bill_cosby1.jpgBill Cosby is gangster when it comes to helping black people. Meaning he's ruthless, bold, fearless _ and will do anything to achieve his objective.

Cosby has already absorbed enormous criticism from African Americans for his blunt attacks on self-destructive black behavior and hip-hop culture. Now, he's taking his crusade into the lion's den with the improbable rap album “State of Emergency."

No, the Cos is not on the mic _ he executive produced the project and provided the concepts for all 14 songs. The actual rapping is done by three little-known artists; the music was created by Cosby's longtime collaborator William “Spaceman'' Patterson, with help from Cedric “Ced Gee'' Miller of the 1980s rap group Ultramagnetic MCs.

The songs range from descriptions of black afflictions, challenges to self-improvement, celebrations of black women to visions of a better future. Sometimes the rappers play bad guy, delivering first-person narratives that provide context for their evil ways and showing that Cosby is not simply “blaming the victim.''

It's a powerful, much-needed message, the polar opposite of today's chart-topping rap. (50 Cent's invitation to unwed pregnancy “Baby By Me'' comes to mind.) Combined with Cosby's call for nationwide meetings to discuss his album and create action plans, “State of Emergency'' has the potential to actually change lives.

There's only one problem: the music itself. Asking your average rap fan to listen to this is like asking a kid to give up Twinkies for tofu _ so the healthy stuff had better be extra good.

On “Emergency,'' the rappers are decent, but they don't say anything rewindable. Spaceman's beats are aiight, with sonic themes that accompany the subject matter, like a siren on the title track, curious guitar twangs on “Why'' and a horn-snare march on “Where's the Parade.''

But when you put them together, they don't create the special flavor that makes you hungry for more. “State of Emergency'' is food for starving souls, but definitely in need of some spice.

CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: “Fear No Man'' describes ghetto pitfalls over a plink-plunk beat reminiscent of Jay-Z's “Can I Get A…''