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Is America Ready for 'Natural Born Killaz'? : The story line of Dr. Dre and Ice Cube's music video is certain to enrage media watchdogs on two levels: the graphic violence depicted in the duo's murderous exploits, and the identities of their victims.

October 20, 1994|CHUCK PHILIPS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's midnight on Terminal Island and rap stars Dr. Dre and Ice Cube are dancing on a blood-drenched pile of bones and body parts.

Standing on dual electric chairs surrounded by dangling corpses, the brawny rappers bob their shaved heads and boast about a brutal murder spree as the cameras begin rolling on what promises to be the most talked about music video of the year: "Natural Born Killaz."

The story line--in which the rappers portray ruthless serial killers--is certain to enrage media watchdogs on two levels: the graphic violence depicted in the duo's murderous exploits, and the identities of their victims.

In the video, the rappers satirize the gruesome stabbings of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman, as well as the shotgun ambush of Jose and Kitty Menendez--all of whom die in dramatic re-enactments at the hands of Dre and Cube.

The song's lyrics also spoof the recent suicide of Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain, the 1969 Manson family murders, and seem to make light of the vicious assault on trucker Reginald O. Denny during the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

Sample lines:

I'm down with Dre

like A.C. is for O.J.

. . . so kill Charlie Manson

I snatch him out his truck

hit him with a brick

and I'm dancin' . . .

. . . I'm gonna eat 'em up

like Jeffrey Dahmer

and now I'm suicidal

just like Nirvana .

"Natural Born Killaz" is the first single from Dre and Cube's much anticipated reunion album, "Helter Skelter," due out in January on Death Row/Priority label. (The song is currently available on the soundtrack to "Murder Was the Case," a short film directed by Dre and starring his Long Beach protege Snoop Doggy Dogg.)

In an interview during a break from filming at an abandoned factory on the San Pedro waterfront, Dre defended the parody as a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the public's obsession with unsolved high-profile murders.

"Shock value--that's what it's about," said the 28-year-old Grammy-winning recording artist, whose real name is Andre Young.

"Everybody knows that the most exciting thing going down in the news right now is O.J.'s case. So we decided to play on that and the Menendez trial too--and just have a little fun with it all. People can think whatever they want about me, but the fact is I'm just an artist doing my best to entertain."

Ice Cube, an acclaimed rapper and actor who co-starred in "Boyz N the Hood," also downplayed potential negative fallout from the song.

"It's true that it's a b-boy gangsta record on the macabre tip," said Cube, 25, whose real name is O'shea Jackson. "But what would be the point of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre doing a project like this if we didn't freak people out? The point of the song is to poke fun at serial killers, like Oliver Stone's movie did. It's supposed to be humorous."

While the video is not expected to be released until Halloween, the parody concept is already under attack by the Doris Tate Crime Victims Bureau, a nonprofit group that has lobbied California lawmakers for pro-victims rights legislation.

"We live in a sick society and it's horrendous for an artist as big as Dr. Dre to put out something this irresponsible," said Kelly Rudiger, the Crime Victims Bureau executive director. "How would Dr. Dre like it if somebody made fun of his relatives getting murdered?"

Relatives of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman could not be reached for comment, but representatives for the families expressed outrage Wednesday about the video.

"Ridiculing the tragedy surrounding a murder victim is very hurtful to the families of anyone closely involved in such a case," said Terri Towery, a court-appointed attorney representing Lyle Menendez in his upcoming murder trial. "Entertainers certainly have free speech rights, but sometimes it can cross the boundaries of good taste."

This isn't the first time Dre and Cube have raised eyebrows in the music industry.

Before embarking on solo careers, the duo made a name for itself as the creative force behind NWA, the brash Compton rap quintet once accused by an FBI official of writing music that encouraged violence against law enforcement officers.

Previous hit albums by the two rappers were also attacked by feminists and ethnic groups for promoting violence against women, Koreans and Jews. At the same time, however, Dre and Cube have been repeatedly singled out by pop critics as, respectively, hip-hop music's most talented producer and lyricist.

Dre, who has been charged with battery three times in as many years and will soon begin serving a five-month jail sentence for drunk driving, shrugs off criticism of his angry music.

"I could care less whether the pop people think my music is too crazy," said Dre, whose Death Row record label has sold more than 10 million records in the past two years. (Death Row is distributed by Time Warner-affiliated Interscope Records.) "I didn't get where I am by catering to mainstream tastes. I started out by making my art for the underground and I still subscribe to that theory today."

Heading back for the set, Cube also defended the violence employed in their latest collaboration.

"Of course we're exploiting violence, but there's nothing unusual about that in America," Cube said. "This country's national anthem is full of rockets' red glare and bombs bursting in air. That's just the way America is, so why shouldn't Dre and Cube be able to exploit a little violence every now and then? If people don't like it, let 'em ban it. Who cares?"

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