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They Call Him Mister Cube

Step aside, Eminem: Meet Hollywood's first rapper-turned-player.

Upsetting Ice Cube was not the game plan.

I'm not an idiot.

Still, it happened. And I have my suspicions why.

Before I get to them, though, it should be stated that the 33-year-old gangsta rapper-turned-actor-turned-producer and rising Hollywood power player was a pussycat for the better part of two hours. He patiently unspooled the details of his life with the same easygoing charm that helped turn his comedy Barbershop into one of this year's Little Movies That Could. The same charm that will no doubt work again when Friday After Next hits theaters on Nov. 22.

That said, my offense was this: I made the mistake of calling Ice Cube a mogul.

And judging from his reaction, you'd think the word had four letters instead of five. He knows he should be flattered -- especially by the frequency with which the term seems to come up nowadays. But when he hears it, he literally tries to swat the word away like a fly, and his eyebrows curl up into the shape of question marks -- if question marks can be angry.

'''Mogul' just sounds too corporate to me,'' he protests. ''It sounds like I should be on Wall Street selling funny money. Those titles don't do anything for me.''

Now, here's what I suspect: Maybe his refusal to be labeled a mogul is actually a brilliant, counterintuitive strategy that, in effect, makes him seem like even more of a mogul. Because if you skim any of those Sun Tzu-inspired power manuals that are so popular in Hollywood's corner offices, you'll see that deflecting praise is actually a fairly clever ploy. In fact, in Robert Greene's 1998 master-of-the-universe guide, The 48 Laws of Power, it's Law No. 30: Make Your Accomplishments Seem Effortless. Cube says he hasn't relied on this particular book to chart his career. But as you'll see, it's a manual that he could easily have written.

-- Law No. 34: Be Royal in Your Own Fashion: Act Like a King to Be Treated Like One

''When I was 11 or 12, my older brother's girlfriends would call, and I'd talk to them on the phone. He'd be like, 'I don't want to talk to her!' So I'd stay on the phone trying to hit on them. I don't know if I was doing good, but they weren't hanging up, you know what I mean? And my brother kept saying, 'You're trying to be too cool. Stop trying to be so cool all the time. You ain't no damn ice cube!' And I was like, 'Yes, I am.' And that's how I got the name.''

-- Law No. 44: Disarm and Infuriate With the Mirror Effect

Ice Cube's given name is O'Shea Jackson. But the only people who get away with calling him O'Shea these days are his wife, Kimberly, his siblings, and his parents, Hosea and Doris. His four kids call him Daddy. To everyone else, he's just Cube. Cube grew up in South Central Los Angeles -- a neighborhood where he says the only local hero had been football star James Lofton.

Of course, that would all change soon enough. And looking back, Cube can pinpoint the moment he discovered the gift that would make him replace Lofton as South Central's favorite son. He was 14. Cube laughs, recalling the day a classmate offered a challenge: ''He asked me if I ever wrote a rap before.'' At that point, the closest he'd come was rhyming along to other people's records in front of the mirror at home.

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