah, we talk about it. I mean, we're both artists. That "artist" vibe never stops working. -- Makkada Selah

Wicked Wisdom plays Sunday, September 4, as part of Ozzfest. See Calendar for details.

Rap Regifted

Seems like gangsta rap has come a long way since the days of Casiotone beats and Jheri curl hairdos. But really, things haven't changed at all. Take 50 Cent, who this week rereleases his so-so The Massacre not six months after its initial March launch. The new version features DVD videos for each song. "I'm the king of originality," 50 declares in the album's press notes.

Not so much, actually. Practically everything in 50's short, storied career is a carbon copy of the gangsta rappers who came before him. Of course, the original gangsta rapper came straight outta Compton with Eazy E. Hopefully, the seven children Eazy had with six different mothers will get a piece of the g-rap windfall with the release of Eternal E: Gangsta Memorial Edition, a retrospective CD/DVD that hits shelves the same day as 50's rehashed Massacre.

Unlike gangsta rappers who grew up in gated suburbia, Eazy and 50 came from the streets fo' realz. Way back in the mid-'80s, when rappers didn't curse or kill people, Eazy set a whole new standard. He was a South Central drug dealer who used his wads of coke cash to bankroll his own record label, Ruthless. Eazy hooked up with Dr. Dre by bailing him out of jail; in exchange, Dre produced Eazy's records. They sold their albums at the local swap meet, formed the group N.W.A., and begat the entire gangsta rap phenomenon.

A decade later, 50 Cent appeared on the scene from the ghetto of Queens, New York. He came from a broken home, had been raised by his grandmother, dealt crack, was stabbed once, and had been shot nine times before hooking up with Eminem and Dre. He's since become a magnet for media aggrandizement and fan adulation and sold a zillion records.

Neither Eazy nor 50 are particularly gifted wordsmiths, but both have their charms. Eazy's raps were sleazy, cocksure, and violent, introducing a hardcore, I-don't-give-a-fuck attitude to hip-hop. In comparison, 50's boasting is a safe PG-13. His appeal is all about slick, cruising-with-the-top-down melodies and swaggering club anthems. But the lyrical template is exactly the same: guns, hos, money, and ganking muthafuckas. By sticking to that formula, both rappers became ridiculously rich, with bitches falling out of the windows of their mansions. In 1995, Eazy E ended up dying of AIDS-related causes at the age of 31. Thanks to acolytes like 50 Cent, gangsta rap has survived, moving off the streets, onto the airwaves, and into the club. As long as it pulls down more dollars than U.S. Steel, it's destined for at least a few more years. -- Adam Bregman

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