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I follow Buggah's long and tidy dreadlocks to the VIP area, where I find the raspy-voiced Cuban Link and his protégé, Don Dinero. The former-Terror Squad fixture missed out on Dinero's show at the New Times Vibe 2001 last spring because he was laid up after his face was slashed on April 13 at Jimmy's Bronx Café in New York City. Three months later two long scars on the right side of his face tell the story of the violence that is still a part of hip-hop culture.
On that not-so-Good Friday, Cuban Link showed up at the record-release party for New York DJ Angie Martinez's joint Up Close and Personal. Somebody got a little too close to Cuban Link, however, cutting his face twice. "I went to show [Martinez] love," recalls the rapper, "but I had this funny feeling." That feeling came from tension between him and Terror Squad leader Fat Joe. Earlier that week Cuban had asked Joe to be released from his contract since Terror Squad has delayed the release of his solo album completed last year. Although there is no proof that Fat Joe was involved in the slashing, the incident proves once again that in the rap game life imitates art, and -- in the case of the Terror Squad -- if the name fits, it can hurt you.
Last week I meet with Cuban at Lincoln Road's Nexxt Café to discuss the attack. Unlike the night at Jimmy's, where the rapper was flowing solo, this afternoon Cuban walks in with an impressive entourage. Fellow artists Don Dinero and 1 Solo stride regally on either side, followed by impresario Oscar Guitian from the local Last Laugh Entertainment; Manhattan moneyman and spiritual advisor Vladimir; and two world-class jujitsu fighters from Brazil. Buggah drops by later.
When asked about the fateful night, Cuban is candid and resigned. His coarse voice and soothing demeanor match his cream suit and neat Caesar haircut. "I felt I wasn't getting the spotlight I deserved," he offers as his reason for wanting out. "I wasn't being made a priority. I felt I could do my own thing better without them." After speaking with parent label Atlantic, Cuban made a verbal agreement for his release with Fat Joe, but something didn't feel right.
A sense of foreboding came over Cuban as he entered Jimmy's that night. He went onstage and dropped his rhymes from Martinez's merengue-looped single "Live at Jimmy's": "Who's this? Cuban Link, no te asustes." "Don't be afraid," he rapped, but the advice did not apply to him once he stepped offstage and headed back to the VIP. "That's when the problems occurred," remembers Cuban. When the room went to blows, he found himself with his hands behind his back. "A Jimmy's security [guard] was holding me," he continues, "and someone from the back came and slashed me." Former labelmate Remy Martin rushed the bloody rapper to the hospital. When a parade of fellow artists and hangers-on visited him there, Fat Joe was not among them.
Under the SoBe sun, I notice that the enormous solid gold Terror Squad pendant Cuban Link wore the last time I saw him has been replaced by a smooth and spiritual Piedra de Rayo -- a stone consecrated to the Yoruban god of lightning, Shangó. "Yeah," Cuban said of the Terror Squad emblem, "a week after I got cut, it was stolen from my house!" He does not want to focus on the negative, however. Instead he's setting up his own clothing line, CLK Clothing, and releasing the first album on his own Cuban Connection Records, featuring, you guessed it -- the long-haired Cuban, Don Dinero.
"I don't consider myself a Latino rapper," Cuban declared. "I'm a Latino that happens to rap." Born in Cuba but raised in the Bronx, Cuban is committed to keeping hip-hop's original recipe. "I'm Bronx," he says, "that's where hip-hop is from."
Despite the assault Cuban says he does not see Latino rap making a violent turn. "Every race got their own shit," Cuban argues, "but one thing about Latinos, we're known for sticking together. Latin love is strong." Is face-slashing a sign of love? "Spanish men have a lot of pride," he explains, "but this doesn't question Latin unity. It's more about the shiesty motherfuckers in this game."
Cuban Link is making a commitment to the game's positive aspect as the official spokesman for the Source Youth Foundation, an organization the Source magazine owner David Mays says he created to "give back" to the hip-hop community and "highlight the benefits of hip-hop culture." As spokesman Cuban claims he wants to show "that everything you see on TV is not exactly real. That we need to stop the violence." Although it's not clear just what is not real about the scars on his cheek, Cuban declares enthusiastically: "Everything is positive about this!"