I didn’t really know what to expect when Ice Cube hit the Fresno Fair stage Tuesday night.
If it were 25 years ago, this sold-out crowd would know exactly what it was getting: One of the best and most prolific MCs around. But these days, the NWA founder is known more for starring in buddy cop films or running street ball leagues than for what he can do with a microphone.
What slight doubt I felt melted away seconds after the first beat dropped. Ice Cube brought it, putting on a dynamic, incredibly loud performance that served as a hip-hop history lesson for all generations in attendance.
The only thing louder than the thumping bass was the crowd when Ice Cube called for a response – something he did often. It was a very involved show. If you were there, you participated. No one sat down. Expletives and weed clouds soared through the air. People were grinding on each other and thrusting their middle fingers in the air. The handful of children sitting near me learned an awful lot on a school night.
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I love hip-hop shows because there’s an element of competition in each one that isn’t present in other genres of music. Every MC wants to be the best, and each in turn challenges the audience to be the best with them.
“There’s a lot of MCs in the world today,” Ice Cube said toward the end of his show. “But there’s only one me.”
Ice Cube and WC, his frequent collaborator and on-stage partner, charged the Fresno audience Tuesday by calling it one of the craziest in California.
There’s a regional pride that is present in most hip-hop but especially the Old School, and we celebrated being on the West Coast as well as being in California. Where you’re from matters in hip-hop, and when you claim the same allegiance as the man on stage, there’s an added familial element in the show.
As such, I have never heard a crowd that loud at the fair. They wanted to be louder than any crowd – especially any crowd in Los Angeles, where Ice Cube is almost certainly a living legend. I throw around superlatives quite a bit, but I really can’t stress the volume enough. My search history now includes: “How do I know if I have tinnitus?”
Ice Cube capitalized on this, playing the different sides of the crowd against one another. At one point, the left and right sides chided each other with chants of “party over here (expletive) you over there.”
It was a simple show – just Ice Cube and WC. A set of unmanned turn tables sat behind them as a gesture, Ice Cube explained, for DJ Crazy Toones, who died in January. There wasn’t much in the way of an entourage. The two MCs managed to guide the audience through 25-plus years of hip-hop on their own.
They even played off an unintended track malfunction – the beat just dropped out during “Bow Down” – as Crazy Toones making his spiritual presence felt in Fresno.
Ice Cube belted out the NWA hits “Straight Oughta Compton” and, uh, the one that made police very angry, fairly early on in the show. After the latter, he warned the audience not to actually go out and mess with the police.
“It’s just a song,” he said with a laugh, adding that Fresno police would drag anyone out of the fair if they did.
He then explained briefly why he broke with NWA before playing several of his early ’90s diss tracks – again, a competitive element that I just love. If you weren’t born yet, and there were quite a few in attendance who were not, you learned something tonight.
Ice Cube’s voice maintained a fever pitch throughout the show. He yelled a lot. This made the more laid-back tracks like “Today Was A Good Day” sound a bit different, but it wasn’t a negative. I believe it was just the energy of being on stage.
Despite that, it was a surprisingly well-rounded show.
The Ice Cube of today is a complicated man. There’s still the anti-authority street warrior in there, but there’s also a joking side to him that made the crowd burst out into laughter several times. At one point, WC and Ice Cube traded dance moves. Is that gangster? Probably not, but it doesn’t all have to be. The crowd loved it.
There were a few moments toward the end of the show where I felt it had lost some of the juice flowing during the NWA throwbacks, but the audience blew its top during the “Today Was A Good Day” finale.
Something else refreshing about Ice Cube: He did not make us sit through the encore pageantry – that dance we all do at practically every concert.
He played all of his best songs. He asked the audience if we had a good time, and we let him know that we did. He said thank you, and he left. There was no awkward flapping of arms and screaming in the dark until he deemed us worthy for the one hit song he hadn’t played yet.
No frills. No fluff. Just flow. Perfect.
The Big Fresno Fair
The 2017 edition runs through Sunday
- Gates open: Weekdays 11 a.m., Saturday-Sunday 10 a.m.
- Gates close: Sunday-Thursday 11 p.m., Friday-Saturday midnight
- Tickets: Adults $12, children ages 6-12 $8, children 5 and younger free, seniors 62 and older $8, military with ID $8
- Parking: Chance Avenue parking lot, $15; Butler Avenue and the infield lots, $10; Maple/Butler and Cedar/Kings Canyon, $5
- Details: www.fresnofair.com