Ice Cube w/Chancellor Warhol and Rob Dee at Marathon Music Works, 6/29/13



We’re in a special place in the history of hip-hop: Twenty-five years out from its push toward the mainstream, and 20 years after its domination and critically proclaimed “golden age.” The Spin was bummed way out that the Kings of the Mic Tour — with LL Cool J, Ice Cube, Public Enemy and De La Soul — would be passing us by, but that all turned around when Cube announced he'd be making a Music City stop right between KOTM dates. This OGest of OG MCs has been on our bucket list for ages, so we jumped at the chance to swing by Marathon Music Works.

Damn, but this was a tightly run ship! We expected to catch the tail end of crowd-warmer Rob Dee’s set, but to our chagrin, we rolled in just in time to find Chancellor Warhol going hard. As we’ve come to expect, Chance used every inch of the stage and every tool in his box, including producer Chance Walker, who added live keys and percussion to DJ Crisis’ stockpile of fresh beats, and a guest shot by Ducko McFli on the recent duet cut “Palm Trees.” Heads nodded, the faithful applauded, and hands waved in the air, but while the smiles confirmed that everyone was digging what the Chancellor had to offer, we could feel something being held back. The crowd, now at about one-third capacity, skewed a little older: These were the folks who had followed Ice Cube from Compton to Hollywood and beyond, and it was clear that they were primed and ready for the main event.

We’d seen the bus and trailer outside, and the ripped security staff with walkie-talkies and Ice Cube Crew shirts wading through the crowd every few minutes, and we were now struggling to keep a lid on our enthusiasm. After a few tech checks, the lights cut and a 20-foot LED screen roared to life with the video for “The Big Show,” a name-dropping cut from Cube’s upcoming album Everythang’s Corrupt. As the track wound down, DJ Crazy Toones gave a little hype rap, which proved unnecessary: Once the man of the hour emerged from a fog-machine cloud, the whole room flipped their collective wig.

Aided by Westside Connection partner WC, the 90-minute set focused on the post-Friday phase of solo Cube, kicking off with the Dre duet “Natural Born Killaz.” Admittedly, these are the years when the OG MC spent more time on film production than records, but the carefully crafted show skimmed the absolute cream of the crop. The theme continued with N.W.A. reunion cut “Hello,” from the turn-of-the-millenium War & Peace Vol. 2, WC holding his own on MC Ren’s parts. The best rhymes from Aughts albums Laugh Now, Cry Later and Raw Footage were peppered with Westside Connection joints, a “smoke weed every day” shout-out to the late Nate Dogg, and one taste of super-old-school, Cube’s verse from “Straight Outta Compton.” As the night drew to a close, Cube’s sons OMG and Doughboy appeared to help out on cuts from 2010’s I Am the West and the long-awaited crowd favorite “It Was a Good Day.”

The only thing curiously absent was the title cut from Everythang’s Corrupt, which takes aim at contemporary social and economic issues with the same fury and mind-bending lyricism as anything on The Predator. But with work on a new Friday movie and an N.W.A. biopic in the works, we’re hoping to see Ice Cube come back around with it, and maybe this time bring the whole crew. Cube has put in considerable time on both sides of the glass, jumping boundaries between screen and stage with unmatched skill and style. It’s a testament to his commitment that he’s full-force rocking the mic with his kids, soon to be old enough to have kids of their own — who would have imagined 25 years ago that we would one day have grandpa MCs? Cube said it himself: “You’re going to see me at 70 or 75, doin’ this shit in Vegas with a mothafuckin’ teleprompter.” We could do with a little less of the pep-rally crowd-hyping and the LED screen — sometimes it was difficult to focus on the real, life-size MC when a 20-foot-tall version was spitting the same thing behind him — but go ahead and put our tickets on reserve.

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