LL Cool J's Kings of the Mic tour at Target Center, 5/30/13
|via Facebook, Kings of the Mic tour did not allow photography for Target Center|
With LL Cool J, Ice Cube, Public Enemy and De La Soul
Target Center, Minneapolis
Thursday, May 30, 2013
LL Cool J is 45 years old, and wearing it well. As he stalked the stage at Target Center as the final performer of the Kings of the Mic Tour, he seemed keenly aware that his powers over an audience had changed since his mid-'80s breakout. Certainly, a NCIS TV star who has received most of his headlines of late for a collaboration with country star Brad Paisley called "Accidental Racist" couldn't possibly be seen as the guy who once penned the scathing pop-star diss "Rock the Bells." But they are one and the same.
"Tell me where you were when this was going on," he purred as the intro played for the bigger and softer 1987 hit "I Need Love." And, then someone behind Gimme Noise shouted, "I wasn't born yet!" And, over the course of the night, a crowd of (mostly) aged hip-hop fans got to relive the songs of their youth, and have a few laughs about how serious it all seemed at the time.
Starting the trip down memory lane was De La Soul, who were given a sliver of stage to work with since all three acts to follow them already had their stage equipment set up behind them. Dave and Posdnuos sometimes worked (and sometimes just stood there) with what little space they had to get the still-arriving crowd involved in the night. Before wrapping up with a participation-heavy "Me Myself and I," their enduring 1989 hit, they elicited cheers from the crowd based upon their age group. Mercifully, they stopped asking once they reached "35 and up," which received a thunderous response from a crowd that had smuggled far less contraband substances in their underwear than they probably would've a decade ago.
The red crosshairs appeared above as the large Public Enemy ensemble -- a full band and a couple of dancers in military camo fatigues -- took the stage next. Both wearing comfortable mesh basketball shorts, Chuck D and a clock-free Flavor Flav were free to bounce around the stage and made efficient use of their time -- and were sure to make it known that they were fresh inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After a rapid-fire "911 Is a Joke," which featured Chuck wielding his mic like a Louisville Slugger, "Welcome to the Terrordome" brought the highest pleasure of the set. Flavor Flav on slap bass can only be topped by Flavor Flav on the drums, which came about later during "Timebomb." Though their energy came and went, Public Enemy stayed focused through set-closer "Fight the Power," and got their dancers down on the stage doing pushups.
"Minnesota, can we kick it gangsta tonight?" asked Ice Cube, as he and hype man WC hit the stage. Though black-clad Cube occasionally looked a tad winded as he moved through the now sizable performance area, the infectious G-funk that he helped form throughout the '90s got the audience finally comfortable enough that their concealed weed started wafting through the room. (And for the people who were obviously just smoking regular cigarettes indoors at this point, shame on you.) As expensive music videos from years past rolled above him, including a couple of N.W.A. montages from when Cube was just a teenager, one thing has remained solid -- when this rapper needs to scowl, it's always there for him. It proved effective during "Why We Thugs," and a quick run-through of his verses off "Straight Outta Compton" and "Gangsta Gangsta."
But Cube loves working a crowd, and so the set eventually settled into call-and-response moments set to the backdrop of hits like "You Know How We Do It" and "Bop Gun." After a brief tribute to the departed Nate Dogg, "Gangsta Nation" signaled the inflation of two enormous hands, each forming a "W." It was ridiculous, and served as the perfect opportunity for Ice Cube to get maniacal with his dance moves. Of course "It Was a Good Day" was where things blissfully ended, and this audience ate it up.
DJ Z-Trip warmed up the crowd for a few minutes with an all-inclusive mix of hip-hop that has reigned in pop culture over the past three decades before LL Cool J finally elevated to the stage behind him. Working without a hype man, and with only a gilded mic stand he never touched and some roses to hand out to female fans, the rapper who is closing in on 30 years as a star performer made it clear that every era of his career is part of who he is.