J. Cole – 4YEO World Tour

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.

4YEO Tour Poster

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.

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J. Cole: The Forest Hills Drive Tour

FHD Tour Poster

FHD Tour Poster

Last night I had the opportunity to witness my favorite artist, J. Cole, put on one of the most entertaining and heartfelt performances that I’ve ever seen or experienced. Because he is my favorite artist, I am a bit biased, so I’ll try to keep things as objective as possible. I just can’t make any promises. For those that don’t know, J. Cole has been headlining the Forest Hills Drive Tour across the nation to support his latest album of the same name. The tour was composed of 3 Acts:

Act 1: Hometown – Cole and his crew of Dreamville artists (Cozz, Omen and Bas) played smaller venues throughout the country.

Act 1

Act 1

Act 2: The Journey – Cole’s second leg of the tour went abroad and featured Jhené Aiko and Pusha T.

Act 2

Act 2

Act 3: Hollywood – The final leg of Cole’s tour came back to the US and now went to much larger venues than Act 1. This leg of the tour picked up Jeremih, YG and Big Sean as supporting acts.

Act 3

Act 3

Last night’s show was part of Act 3, which is drawing to a close and will rightfully be wrapping up August 29th in Cole’s hometown of Fayetteville, NC.

The show began around 6:30pm with Cole’s crew of Dreamville artists: Cozz, Omen and Bas. I was still tailgating in the parking lot when these guys started to perform so I did miss their set. However, I was able to get to the show in time to catch the next act: YG!

Bompton’s own came out while the crowd was still filing in but held down a respectable mini set that was about 8-10 songs deep. The majority of his songs all stemmed from his 2014 Grammy snubbed album, My Krazy Life. However, he did sprinkle in a few throwbacks/crowd pleasers such as “Toot It & Boot It”. I was pleasantly surprised when YG performed his newest single from his upcoming sophomore album, “Twist My Fingaz”. It’s got a sound that instantly makes you think of Snoop Dogg or Dr. Dre in the early 90’s, gold 88 spoke Dayton rims and low-riders cruising the block in the California sunshine. Seriously, YG couldn’t be more west coast if he tried.

YG

YG

Next up was Jeremih. I have some Jeremih songs here and there on my iPod, but the majority of the songs I have feature him on the hooks. Jeremih got us all together in his Delorean and cranked it to 87 because he took us all the way back to 2009 with his smash hit “Birthday Sex”. This wasn’t the only trick Jeremih had up his sleeves though. Natalie La Rose made a surprise guest appearance and they performed their joint hit “Somebody” that’s taking over pop radio. And the crown jewel of his set for me was his DJ Mustard produced hit, “Don’t Tell ‘Em” which he performed last, with a little help from YG who came back to the stage to do his verse.

After Jeremih’s set ended, an intermission began. The stage hands got to work putting up a new set for the next performer, Big Sean. We used this time to hit the restrooms, get a quick bite to eat, and of course refill the beverages which seemed to be disappearing at an alarming rate. Weird.

After all of that and a little bit of milling around, the fans were shown the new set which featured the front of a liquor store, aptly named “Paradise Liquor”. At that moment, the horns began on the Mike Will produced banger, “Paradise”. Big Sean immediately ripped into his first verse and the spotlights started going crazy. The energy level skyrocketed. He performed his second verse on the song as well and I have to say, it’s straight FIRE.

Sean went through a multitude of songs from various projects. Some were from Dark Sky Paradise, some were from Finally Famous: The Album, some were from GOOD Music’s Cruel Summer and some were from Hall of Fame. Honestly, Big Sean put down one hell of a performance. The crowed was into it and you could see him feeding off of the energy. Not every song played was necessarily a banger or wildly popular radio hit though. Sean took a moment to get personal with the fans when he played “One Man Can Change the World” during which the fans held up lighters/cell phones to illuminate the sky. It was a pretty cool moment. To be quite honest, I wasn’t expecting somebody as big as Big Sean to be an opener. He’s probably not too far off from having tours of his own at venues like these, so adding him to the lineup was absolutely a gift to the fans. I wasn’t able to get great photos of Sean Don, but I did nab some off of his IG account:

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And of course the obligatory video of “IDFWU”.

After another set change, the time had come for Carolina’s finest. The intro on FHD started playing and J. Cole came out to an uproar of applause. From that point on, Cole went song by song through his entire album. THE WHOLE ALBUM (except “Note to Self”). Things went wayyyy up went he played “A Tale of Two Citiez”.

Another moment that really got the crowd’s attention was during “Fire Squad” where Cole rearranged a few of the lyrics. In the song, his line is:

“This year I’ll prolly go to the awards dappered down
Watch Iggy win a Grammy as I try to crack a smile”

Vs. what he actually said:

“Watch Iggy lose a Grammy as a n*gga crack a smile”

See if you can catch it:

After this, Cole switched things up and detoured from FHD to some throwbacks which got a huge response from the crowd and sparked a sing-a-long to “Lights Please” and the hook of “Nobody’s Perfect”. After those songs it was back to business, and he continued to perform the remainder of the album. It wasn’t just a show for Cole though. He didn’t just go from one song to the next to the next and say thanks for coming out at the end. He took the time to share personal stories with the fans between songs that really gave you a glimpse of who he is as a person, which in turn makes you appreciate his music that much more. I think one of the songs I appreciate the most is “Love Yourz”, which truly has a special meaning for anyone going through hard times. It’s inspiring and makes you realize how blessed you are to have the people currently in your life, in your life. Cole ended his set with that song and since it was dark outside, it was to the illumination of cellphones and lighters once again.

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Cole said his goodbyes and proceeded to exit the stage. He might have fooled me if this was the first time I had seen him perform. Jermaine is a sucker for an encore performance, especially when 20,000 people are all chanting his name. He came back out and played 5 more songs for us, including another appearance from Jeremih when they did their song “Planes”. Cole ended the night with “Crooked Smile” and “Power Trip”, both of which are classics in my book.

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Thinking back on it all, I truly think this may have been the best performance I’ve seen from him. His ability to go back and forth with the fans has gotten better which each tour and there’s no down time or awkward pauses during the show – it’s completely fluid. You’re standing on your feet with your hands raised above your head singing and rapping along to all the songs and before you know it, an hour and a half has gone by – in the blink of an eye. I think that speaks volumes about his stagemanship and the way that he has mastered his craft. Those abilities combined with the way that he addresses the fans through his stories between songs really makes you feel connected with him and gives you a feeling of being comfortable with him – like he’s a friend of yours that you haven’t seen in a while and you’re just happy to see each other and start catching up – it’s all good vibes and positive energy with Cole.

On a more personal note, it still blows my mind to think back on the journey that he’s made with his career. 3-4 years ago I can still remember going to see him perform for the first time at the Fillmore in Charlotte – a venue that sells out at 2,000 people. His first studio album dropped 2 weeks prior to the show, so he was playing music from that as well as his Friday Night Lights mixtape. There were even a few gems from the Warm Up tossed in the show. Fast forward a few years and he’s performing material from his sophomore album in venues like UNCC’s Halton Arena that holds somewhere around 7,000 people for concerts. One year later brings us to last night’s show, and now Cole is performing at a venue that holds 20,000 people. I heard two weeks ago that Cole even sold out Madison Square Garden – 30,000 fans. It’s pretty incredible to sit back and reflect on it all: the music, the growth, the maturity and the message. He truly is one of a kind.

On the off chance that there are any haters out there still reading this who might say Cole is boring, his music will put you to sleep, etc: go to a show. I guarantee your opinion will change.

Lastly, for those curious, I do have the entire Forest Hills Drive Tour Setlist:

YG

1. BPT
2. Just Wanna Party
3. Do It To Ya
4. Bicken Back Bein Bool
5. B*tches Ain’t Shit
6. Twist My Fingaz
7. My N*gga
8. Who Do You Love?

Jeremih

1. Down On Me
2. Imma Star
3. “Somebody” w/ Natalie La Rose
4. Hook from MMG/Wale’s “That Way”
5. Hook from MMG’s “Body Like a Benz”
6. Hook from DJ Khaled’s “Hold You Down”
7. Birthday Sex
8. Don’t Tell Em w/ YG

Big Sean

1. Paradise
2. All Your Fault
3. Verse from Good Music’s “Clique”
4. Ass (Dance)
5. Play No Games
6. My Last
7. Beware
8. I Know
9. Verse from Good Music’s “Mercy”
10. Verse from Good Music’s “Don’t Like”
11. One Man Can Change the World
12. Blessings
13. Stay Down
14. Marvin & Chardonnay
15. Verse from Drake’s “All Me”

J. Cole

1. FHD Intro
2. January 28th
3. Wet Dreamz
4. 03 Adolescence
5. Tale of 2 Citiez
6. Fire Squad
7. St. Tropez
8. Lights Please
9. In the Morning
10. Nobody’s Perfect
11. GOMD
12. No Role Modelz
13. Hello
14. Apparently
15. Love Yourz

Encore

16. Can’t Get Enough
17. Planes w/ Jeremih
18. Workout
19. Crooked Smile
20. Power Trip

J. Cole: 2014 Forest Hills Drive

I don’t normally do a lot of album or mixtape reviews, but J. Cole is an artist that has truly been very special to me. So without any further ado, here’s my take on 2014 Forest Hills Drive.

From an unknown artist early in the 2000’s, J. Cole (then the Therapist) has come to be a household name in the hip-hop industry today and his rise from albeit cliché, rags to riches, is a journey laden with clever wordplay, a storytelling technique capable of painting Picasso-esque pictures in one’s mind, and most importantly a deeply rooted aura of loyalty and homage to family and friends who made said journey possible. He has remained humble to this day (evidenced in Cole’s “Note To Self”) and has always gone out of his way to show his appreciation for the dedicated fans supporting him.

At this point in Cole’s career, simply put, we’ve seen Cole make it. That in itself creates a sense of pride in those of us who’ve been listening to him since the days of Friday Night Lights, The Warm Up, and even the Come Up. In a nutshell, here we have a boy from a fatherless home in little known Fayetteville, NC make it to NYC and land a record deal with mogul Jay-Z and Roc Nation Records – Unreal. But for the listeners who have been listening for some time now, this is no new story. It’s one that’s become engrained in us and has engineered a bond between listener and musician – to the extent that we, the listener, have made that journey with Cole. His successes became our successes. His failures became our failures. We are one. And the most recent success that J. Cole has had is his 3rd studio album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive.

If I had to describe Forest Hills Drive in a single word, it would be “homecoming”. I believe Cole to some level envisioned his move to NYC as one that would lead him to the success that every up and comer wants – the money, the fortune, the fame…Hollywood. Obviously his songs aren’t as materialistic as some of the hip-hop/rap you hear on Power 98/102 Jamz, etc., but I think it’s only natural for one who doesn’t have much to associate success with those things. Take a look at the intro video for FHD. This is almost a flashback to Cole after just arriving in NYC and looking at all the nice things he can’t have, yearning for them, desiring them.

With the success of Cole World: The Sideline Story and more recently Born Sinner, Cole got those things. But those items and possessions didn’t fill the void that he had inside. And that’s where I come back to this homecoming theme. Cole left Fayetteville to land a deal and chase a dream – to get all of the things that he wanted, that he had ever dreamed of getting. What he came to discover was that what he really wanted but just didn’t realize it at the time (and I don’t mean to be corny), was love – something that he came to know back in Fayetteville, NC. This whole album is really a journey where we see Cole telling us how he has matured artistically from a hungry dreamer to someone who has realized what’s really important in life – the people that surround you in it. Cole uses this album as a way to invite us into his own life and share experiences with us that are very personal to him. He makes himself vulnerable to the audience by doing so and I think that makes us gravitate to him. Whether you like or dislike Cole, I think you have to respect that.

I think one of the songs that illustrates this idea is “Apparently”. Not only does Cole get into real life issues that any one of us could have – home foreclosure, lack of emotion, selfishness – but he manages to include some of the clever wordplay that grabbed our attention from the get go with the “Cole is your phone on 0%. Going off. Now a n*gga showing off…..” There’s a video for this one as well.

However, the track that really brought it home for me was “Love Yourz”. I won’t go into great detail on it because I feel that listening to is has more of an impact, but the line “Always gon’ be a bigger house somewhere, but n*gga feel me, long as the people in that motherf*cker love you dearly.” Cole has realized what really is important in life, which is something all of us need to see.

Reading this, it’s probably not too hard to tell that I’m a supporter of J. Cole. I think the way that he can put his words together, cleverly align them, is unparalleled in the industry. The way he can be so genuine, so real, is something that I think listeners immensely appreciate. However, my opinion is simply that, my opinion. But numbers don’t lie. And selling 375,000 copies of his album in one week, with NO SINGLES, is something that will be raising eyebrows across the hip-hop industry this week. He’s a force to be reckoned with and will be dominating the charts for the forseeable future. I sincerely hope that you take a few minutes to listen to what Cole has to say, he won’t disappoint. #ColeWorld.