Ice Cube chills in the rain

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Photo: Renaud Philippe - FEQ

The notoriously stone-faced rapper was all smiles, telling the soaking crowd that he didn’t “give a [expletive deleted] about no rain.”

It was a smaller and considerably wetter than average crowd that took in Ice Cube’s Saturday night set on the Plains of Abraham at the Festival d’Été de Québec (FEQ). Cube took the stage at 10:00 p.m. after an underwhelming 30-minute set by opening act Travis Scott.

 Scott was a last-minute replacement for hip hop artist Fetty Wap after one of Wap’s crew was detained at the border. Although there were doubtless a few Travis Scott fans in the crowd, the Texas-based artist’s mix of singing and rapping with what some might call excessive use of auto-tune did little to boost audience morale as they were pelted with cold rain. 

By the time Ice Cube made an appearance, it was sink or swim as the thoroughly drenched attendees had become somewhat listless in the 45 minutes between sets. However, with the warmth of a natural performer, Cube immediately won the crowd over, giving a rousing opening number and proclaiming how glad he was to be back in Quebec City. “The best thing about coming back here is that we get to see how you do it, Q.C.,” proclaimed Cube right before launching into his 1994 hit single, “You Know How We Do It.” The veteran rapper’s last performance at the FEQ was in 2007, when he appeared with French hip hop icons IAM.

 As an early ambassador of West-Coast hip hop and gangster (“gangsta”) rap, Ice Cube is notorious for his violent yet socially conscious lyrics and stone-faced, bad-boy demeanour. It seems, however, that age has mellowed his persona, if not the fire in his performances; Cube was all smiles between songs, telling the audience more than once how much fun he was having. At one point, the rapper (O’Shea Jackson in his private life) told the crowd: “I don’t give a [expletive deleted] about no rain… I can do this all night!” 

With an energy level that left the younger performers who opened for him in the dust (or more accurately, in the mud), Ice Cube showed the audience that despite being a father of four (and old enough to be a father to many of the audience members themselves), he can still deliver a great live performance. 

As for the age gap, Ice Cube’s appeal to younger audiences is likely helped by last year’s release of the film Straight Outta Compton, which chronicles the rapper’s early days with hip hop group N.W.A. The film, which made headlines when it was snubbed at this year’s Oscars, stars his son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., playing the role of his father. Cube mentioned the film before launching into a couple of fan favourites from his N.W. A. days (circa 1989), making the already enthusiastic crowd go wild.

Cube also made reference to his own career in movies as an actor, writer and producer, insisting that none of it makes him less able to perform gangster rap. Indeed, anyone born after 1990 probably thinks of Ice Cube primarily as the comedic actor from the family-friendly movies Are We There Yet? and Barbershop. This seems as though it should affect the rapper’s credibility, yet judging from the audience Saturday night, all the movies and viral videos seem only to reinforce the love people have for this generous and genuine performer.