Maybe Dr. Dre didn’t join Ice Cube, MC Ren and DJ Yella for the highly anticipated N.W.A. reunion. But rap fans were treated to another history-making event — the legend-building ascendance of Kendrick Lamar — at the third and final Staples Center concert of BET Experience at L.A. Live (June 25-28).
Shifting between new school and old school hip-hop, the evening started with fellow members of Top Dawg Entertainment — Isaiah Rashad, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul and ScHoolboy Q — warming up an already hyped audience. Slicing his way through a six-song set that included “Gangsta,” “Hands on the Wheel,” “Man of the Year” and “Studio” (alongside the song’s talented featured guest BJ the Chicago Kid), ScHoolboy Q proved he’s a powerful force in his own right.
“This ain’t no jazz concert with your old asses,” the rapper yelled at one point as he rallied everyone in the house to get up and move. “Wake the f–k up!”
Taking the baton handed off by ScHoolboy Q, Lamar smoothly took command of the proceedings, keeping the now-stoked crowd on its feet throughout a nearly hour-long set. Opening with “Money Trees,” he moved deftly between tracks culled from his first two game-changing albums, Good Kid, M.A.A.d City and To Pimp a Butterfly. “Backseat Freestyle,” “Swimming Pools (Drank),” and “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” gave way to “I” and “Alright” plus a verse from A$AP Rocky‘s Lamar-assisted “F–kin’ Problems.” One of the set’s memorable moments was Lamar’s moving take on “King Kunta.”
“We never quite forget where we come from,” Lamar advised the rapt, roaring audience.
Snoop Dogg took over from there with crowd-pleaser “Gin & Juice.” Joined throughout his set by special guests Kurupt, Lady of Rage, Warren G and Too $hort, the rap legend reeled off such tracks as “What’s My Name,” “Afro Puffs,” “Blow the Whistle” and “Ain’t Nuthin’ But a G Thang” before closing with “Drop It Like It’s Hot.”
Then as the clock struck 10:55 p.m., it was time for Ice Cube and the long-anticipated N.W.A reunion. Launching into “Natural Born Killaz,” the rapper fed speculation that Dr. Dre might indeed be in the house. Also fueling the hope: clips from the upcoming biopic Straight Outta Compton.
“This is my first time up in Staples Center,” Ice Cube told the audience after performing “Why We Thugs.” Added the rapper, “A lot of people thought I was done … movied out. I’ll tell you what I tell those people.” Then he jumped square into “Check Yo Self.”
Joined by N.W.A. cohorts MC Ren and DJ Yella, Ice Cube segued into reunion mode with such classics as “Straight Outta Compton,” “Gangsta Gangsta,” and “F–k Tha Police.” Against a backdrop of back-in-the-day photos and videos, the trio saluted tribute to late member Eazy-E, referencing such tracks as “Cruising Down the Street in My 64” and “For the Love of Money.”
Noted Ice Cube, “It’s only right to pay tribute to the godfather. If he didn’t have this vision you wouldn’t be seeing this.”
Shifting into his Westside Connection phase with “Bow Down,” Ice Cube didn’t have to state the obvious: Dr. Dre would not be taking the stage after all. But while a steady stream of patrons began their exodus out of Staples, a sizable contingent of diehard fans were treated to the always-pleasing Ice Cube classic, “It Was a Good Day.”