By Hali Neal
Ice Cube, one of the pioneers of gangster rap, was an odd choice to replace 1970s Miami mainstays K.C. and the Sunshine Band (who had a scheduling conflict) on Day 3 of SunFest (May 5), but it proved to be a wise one.
He put on an entertaining set while also managing to poke fun at himself: “I bet you thought Ice Cube couldn’t do this s**t no more, huh? What, do I do too many movies? Too many Coors Light commercials?”
It was unclear if he was actually waiting for an answer as he continued, still with that edge of humor in his voice: “What’s wrong with movies? What’s wrong with commercials? This is where it all started.”
There was a point in the set when he asked if people remembered the most dangerous group. The crowd yelled back confirmation. He launched into the N.W.A. hit “Straight Outta Compton,” which featured a flawless flow and energized the crowd.
Before getting into the next song, Ice Cube had this to say: “I love N.W.A. and I love Eazy-E but then they went and dissed me so I had to make this next track.”
He launched into N.W.A/Jerry Heller’s diss track, “No Vaseline,” off 1991’s Death Certificate. Some of the more tame lines are: “tried to diss Ice Cube, it wasn’t worth it/Cause the broomstick fit your ass so perfect/Cut my hair? Naw, cut them balls/Cause I heard you like giving up the drawers/gang-banged by your manager, fella …”
The rest of the song includes allusions about the members being slaves to Heller and heavier implications that Heller was stealing so much money from N.W.A. that it was like getting screwed with no Vaseline. Needless to say, this song kept up with the energy “Straight Outta Compton” stirred up.
“Check Yo’ Self (Remix),” off 1994’s Bootlegs and B Sides, has one of most famous beats as well as lines: “check yo’self before you wreck yo’self.” Grandmaster Flash provides the beat in the remix – it’s the same one found in his song “The Message.” It’s also exactly what you’d expect from one of the pioneers of gangsta rap: lyrics talking about shotgun “bullets,” boasting about how tough he is, talking about how “bitches like you are bad for [his] health.”
Even though Ice Cube has starred in family-friendly productions such as Are We There Yet? and Sesame Street, somehow, he’s still believable when he spits lines about topics like that.
It was a surprise to see Lil Jon in a music video again, especially with a black “Crunk’s not dead” T-shirt, but it made sense once “Go To Church,” off 2006’s Laugh Now, Cry Later, started and the video played in the background. The video served as a surrogate for the two missing features. This was played as a lighter track, with Ice Cube asking the crowd if they were scared, and how they should “go to church” – though the actual lyrics are more focused on how Ice Cube was “down” with Lil Jon, the self-proclaimed “King of Crunk.”
It was more of the don’t-mess-with-me-and-I-won’t-mess-with-you attitude and dissing one of the biggest rappers at the time, Mike Jones, who was known for yelling his name on every song to the point of ridiculousness. It was a fun way to keep the crowd moving and proves Ice Cube hasn’t lost a step flow and performance wise.
“You Can Do It,” from 2000’s Next Friday soundtrack and also featured in 2001’s Save the Last Dance, was up next. The song has a lyric that says “you can do it put your back into it/I can do it put your ass into it…” and even on a day as sweltering as that Saturday, it got one woman twerking. Oddly enough, she was also carrying a sign saying she was selling mandala stickers for $1 that she held up as she twerked.
The set went over time but Ice Cube said they weren’t going anywhere: “I’m having too good a time,” he said.
He continued by asking the crowd if they wanted to hear “new s**t or old s**t” and the crowd picked old. In keeping with that theme, he ended the set with 1992 smash hit “It Was A Good Day,” off The Predator, which made the crowd erupt in joy and dig for their cellphones to record the iconic song.
Later that night, 311 took to the Ford stage and led with “Beautiful Disaster,” off 1997’s Transistor. The song had a subtle harmony that was a great counterpoint to the hard rock intro.
Lead singer Nick Hexum said the band liked to call “Do You Right,” off 1991’s Unity, the “happy slam dance song.” It was a happy sounding song with a distorted guitar that could be slam dance inspiring, though there were no pits or slam dancing by where I stood.
“All Mixed Up,” off 1995’s self-titled album, was up next. The prominent bass line is one of the best things about the song, along with the recognizable guitar riff, making it fun to watch.
SA Martinez came in with rap duties in “Freeze Time,” off 1999’s Soundsystem. This song is where you first noticed the animation going on behind them: this one was an exclusively green orb animation that almost looked like a next level Windows screensaver. The song has that signature 1990s feel with a dark, plodding guitar intro that crashes into some DJ programming that announces the band’s name before Hexum comes in and lyrics that don’t make a whole lot of sense at first: “Golden buttered jam golden buttered jam for your slam…”
The way Martinez’s flow balances out Hexum’s vocals is something you don’t see a lot of anymore, so it was nice to be able to see it done so well. The bass pulse that runs through each of their songs is one of the things that makes their music come alive. “Come Original,” also off Soundsystem, was no different.
Shooting stars and different shapes and colors flashed on the screen behind theme as Hexum harmonized beautifully with Martinez. You could tell that Tim Mahoney, the group’s lead guitarist, was having fun as he kept moving across the stage and looking out at the crowd.
“Who’s ready for some reggae music?” Hexum asked before ”Extension,” off 2017’s Mosaic. He refined his signature speak-singing style for this and the band delivered on the reggae part with the lighter sounding riffs and more subtle drums.
Their cover of The Cure’s “Love Song” was controversial when it came out in 2004 on the 50 First Dates soundtrack, but it’s always been my favorite version because 311 put their own spin on it. The public has come to love it as well: people got out phones, started recording as soon as the first note was played and obliged Hexum when he asked them to put their flashlights on. Soft orange, blue and white stage lights cast a wavy design over the stage and were the perfect companion to the dreamy, wistful cover that had people swaying in their spots.
“Perfect Mistake,” off Mosaic, had an appropriately animated gray sky playing behind them. The discordant guitar intro fit perfectly with the theme of and had a nice drum fill towards end. Martinez got to show off the other side of his range in this one, as his voice goes into such a high range it almost has a Davey Havok feel.
Hexum seems genuine in his unity and love spiel as he had this to say before ”Applied Science,” off 1994’s Grassroots: “We’re doing what we love. It’s all about the human connection – bringing people together with music. We’re all about unity in this band. 28 years … Same 5 dudes.”
Later in the set, Hexum said: “I dedicate the next song to all the old-school 311 fans in the house,” and launched into “Down,” a song that defined a lot of the teen years for Gen Xers and older millennials; Sexton especially shined on this song.
For its encores, 311 played “You Wouldn’t Believe” and “Creatures (For A While),” for which Hexum said: “I see you guys out there making a circle pit. This one’s for you. Let’s all be creatures for a while.”
This was a great and fun way to end the set for everyone involved, as Hexum got into full bending-over headbanging after intro and Martinez danced around. Hexum crouched on the floor at one point and sang to it. Some members of the crowd were dancing too.
When the song ended, Hexum flashed a peace sign, and did it again after they launched into a full-on whole crew bow. It was a good way to end the first of two nights of 1990s nostalgia at SunFest.