Live Review: Ice Cube, Cypress Hill and AB Original rock Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena (26.03.23)

Ice Cube’s reputation as one of the signature artists of hip hop and an architect of the culture is not up for debate. The famously barbed and politically-charged emcee played a significant part in solidifying hip-hop as a vehicle for sweeping cultural commentary, change and documentation throughout the 90s. Hence, an Ice Cube concert is more than just another headline gig from a legendary Golden Era rapper.

It’s an insightful look into the career of a man who has pushed hip-hop in necessary and dramatic ways. Much like Kanye West, JAY Z, Eminem or fellow NWA founder Dr Dre, Cube is responsible for a large slice of DNA that has gone on to influence rappers throughout history.

Case in point: Briggs.

The Indigenous rapper has long been seen as lightning rode and a fierce commentator on some of Australia’s most important cultural conversations. Along with equally adept emcee Trials, they form the first support act of the evening: AB Original.

Truth by told, I wasn’t too excited by The Game’s inclusion on this line up of hip hop legends, so AB Original stepping in to replace the last-minute drop-out was some nice news. The comparison I made between Briggs and Ice Cube is no accident, and this is felt most heavily with the caustic “Bad Apples,” contextualising pain and rebellion in the face of unscrupulous authorities and oppression. Briggs’ delivery is forceful and completely appropriate for the tune’s seismic riff, matching the pace of AB’s other bangers which fit well with Cube’s foray – we’re talking the West Coast inspired bounce of “January 26” to the volcanic thump of “2 Black 2 Strong.”

Then it was on to Cypress Hill, a group that could have easily headlined the entire night based on reputation alone. Much like Cube, Cypress Hill have been out to Australia many times before and has always managed to put on muscular, memorable shows that quash any cries of irrelevancy.

Yes, the pioneering South Gate locals may lack the star power they once embodied but there’s no mistaking their vitality once loud, stadium-worthy jams like “Rock Superstar” and “Insane In The Brain” are elevated by a tight live band who know exactly how to fuse hip hop with big, powerful rock.

As for Cube. The headliner didn’t pull one of those overly indulgent moves and rely too heavily on medleys or fill the set list with Mount Rushmore songs (although a few from the excellent supergroup album would have gone a long way). Instead, Cube gave us a very greatest hits set, much like he did the past few times I’ve seen him out here.

And that says a lot.

For an artist to really sync with their legacy and enjoy performing old songs for new fans is really rare to see. Cube relishes in his older material in a way a hardcore fan would be immensely satisfied with. Songs like “Wicked” and “What Can I Do?” were pleasant surprises, as was “Friday” and racous opener “Natural Born Killaz.”

The weakest moments were the more mainstream ones. “Why We Thugs” was always one of Cube’s weakest hits and only really popular amongst those who would ride around Parramatta blasting “How We Do” in the mid-2000s, wearing gang colours and awkwardly throwing up sets despite having never even set foot in L.A. “You Can Do It,” as timeless as it is, felt squashed towards the end of the set and more obligatory than anything else. The absence of anything from Cube’s iconic debut album, AmeriKKKas Most Wanted was defeating and not even signature song “The N**ga Ya Love To Hate” was on the set list.

There were others. “Gangster Rap Made Me Do It” represents Cube in his more tired years, as does the lazy “Aint Got No Haters.” These are songs which could have made way for some of the aforementioned or deeper cuts like “When Will They Shoot?” or “I Rep That West” (one of the better songs from his latter career).

Furthermore, although it has been 30 years since Lethal Injection, only three songs from Cube’s fourth studio album were included on the set list. There was “Bop Gun” of course and also “You Know How We Do It” and “What Can I Do?” I imagine the latter wouldn’t have made the cut if its album wasn’t celebrating a milestone, but the other two are signature Cube songs. I would have imagined some deeper cuts from the album like “Down For Whatever” or “Ghetto Bird.”

And yet, it’s hard not to be completely satisfied with Cube’s set. This is a man who’s always going to be welcome on stage by any discerning hip hop fan, whether that at the more intimate Sydney Opera House or the overbearing Qudos Bank Arena.


The author attended this concert as a guest.

Chris Singh

Chris Singh is an Editor-At-Large at the AU review, loves writing about travel and hospitality, and is partial to a perfectly textured octopus. You can reach him on Instagram: @chrisdsingh.