“Can I keep it gangsta tonight?” Ice Cube asked as he took the stage Saturday at Coachella.
Yes, please, the crowd responded. And so he did - for about half his show.
Going into the festival, the West Coast rap pioneer was widely expected to reunite the living members of his seminal late-'80s group, N.W.A, whose story was dramatized in last year’s hit biopic “Straight Outta Compton.” Earlier this month, the outfit - featuring Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren, DJ Yella and the late Eazy-E (who died in 1995) - was even inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
As Ice Cube pointed out Saturday, N.W.A didn’t perform at the induction, the result of what he described as a disagreement with the Rock Hall over what that performance might look like.
“But we at Coachella,” he added, before bringing out Ren and Yella - but not Dre - to do a blistering “Straight Outta Compton.” The partially reunited group also did its unprintably titled song about the police, which Ice Cube said he’d been warned backstage against playing, as well as “Dopeman,” which also featured his son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., who played Ice Cube in “Straight Outta Compton.”
Minus his old bandmates, Ice Cube kept it gangsta with “Natural Born Killaz,” “Check Yo Self,” “Why We Thugs” and “Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It.”
But later he took the show in a friendlier direction by introducing Common - with whom he said he’d squashed an old beef - to perform “Real People,” from Ice Cube’s new “Barbershop” movie. Then he did a string of bouncy club-oriented cuts, including “You Can Do It” and “We Be Clubbin’,” before welcoming his final guest, Snoop Dogg, who arrived onstage wearing a bath robe resembling a giant blue bandanna.
With Cube, Snoop rapped “Go to Church” and, in what might’ve been a kind of apology for Dr. Dre’s no-show, “The Next Episode,” from Dre’s “The Chronic 2001" album.
And when it was time to leave, Ice Cube sat down on a throne shaped like a hand formed into a “W.” He may still be a gangsta - or at least a Hollywood version of one - but he was also telling us he’s a king.
Wood writes for the California News Group, publisher of The San Diego Union-Tribune and the Los Angeles Times.