For many Hip-Hop heads in Toronto and the GTA, it’s been well over a decade since we last got to see Ice Cube perform live. While he’s visited Toronto on other business in recent years, whether it had to do with his film career or the professional 3-on-3 basketball league he founded, BIG3, he hasn’t actually performed a concert in the city since 2009. Now embarked on a world tour spanning across multiple continents, this show in Kitchener would be the last of a handful of Canadian tour dates in Ontario that has seen Cube perform in smaller-market cities he’s never been to before, including Orillia, Windsor, and Sudbury. Toronto heads who have been waiting for an opportunity to see the West-Coast legend perform live would have to make the hour-and-a-half drive out to this show in Kitchener as their closest option.
Ice Cube is of course a Hip-Hop icon whose legacy is cemented in the history books. His music career has spanned well over 30 years with 10 solo albums, plus group albums with N.W.A, Westside Connection, and most recently Mount Westmore. In the most recent decade of his career, Ice Cube has been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as part of N.W.A, produced the critically acclaimed biopic about the group, Straight Outta Compton, co-starred in a few action-comedy films including Ride Along, 21 Jump Street and their sequels, and has been managing the BIG3 basketball league as its founder and CEO. On the music front, he most recently formed the group Mount Westmore with Snoop Dogg, E-40 and Too $hort, releasing both an NFT-exclusive album and a more widespread release version of it on streaming services in 2022, reclaiming the throne as one of the all-time greats when it comes to West-Coast Hip-Hop.
With all the different business ventures on his plate, Ice Cube may be slow to release new music these days, but it’s his work in the ’80s and ’90s that’s always celebrated among classic Hip-Hop. He’s headlined festivals and performed in arenas over the course of his career, which would make this show at Elements Nightclub that much more special, being a rare opportunity to see him perform in a more intimate setting with all the accolades behind him. We gotta thank BadHabits Entertainment and R-Evolution Media for making it happen.
We were a little late getting to the show, as some of the openers had already performed by the time we got inside, and Mississauga’s own Fame Holiday was just wrapping up his set. He seemed to have the crowd behind him as he had everyone chanting his name after he nailed his flows. Soon after would be the last opener before Ice Cube, Guelph’s own Robbie G, who felt right at home after having spent years helping to build up the local Hip-Hop scene in his hometown, as well as the Tri-Cities area. He would shoutout all the different cities that might’ve had fans in the building, including Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge, as he got into a set of familiar tracks like “Incredible” and “Ball Drop.”
Always one to switch it up slightly with every show, Robbie G pulled out a rare throwback from 2012, “Get High.” This was a highlight of his set, as he got the crowd to chant the chorus with him and he freestyled some of the lyrics, giving shoutouts to Ice Cube and other key people in the building, and even incorporated “Kitchener” into his rhyme scheme. He’d continue on with more familiarities, getting the crowd to shout “fuck cancer!” as he performed a dedication to his late stepmother with “When I See You,” and moved the crowd with “The Homies” and “Do What You Do.” To close out his set, Robbie G pulled out some surprises, getting special guest Metri to join him for a rare performance of their 2018 collaboration “House Party,” and ended with a brand new 2023 track, “You Know This,” getting the crowd to sing along to the chorus. As always, Robbie G got the stage warmed up and the crowd hyped to see the headliner for the evening, Ice Cube.
The very first rap concert I ever went to was seeing Ice Cube headline the 2009 Rock The Bells Festival in his hometown Los Angeles, and the way he did his intro to the stage brought back memories of that moment right away. His DJ played the intro “What Is A Pyroclastic Flow?” from the 2008 album Raw Footage, the booming bass building up anticipation, then we heard that bomb-drop to kick off the beat to “Natural Born Killaz,” and Ice Cube came out spitting that 1994 classic with WC hyping him up. The crowd was hyped right away, as Cube nailed all his verses on the song and teased the intro from “Go To Church,” getting the crowd to join in on Lil’ Jon’s “you scared!” chant. Rather than performing the full track, Cube would abruptly switch into another classic suitable to kick off a show, “Hello.” The crowd knew what was coming when he said the words “I started this gangsta shit… and this the motherfucking thanks I get?!”
Ice Cube would take some time to express his gratitude for being able to perform in Canada again since the COVID pandemic, his last concert north of the border being a headlining slot at London, Ontario’s 2020 Park Jam Festival. He’d also clear the air on some thoughts that doubters may have, about whether he can still rap with most of his focus being on making movies in recent years. Telling the haters to “check yo’ self before you wreck yo’ self,” this of course led into a hype performance of “Check Yo’ Self (Remix),” as the crowd grooved to the old-school beat from “The Message” and Cube nailed every verse to the track. Much of Ice Cube’s performance would go this way, as he’d talk the crowd up or have a funny back-and-forth with WC to introduce most of the songs he performed, then went in to nail the flows with perfect execution. Him and WC would make a joke about how everyday with Ice Cube is a Friday, before performing that same title track from the soundtrack to his 1995 film debut as a co-writer, Friday.
The bass got the club shaking as the crowd grooved to the party track. Cube would then follow up “Friday” with a medley of early ’90s throwbacks, the heavy bass keeping the crowd moving as he ripped through tracks like “Jackin’ For Beats” and “What Can I Do? (Remix).” Seeming to go chronologically for this segment, he’d move from 1990 to 1994, getting into classics like “You Know How We Do It” and “Bop Gun (One Nation).” Cube would then take some time to acknowledge Hip-Hop’s 50th anniversary this year, reflecting on how he’s contributed a solid 30-plus to that 50 and stayed consistent over the years as an emcee who puts raw rap skill before image. This would lead into one of the most energetic performances of the night, as he got into a hype, aggressive rendition of the 2006 hit “Why We Thugs.” Going through the years, he’d continue into 2008’s unapologetic “Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It,” keeping up the political theme with messages that remain relevant today.
After slowly moving through the ’90s and 2000s, you know Cube had to take it back to the ’80s. The 2015 film of the same name has made the 1988 song ever more popular, and so most of the crowd pulled out their phones and rapped the words along with Ice Cube as he performed his classic verse from N.W.A’s “Straight Outta Compton.” He’d follow up with another N.W.A. track with “Gangsta Gangsta” before a special moment in the show that deserves discussion.
Reflecting on 50 years of Hip-Hop history, Ice Cube talked about that moment in time when he first left N.W.A. to go solo, and how the group dissed him despite him not mentioning them once on his solo debut, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. This of course led into a performance of arguably the biggest highlight of his second album, Death Certificate, his retaliation against N.W.A, “No Vaseline.” He performed the song in full, all disses included, before clarifying that the performance was for historical impact and that he has nothing but love for all of his former groupmates. He then made the claim that “No Vaseline” is the greatest diss track in Hip-Hop history, shouting out 2Pac’s “Hit ‘Em Up” and Nas’ “Ether” but ultimately claiming his is the best because he took out an entire group of emcees plus their manager. Ice Cube effectively added fuel to an age-old debate, and also brought forth the idea that diss tracks can still be performed respectfully years after the beef has been squashed, for the love of the art and competition.
After the fierce throwback diss track, Ice Cube jumped forward to his most recent solo album, 2018’s Everythang’s Corrupt, performing a more upbeat track with “Ain’t Got No Haters.” Continuing to spread the positive energy, he’d then perform a song for the ladies with the 1999 club banger “You Can Do It.” The crowd definitely reacted like it was ’99 again, getting rowdy on the dance floor with some ladies even taking their tops off. After that high energy performance, Cube gave a thank-you to Canada for inviting him to perform, to which WC responded that he didn’t get an invitation. This funny bit led to Cube saying the classic words “well consider this an invitation, to my Gangsta Nation,” and the crowd erupted as the beat dropped to that ’03 classic. Ice Cube and WC both performed their verses from the Westside Connection track, and they both did some dancing across the stage as the late Nate Dogg’s chorus played, making for another hype moment.
With all those back-to-back high energy tracks getting the crowd moving, Ice Cube decided to close out the show with a more laid-back vibe, performing arguably his most iconic single, “It Was A Good Day.” The crowd mellowed out and rapped along to the classic throwback, sparking up clouds of smoke and just grooving. Ice Cube nailed all his verses and let the beat play out as he clapped hands with fans up front, taking the time to sign a ton of autographs. Knowing how special the moment was for him to be performing in Kitchener, Ontario of all places, Cube made sure to take that extra time to greet all the fans up front and give them a lasting memory.
Overall, this was a great way to kick off the year of Hip-Hop’s 50th anniversary, celebrating with one of the GOATs from the West-Coast. Not only has it been such a rarity to see Ice Cube perform live over the years, but it’s been especially rare to see him perform in a smaller, more intimate venue where you can see him up close. This show felt like a house party, as he talked to the crowd throughout his set and honoured the history of the genre he helped build. His hour-plus performance took us through the years of influence he’s had on the music, showcasing how Ice Cube has evolved over the decades while remaining true to himself. We don’t know when he’ll be back in Canada, or if he’ll ever have another opportunity to perform in Kitchener again, and so Ice Cube made sure to treat this as the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity it was for many fans.
Ice Cube’s 2023 world tour will take him on stops in USA, Australia and Brazil in the first half of the year – catch him on tour if you can!
*UPDATE: It was announced the week after this show that Ice Cube will be returning to Canada to headline Toronto’s 2023 Festival of Beer on July 28th! Tickets are on sale now at beerfestival.ca!
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