Story and Photos: Spencer Fleming
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Now back to the story....
The founding father of West Coast Gangsta rap, Ice Cube, hit the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln Thursday night (8/25) and brought the weekend party vibes a day early.
It's been a crazy year for concerts as things have started to open back up and artists are returning to the road. It seems anyone and everyone is getting in on the touring action. This was the second instance in just the last few months of a one-off hip hop show from a major artist, the first being Snoop Dogg on 4/20. I'm not sure what it is about Lincoln that's attracting these acts, maybe the college town party atmosphere, but either way, I'm stoked we're getting these huge shows.
The week of the show I had a lot of back and forth with Ice Cube's PR team but no official confirmation for media coverage. With only a couple hours until the show I had just about given up. I sent one last email to Pinnacle Bank to see if there was anything they could do. Just after hitting send I got the call, "you're approved to shoot photos". Yes! To tell you I was excited would be a huge understatement. Not only was I going to see Ice Cube, but he was bringing along Cypress Hill, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and Ying Yang Twins! Talk about a hip-hop murderer's row. To put the cherry on top, my good friend Joe Desanti from The Review Junkie was also approved so we got to make the trek to Lincoln together.
Before we hit the road we were informed that we'd only be shooting photos for Cypress Hill and Ice Cube. This happens from time to time where artists have a different media policy. Sometimes you get to shoot all the bands from in front of the stage, sometimes you may only get to shoot from the soundboard area, or sometimes the artist won't grant access at all. You have to be prepared for every scenario. Back in March when we covered the Slipknot show at the CHI Center, In This Moment pulled their photo access right before they went on stage!
Even with the little bump in the road I was stoked for the show. When we got to the Pinnacle Bank Arena everything went off without a hitch. We walked right up, got our photo passes and tickets, and met up with Lynne the media coordinator. She held our photo gear until it was time to shoot for Cypress Hill and Ice Cube. Normally when you get a review ticket for an arena show it's somewhere in the lower bowl, but nothing too exciting. As we made our way inside, the ticket greeter informed us that we weren't in the lower bowl but on the floor. We got some wristbands and started walking towards our section. We passed row after row until finally we were only a few yards back from the stage!
The first group up Ying Yang Twins wasted no time getting the party started with their chart-topping hits from the late 2000s. Right out of the gate they hit the crowd with "Salt Shaker" and got the place moving. With a fairly short time slot there wasn't any time for new songs or deep cuts. Let's be honest, if they had played a new song most people would've used that time for a bathroom break anyway. Nope, just straight hits and they were out.
After Ying Yang Twins it was time to take a trip to E. 1999 Eternal with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony! I've wanted to see Bone Thugs for a long time but I kept missing them either being out of town, but mostly covering other shows on the same night.
The set started fairly well but I noticed that there was a heavy use of backing tracks. Ying Yang Twins used backing tracks as well but with Bone Thugs it seemed a bit more noticeable. I have no problem with backing tracks but in this case it almost seemed like they were rapping along but having trouble keeping in sync. Sure enough after the first song something went wrong with the audio and a bunch of stage hands started unplugging and plugging in wires on the DJ's deck.
However, without missing a step one of the Bone Thug members kept things going acapella with some of the other guys joining in. It was actually a pretty cool moment for the group. After getting things back on track Bone Thugs ripped through some of their classic hits like "1st Of Tha Month", "Notorious Thugs", and of course the song that put them on the map "Tha Crossroads". By now the crowd had started filling in a bit more and the bass cut through the smoke filled air.
After Bone Thugs it was time to go to work. Joe and I met up with Katie the house photographer and our buddy Mitch. Our small group made our way to the front of the stage to catch Cypress Hill. As we looked over we noticed these giant speaker stacks were pushed right up to the crowd barrier. Luckily we were able to squeeze through but we had to pick a spot between the speakers and stay there, not really much room to move back and forth across the stage.
Cypress Hill was the only act that had any type of elaborate stage setup. On the left was a giant DJ booth and on the right a riser with bongos and a full drum kit. In the dead center was some kind of inflatable object. Knowing Cypress Hill I figured it was some type of weed plant. As the music kicked in the unknown object starting to fill with air. It had a lot of green on it so I was close on the weed plant, but it was revealed to be "Dr. Green Thumb", a giant skeleton figure holding a lit blunt. Ok, so I guess I was pretty dead on considering it was heavily weed related.
As the bass started booming B-Real stepped forth with a giant blunt in hand. Yes, it was a real blunt. I probably should've worn a mask to avoid any weed contact because it was blowing everywhere! B-Real performed the first couple songs solo before bringing out his partner in crime Sen Dog. I only caught one snap of Sen Dog since it was towards the very end of the first three songs we were allowed to shoot.
What was strange is Sen Dog only came out for that one song and I believe one other one. I'm not sure why he was hanging in the back so much, but the trio of B-Real, his DJ, and drummer did an awesome job getting the crowd hyped. After the first three songs we returned to our seats and B-Real was stoking the fire. "I feel like this side is a little more crazy than this side, but this side could go off at any moment" As he motioned from side to side the crowd lit up in applause. "Who you trying to get crazy with? Don't you know I'm loco?" Boom, the band kicked into what's arguably their biggest hit "Insane In The Brain". The place was going off with hands waving back and forth and some strange smells wafting in the air. As we were making our way back from shooting photos our buddy Mitch cracked me up, "Do you guys think it smelled like weed in there?" Haha.
I noticed someone on the stage motioning something like "10 minutes" to a guy running sound. I think the show was running behind so unfortunately Cypress Hill had to cut one of their biggest hits and my personal favorite "Rock Superstar", instead they skipped to their last song a cover of "Jump Around" by House of Pain. A bit of a strange choice to do a cover, but if you're gonna go out on a cover it might as well be a well known banger!
As the stage hands broke down the Cypress Hill set I wondered what type of crazy set up Ice Cube was going to bring out. I imagined the back half of an old Impala or a four-wheeler coming on stage. As we made our way back the barricade area there was nothing left on stage but a DJ station. I was hoping for a bit more production but when you're Ice Cube I suppose your presence in itself is enough and I have to say that's a pretty gangsta move!
As the music kicked in the screen above lit up with old Ice Cube videos and some cut screens that resembled a drive through Los Angeles. The crowd cheered in anticipation and someone started a chant "Ice Cube, Ice Cube!" The man himself appeared and the place went wild! By now the floor was full and the bowl had filled in decently. There were still a lot of pockets of empty seats but overall I'd say the turnout was pretty good for a week night hip hop show in Nebraska. Any time the promoter offers a 4 for $100 ticket package you know it's probably not going to be a sell out. Still, the fans who showed up were ready to party.
Ice Cube and his DJ launched into "Natural Born Killer" getting the crowd on their feet quickly. Ice Cube stalked the stage with gangsta swagger throwing up the "Westside" sign and doing a little two-step. His rap flow was strong like he'd never lost a beat. I was having a blast tracking Ice Cube back and forth across the stage capturing some stunning moments. When I was editing through the gallery I was having a tough time choosing because he's so photogenic.
Between songs Ice Cube addressed the crowd, pretending to look down at a ticket. "I know what you guys were thinking when you got these tickets. Ying Yang Twins, ok. Bone Thugs, ok. Cypress Hill, alright, but Ice Cube? The guy from the movies? And the Basketball league, and the beer commercials? Does he still rap?" "You guys know I started gangsta rap right? I made my first record with Dr. Dre when I was only 16!" "Of course I can still bring it!" "You know what this crowd needs to do?" "You need to check yourself!" Ice Cube kicked into the song "Check Yourself" and it was everything I could've hoped for. I had a giant smile capturing the third song of our photo shoot as it was one of my all time hip-hop favorites.
Over the next hour Ice Cube treated the Lincoln crowd to a plethora of hits like "We Be Clubbin", "You Can Do It", "Friday" (complete with movie clip intro), "Straight Outta Compton" and of course "Good Day" where it's declared on a blimp that "Ice Cube's a pimp".
Though it was only Thursday Ice Cube had the whole crowd feeling like it was Friday night and they just got paid. We may never see an Ice Cube show in Nebraska again so I was incredibly grateful I was able to catch it. Thanks so much to Ice Cube's team and the Pinnacle Bank Arena for helping with photo coverage!
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