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Review: Rap icon Ice Cube digs deep before 6,000 fans

Music fans love a success story, and Ice Cube has endured over nearly four decades as a performer
Hip-hop icon Ice Cube performs at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre on Tuesday night. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST


What: Ice Cube
Where: Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre
When: Tuesday
Rating: ★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

Ice Cube is at the midpoint of his Straight Into Canada tour, and with about 6,000 fans at his sold-out concert in Victoria on Tuesday, it’s evident the pioneering performer is enjoying a career renaissance.

In 2011, when the Compton, California native last performed in the city, he played before about 700 fans in the former Club 9ONE9.

Not only has his stock spiked significantly in the years since, the rapper is playing hockey rinks such as Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, one of 20 stops in Canada on his lengthiest tour of Canada to date. Precious few hip-hop acts from his era can sell out mid-size arenas.

Has his music suddenly become more popular? Not exactly. But music fans love a success story, and Cube has endured over nearly four decades as a performer, elevating his profile through both music and movies.

The 54-year-old rapper-actor-producer-performer born O’Shea Jackson has been focused exclusively on music for several months, which isn’t a bad thing.

He shines when his mean-mug rap persona is turned all the way up, and he was fully engaged Tuesday, with his former Westside Connection cohort W.C. by his side throughout.

The sound mix was muddy off the top, but improved by the time the night’s first highlight, Check Yo Self, arrived at the 20-minute mark. The song is more than 30 years old, but it bounced with a fresh coat of paint.

When images of a teenage Cube and his former bandmates in N.W.A. flashed on screen, he made good use of a dramatic pause. “I already took it back to the ’90s,” he bellowed. “Now you want me to take it back to the ’80s?”

The audience, which had its share of 50-year-olds, erupted en masse. But old-school fans hoping for a version of N.W.A’s incendiary anthem, the one that prompted a much-ballyhooed investigation by the FBI, were let down.

He almost never performs F—k Tha Police these days — especially considering he played a police captain in the 21 Jump Street film franchise — but Cube dipped into the distant past for select verses of Straight Outta Compton and Gangsta Gangsta, which crackled with electricity and intensity, despite being released when Ronald Reagan was still the U.S. president.

It is due to the strength of these singles that Cube is playing arenas in 2024. Other post-N.W.A. songs recorded with select members of the group — including Natural Born Killaz, Hello, and Chin Check — were performed admirably Tuesday, but they don’t compare to the original material that earned N.W.A. its unofficial moniker as “The World’s Most Dangerous Group.”

Cube quit the group in 1989, but the shadow of N.W.A. looms large.

Not surprisingly, his solo material dominated the night. He spit lava often, and with a massive screen showing images from a career that is more than 40 films deep, the visuals kept the audience engaged, even when some of his newer material felt overwrought.

The audio-visual mix was constant. To movie clips, he performed Friday, the title song from his 1995 film of the same name, We Be Clubbin’ (from 1998’s The Players Club), You Can Do It (from 2000’s Next Friday), and How To Survive in South Central (from 1991’s Boyz N the Hood).

When someone like Ice Cubs raps: “I was a boy in the hood before it was a movie,” the lyrics have extra cadence.

His delivery can be blunt — like a hammer, even — but his lyrics are informative, even journalistic in spots.

He has written extensively about the Rodney King riots from 1992, calling out Willie L. Williams and Daryl Gates, former chiefs of the Los Angeles Police Department, which presents one of many artistic juxtapositions.

Cube is definitely a study in contrasts, even in concert. Prior to performing No Vaseline, a song in which he shreds his former N.W.A. bandmates, Cube tipped his Raiders hat to the former enemies he now calls close friends.

The material was less combative as the night wore on. Highlights from the latter half were funk-friendly workouts, with grooves constructed from The Isley Brothers samples and Parliament/Funkadelic interpolations — the foundations of West Coast hip-hop.

Until We Rich, with its hazy Kool & the Gang sample, gave Cube the opportunity to praise Bone Thugs-n-Harmony member Krayzie Bone, his collaborator on the 2000 original.

“If you’re healthy, you’re wealthy,” Cube said, pointing to Bone’s recent recovery from serious medical issues.

Cube would know, especially where his career is concerned. It’s arguably healthier than ever.

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