You'll never hear their singles on commercial radio. Forget seeing their videos on "Yo! MTV Raps," Fox's "Pump It Up" or BET's "Rap City," unless network censors find inventive ways of cutting and pasting blurbs of turntable scratches, bleeps, guitar riffs (or whatever else works) to cover up all the four-letter nasties. Some record stores have even pulled their albums from the racks because local officials have deemed them pornographic.

But still, harder-than-hardcore South Central L.A. rappers Ice-T and N.W.A. (if you don't know by now, the acronym stands for "Niggaz With Attitude") consistently sell millions of records. Ice-T enjoys a visible acting role in the film "New Jack City," and N.W.A.'s new album debuts at No. 2 this week on Billboard's pop chart. By forcing both its advocates and opponents to question and examine pervasive attitudes and values in America and in themselves, this brand of hip-hop -- ironically called "underground" by fans -- has surfaced in a big way.

In fact, N.W.A.'s immediate ascent to the No. 2 spot is remarkable: Not only is the album on a small independent label, but many of the nation's traditionally conservative rackjobbers have refused to stock the album. (In England last week, 24,000 copies of "Efil4zaggin" were seized by the government's Obscene Publications Squad, though it features both the standard Recording Industry Association of America "explicit lyrics" label and a second one applied in England.) Billboard gives "Efil4zaggin" a bullet, suggesting it will hit the top spot next week, and Ice-T's album is in the Top 20 as well. Meanwhile, Stevie Wonder's first record in three years, the soundtrack for Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever" -- a film that has been getting reams of publicity -- opened at No. 91.

N.W.A.: 'Efil4Zaggin' N.W.A. wastes no time in narrating more graphic tales from the dark side on "Efil4Zaggin" (Ruthless/Priority). "Real Niggaz Don't Die," set against ominous layers of rugged guitar chords, attacks police brutality, while on "Niggaz for Life" the rappers take turns answering the question of why they call themselves niggaz. As producer and rapper Dr. Dre explains, "Why do I call myself a nigga, ya ask me?/ 'Cause that's just the way {it} has to be/ Back when I was young, getting a job was murder/ {Bleep} flippin' burgers, 'cause I deserve/ A nine-to-five I can be proud of/ That I can speak loud of."

It's lyrics like these, which accurately represent the anger and frustration of many disenfranchised urban blacks who suffer from virulent racism and abject poverty, that legitimize N.W.A.'s raw, rough edge. On other cuts, the rappers employ effective biting sarcasm. But while displaying a psychotic, brutal and obsessive fixation on beating, raping and killing groupies and prostitutes that would baffle even Sigmund Freud, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E and M.C. Ren spend the entire second half of their otherwise masterfully produced album verbally reducing women to a subhuman level. "Automobile," a clever country and western singing parody, might have been funnier if the vicious, sadistic "To Kill a Hooker" and "One Less Bitch" hadn't preceded it. And real-life incidents, notably Dr. Dre's physically assaulting "Pump It Up" hostess Dee Barnes a few months ago, authenticate the group's sexism.

Ice-T: 'O.G. Original Gangster' Where N.W.A. fails to win an audience's complete empathy and admiration, Ice-T succeeds on "O.G. Original Gangster" (Sire/Warner Bros.). His brutally honest writing and older-brotherly warnings about the dangers of "fast lanin' " make him the Everybrother of hip-hop, a real, approachable person, like Public Enemy's Chuck D, someone listeners can really relate to. Ice-T subliminally laces his fourth album with a rhyme-over-crime theme, especially in the uplifting jam "Escape From the Killing Fields." And man, can Ice-T rhyme stories and bring their characters to life. His brilliant portrayal of malevolent drug gangster Nino Brown in "New Jack Hustler" and his roaring narration of a gang-related, death-defying car chase on "Midnight" keep you hanging on every word -- right up to the twist at the end.

Ice's production partners, Evil E, Afrika Islam and SLJ, also turn in splendid work, avoiding monotony by mixing tempos and musical styles -- as Ice-T mixes lyrical themes -- complementing hardcore hip-hop drum rhythms with jazz, rock and soul. One cut, "Body Count," which fuses Ice's fiery raps and thrash rock, is worth the price of the album alone. Ice's vocals here are part rapping, part primal screaming, all intense and very political. Both "Body Count" and "Prepare to Die" (an a cappella salute to Nelson Mandela) reflect Ice-T's growth and highlight his daring vocal experiments. Easily his most cohesive work, this album may very well be his best to date.