Ice Cube and Cypress Hill, original Gangsta rappers and hip-hop innovators, return for a magnificent blaze of music and bong hits, almost 30 years after they first appeared in New Zealand as a double bill in 1994.
The heavy dark clouds of rain held off for the headliners, including our own Christchurch rapper Scribe. The night was humid and barmy. The cannabis and alcohol was mellowing out the large crowd on the field outside the Trust Stadium. It’s a curious thing that the large audience that gather for rap shows in the centre of town are predominantly white. Out west in Boganville, and I would imagine South Auckland too, well over half the people are Polynesian, Māori and Asian.
In America, where rap and hip-hop outsells rock by a country mile, the audience again are in the majority white. Black blues and R’n’B artists in their thirties grumble about hip-hop and curse it out. This also happened when Jimi Hendrix exploded out in 1967. Black radio stations banned him as a sell-out to the establishment, Especially after the assassination of King and America burned in 1968.
The big audience tonight are both edgy and mellow in waves, and the two acts pick up on this and it acts as a turbo charge for the evening. This is the live experience of music that we all crave for. Everyone feels they belong here tonight.
Crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube/ From the gang called Niggaz Wit Attitude/ When I’m called off/ I got a sawed-off/ Squeeze the trigger and bodies are hauled off.
That’s Straight Outta Compton from the N.W.A debut album of the same name in 1998. It is halfway in the set, and it is such a thrill to hear a song I still listen to repeatedly. Damn that shit is still so dope!
O’Shea Jackson Sr was a teenager when he met Dr Dre, wrote his first hit song, and then helped form the seminal gangsta rap group. They were completed by Eazy-E, Arabian Prince, DJ Yella and MC Ren.
They were a polarising force then, and that power is still there on stage tonight. Other songs are pulled into the mix. Even though they split acrimoniously and eventually reconciled, their huge influence is acknowledged.
Ice Cube of course then went on to have an extensive Hollywood career, as an actor, writer and director. His first movie appearance was in Boyz ‘n the Hood. The song of that title was written by him. In recent times he raised some controversy by refusing the covid vaccine and being axed from the comedy movie Oh Hell. Which also starred Jack Black.
He does go on to play No Vaseline, which he describes as the best rap insult to a former posse that’s been written. Tried to diss Ice Cube/ It wasn’t worth it/ ‘Cause the broomstick fit your ass so perfect. The deep origins of rap are in the dozens. An oral tradition of calling out your enemies with insulting and funny rhymes. To avert physical violence.
Ice Cube begins his set with Natural Born Killaz. Journey with me into the mind of a maniac/ I got a problem solver and his name is revolver. It channels the manic adrenaline pleasure of a killer and taps the secret energy of America. The obsession with guns, mass murderers and movies. The movie was a classic satire and so is the song. Meant to repulse, inform and entertain.
Politics and social behaviour are to the fore in rap music since it’s creation. Ice Cube courts it himself with his lifestyle. He joined the Nation of Islam, but then you also must remember Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali. It is predominantly Black pride for Ice.
Bop Gun (One Nation) reinforces that. Some Old Skool rap and a tribute to George Clinton and the whole ParlaFunkadelicMent Mothership and Placebo Syndrome. Funk on acid. We unleash on you a positive light/ The bop gun can do no harm.
More of that on You Know How We Do It.
Ice Cube barely lets up the pace on his set. Partner in crime tonight is Doug MC, I think.
They finish on It Was a Good Day. A shaggy dog story and a very funny response to the Beatle’s A Day in the Life. Freakin’ niggas every way like MJ/ I can’t believe, today was a good day.
Cypress Hill are from South Gate in California and are the pioneers of West Coast rap. Since their debut album in 1991, they have had multi-platinum albums and numerous Grammy nominations. Like Ice Cube, they tell us rap is now fifty years old, and has become the biggest selling music genre in America. When originally it was dismissed as a passing fad. Which is close enough to the truth.
Original members Senen Sen Dog Reyes and Louis B-Real Freese on voice, with Eric Bobbo Corea on drums and percussion.
Their turntable spinner is Lord DJ Lord Asword. He cuts it up on the intro with Black Sabbath and their famous name-sake song, overlaid by the phrase there goes the neighbourhood.
B-Real looks like Tommy Chong, with his massive afro. Sen Dog, who comes from Cuba, then resembles Cheech Marin. Entirely appropriate as they champion cannabis the moment they hit the stage. Festooned with green plants across the large drum kit and projected on the screen behind. They are active campaigners for legalisation.
Opening song Roll it Up, Light it Up, Smoke it Up is combined with I Wanna Get High and Cisco Kid. This energy rolls through the audience, many of whom are already quite high.
In a way it echoes ancient shaman practices of trance music fuelled by the appropriate hallucinogenic. Of note is the police presence, and they couldn’t care less about the illegality. Everyone gets a contact high, which is a practice of musical alchemy.
First point of difference here are the two styles of voice. B-Real raps in a marginally higher register whilst Sen Dog has a more recognisable gruff vocal. Combined they give the group a distinctive vocal sound.
Ericc Bobbo is a virtuoso on conga and drums. The Latin and Brazilian rhythms are to the fore.
They showcase this with a stunning rhythmic workout on drums and the spinning turntables.
They are dub reggae and dance-hall toasters with When the Shit Goes Down.
Shoot ‘em Up. A brilliant rap, especially as it incorporates a late doo-wop classic, Duke of Earl originally by Gene Chandler.
The percussion lifts the music into an irresistible dance groove. The reggae off-beat and a toasters skank wind through their songs continually.
Rock Superstar is a malevolent Gangsta rap, and I think MC5 get name checked.
They do have to call out some audience members with the statement there is no violence at a Cypress Hill gig. That seems to take care of that.
Says B-Real. We make aggressive music for positive energy.
It was great to see Malo Ioane Luafutu on stage tonight. Scribe hit the big one with his early song Not Many If Any in 2003.
He starts with that, and he looks triumphant on stage, comfortable in his own skin. On a huge black stage. Of Samoan descent but he resembles a Morrison, Howard and Temuera. Later he is topless and shows off his traditional Samoan tattoos.
He comes from the Eastside of Christchurch. He is a proud Crusaders rugby supporter, and his debut album took their name.
He has been through tough times after his initial success, with gambling problems, drugs and violence. Some time was spent in prison.
Non Attachment was written in jail, and he sings about his lost soul. That makes his appearance tonight, fronting some giants of rap and hip-hop, especially poignant. With minimal beats he sings hope you feel my pain.
Oscar Kightley makes an appearance just before Scribe sings Dreaming, his other big hit. He credits Kightley with giving him inspiration and coming up with his performing name. On the dole/ Through my flow was my only escape/ From a world where they didn’t wanna see me prevail.
There is fierce pride on display tonight. Many sing along.
A stunning and turbo-charged show from two giants and pioneers of rap and hip-hop. Ice Cube and Cypress Hill both played just over an hour. But they killed ‘em and left. That’s the way it’s done!
Rev Orange Peel
Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Hamish Graham:
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