I’ve been putting off doing this review for a few months now, and for that I apologize, so without any further ado, here it is:
On June 18th I had the distinct pleasure to see J. Cole perform at the Cone Denim Entertainment Center in Greensboro, NC. But before we get into that, let’s back things up for a minute.
This past December, Fayetteville’s own J. Cole released his 4th studio album entitled 4 Your Eyez Only. While a huge J. Cole fan, I admittedly enjoyed this album the least compared to his previous 3 albums. Now I’m not saying that the album is bad, or of any lesser quality, I just felt that as a whole it wasn’t as enjoyable as his previous works. Outside of “Neighbors”, there really aren’t any “hit singles” or mainstream friendly tracks that you find yourself wanting to play over and over again. However, this project has depth, and the concept behind it is quite personal. The album follows the story of a young man, as he goes from selling crack, to falling in love and starting a family. In the final track, it is revealed that he has died, and almost the entire album is a tape he created for his daughter to listen to after he’s gone. Listeners come to find out that this story is actually about a real life friend of Cole’s, and in that moment everything seems to come to a halt. Reality check. These aren’t made up stories to sell records. These are the struggles of everyday life for some people. People that while villainized by the media, are really just human, and trying to do the best that they can to provide for themselves and their families.
Back to the tour. When the dates were initially announced, I knew I had to attend one of the shows. The first 13 dates would take place in smaller, more intimate venues and there would only be Dreamville artists as scheduled opening acts. The next set of dates would take place in arenas across the US, with Bas and Anderson .Paak set to open. And the final leg of the tour would go across the pond to large venues throughout Europe.
I personally enjoy shows at smaller venues for the intimate experience. There’s nothing wrong with arena tours at all (I go to those too), it’s just how I feel. So when the presale tickets went up, I was scouring Livenation for tickets to the closest smaller venue show. After battling bots online for roughly 10 minutes and temporarily losing my mind thinking I would never get tickets, I landed 2 seats to a show in Greensboro, NC at a venue that holds roughly 2,000-3,000 people. I was ecstatic.
Fast forward a few weeks, and my wife and I are making the one and a half hour trip from Charlotte to Greensboro, bumping nothing by J. Cole the entire way. We made our way into the venue after catching a few drinks with some of her college friends in that neck of the woods, and found our seats. You could feel a buzz in the room. J. Cole was back in NC, performing songs about providing for your family and the joy of having a daughter, on Father’s Day. The anticipation was real.
After Dreamville artists (and opening acts) Lute, Ari Lennox, and J.I.D [who has made quite a buzz for himself with his debut album, The Never Story] cleared the stage, Jermaine came to the stage ushered in by a roar from the crowd. Not a single person was sitting down. He greeted the crowd with a crooked smile, and began to go through his set. One thing I’ve always thought about J. Cole is that no matter how the song may feel or sound when you listen to it in your car, or on your phone, when you see it performed live, it’s completely different. For example, the song “Ville Mentality” is slow, and a bit depressing. It’s not a song you would really look forward to hearing at a show. When performed live though, Cole gets the audience involved and has them singing along and you no longer have those same thoughts. J. Cole gets slapped with the “boring rapper” tag to the point where it’s almost a meme, but his live performances are truly top notch. I’ve been to 85+ shows spanning many genres of music, and he is consistently one of, if not the best showman that I’ve seen. He finds a way to transform his sound and somehow make everything enjoyable. I’m obviously a bit biased here, but I think what makes this possible is that during the show, you realize how likeable of a person Cole really is. The banter with the crowed throughout the show gives you a feel for the kind of person he is. So as the show goes on, you want to like everything, even if you didn’t when you initially stepped through the venue’s doors. He’s a genuine, down to earth guy, and I think that makes it very easy for an audience to relate to him.
With regard to the set, Cole had a little bit of everything in store for us. He played songs from each of his 4 albums, including “Lights Please”, “Nobody’s Perfect”, “Power Trip”, “No Role Modelz”, “A Tale of 2 Citiez” and “Love Yourz”. One of the songs I was looking forward to the most was “Neighbors”, and Cole did not disappoint. IMO, these are all fantastic songs and I love each and every one of them, however the moment that really struck me was his final song.
Cole performed the title track to his most recent album, “4 Your Eyez Only” in its 9+ minute entirety. He told fans that he wouldn’t be returning for any encore, so
“if you don’t want to hear somebody running through some real sh*t for eight minutes and really give you a story, this is your time to beat the traffic.”
It was heartfelt, and simply raw. The ending line was really what got me when I first listened to the song, and hearing it live had the same affect: “Yo daddy was a real n*gga cause he loved you”. Powerful stuff right there.
The tour is still going on right now in the US, so if you have the ability to catch one of his upcoming shows, I would strongly suggest making it happen. If you’re any kind of hip-hop fan, even if you don’t like J. Cole’s music that much, get yourself a cheap seat in the nosebleeds to one of the dates and go in with an open mind. What I said previously will really start to make a lot more sense.