It was a good day for L. A.

N. W. A, Ken­drick La­mar cap­ture city’s rap history

Los Angeles Times - - POP & HISS - By Au­gust Brown au­gust. brown@ latimes. com

How sad that Ice Cube, MC Ren and DJ Yella could re­unite in 2015 to per­form N. W. A’s best- known ( and un­print­able) anti- po­lice an­them and have so much new footage of bru­tal­ity against young peo­ple of color to pro­ject on­stage.

The clips came from Fer­gu­son, Mo., Staten Is­land, N. Y., a McKin­ney, Texas, pool party and other places around Amer­ica. As the trio rapped about f ight­ing back against a cease­less po­lice state, stage­hands drove an LAPD car across the Sta­ples Cen­ter stage with its f lash­ers on.

It was a clas­sic bit of old- school hip- hop the­atrics but one that ev­ery­one in the arena felt acutely. So much has changed in Amer­ica since that 1988 sin­gle was re­leased. And yet, as that footage showed, so lit­tle has changed at all.

The re­turn of the inf lu­en­tial Comp­ton hip- hop group was the cen­ter­piece of Satur­day’s con­cert at Sta­ples Cen­ter as part of the week­end- long BET Ex­pe­ri­ence. It wasn’t a full re­turn: found­ing mem­ber Eazy- E died in 1995 of AIDS com­pli­ca­tions, and Dr. Dre con­tin­ued to keep his dis­tance with a new ca­reer as a bil­lion­aire mu­sic and head­phone mogul at Ap­ple.

But af­ter more than 25 years, N. W. A’s re­turn as part of an all- star bill un­der­lined how hip- hop crews have fun­da­men­tally changed the way L. A. de­fines it­self.

The night started with a con­tem­po­rary group that came out of N. W. A’s Comp­ton legacy but took it in a dif­fer­ent, more ref lec­tive di­rec­tion. Top Dawg En­ter­tain­ment, the la­bel that fos­tered Ken­drick La­mar, School­boy Q and a co­terie of other tal­ents, brought out most of its mar­quee names to open the show. J Rock and Ab- Soul haven’t had the chart suc­cess of La­mar and Q, but their brief show­cases un­der­scored how hav­ing a group of like- minded mu­si­cians could re­fine ev­ery­one’s in­di­vid­ual tal­ents.

New­comer Isa­iah Rashad shined in his quick set, while the charis­matic and f linty Q did his best to stir up a laid- back early crowd with hits like “Hands on the Wheel,” “Stu­dio” and “Col­lard Greens” (“This ain’t no jazz con­cert,” he gibed, though, to be fair, it was just past 8 p. m.).

La­mar breezed through a set of hits from his break­through 2012 al­bum, “good kid, m. A. A. d. city.” His 2015 fol­low- up, “To Pimp a But­ter­fly,” is per­haps the year’s most in­stantly ac­claimed LP, but its dips into jazz fu­sion and meta- con­ver­sa­tions with Tu­pac Shakur might have been a harder sell at a trun­cated main­stream event like this. The funk bounce of “But­ter­fly’s” “King Kunta” and the disco swerve of “i” were pure joy, how­ever.

Snoop Dogg has set­tled into a sort of el­der states­man life: once a com­man­der of his genre, now a global am­bas­sador for peace and good­will. While Snoop has a sneak­ily good al­bum of trimmed- up funk called “Bush” out, his BET show culled from his ’ 90s G- funk hits, es­pe­cially those on his break­out LP, “Dog­gystyle.” Even though his messy set went heavy on guests ( in­clud­ing War­ren G, Ku­rupt, Too Short and Lady of Rage), it still felt like an L. A. house party gone charm­ingly off the rails.

When Ice Cube walked out to close the night, he opened with the sear­ing “Nat­u­ral Born Kil­laz,” a track that fea­tured Dr. Dre and of­fered a hope­ful sign he might show up af­ter all. Dre didn’t, in the end, but Cube took the oc­ca­sion to re- as­sert his own im­por­tance in the L. A. canon.

“This is my first time up in Sta­ples Cen­ter,” he ad­mit­ted.

If fans had thought he was off “get­ting high off that Coors light,” he joked ( ref­er­enc­ing his goof ball beer ad cam­paign), they’d be for­given — but cor­rected.

From N. W. A sta­ples like “Gangsta Gangsta” to solo hits “Check Yo Self,” Cube’s rangy set was a brac­ing tonic that ramped up an­tic­i­pa­tion for the forth­com­ing “Straight Outta Comp­ton” biopic. If that movie can cap­ture the mood and vi­tal­ity of the era’s mu­sic, as Cube did in his show, it will be a needed achieve­ment.

Though N. W. A’s set cen­ter­piece fea­tured a blast of frus­tra­tion at the po­lice, Cube ended with an even more beloved tune, “It Was a Good Day.” Af­ter so many gun­shots and anger re­flected in a decade- span­ning over­view of L. A. hip- hop, f in­ally some­thing smooth, slow- rolling and hope­ful to take us home.

Pho­tog r aphs by Luis Sinco Los An­ge­les Times


revs up the crowd Satur­day in a con­cert that cul­mi­nated in the re­union of N. W. A.


does his best to stir up the crowd at Sta­ples Cen­ter.

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