2017 marked the year that the combined duo of Hip-Hop/RnB overtook Rock as the most popular genre. Well, in America at least.
As that tectonic shift gradually makes its way over here with the spring of our own Hip-hop/RnB movement, one J. Cole arrived into town to begin the first of three dates to mark in your diary that will see Bryson Tiller and Kendrick Lamar also play the 3 Arena in the coming months.
Buoyed by the success of last year’s ‘4 Your Eyez Only’, (his fourth album to go platinum) there was much anticipation surrounding the North Carolinian’s headline date.
The issue of police brutality and racial profiling is one of the most contentious issues in the States at the minute. And alongside fellow big-hitters, Run the Jewels and Kendrick Lamar, J Cole leads the way in denouncing these injustices.
Cole’s stage dressing reflects this with a dilapidated prison set spread across the stage. And if anybody was left in any doubt about Cole’s political stance there could be no ambiguity when the rapper entered the stage through a cell door in an orange jumpsuit.
Bellowing out the first notes to For Whom the Bell Tolls, the opening track from ‘4 Your Eyez…’, time seemed to stop. There was something emotionally gripping about beginning with this. Cole starts, stuttering, “I See the-I see the…Rain pouring down”, a piece of pathetic fallacy so simple on the surface but sang so passionately and with such anguish.
The man before them, adorned in prison garb with dreadlocks hanging over his eyes singing about feeling claustrophobic and suicidal thoughts was the embodiment of what it’s like being a black man in America.
Also touching on topics of gender expectations (“Niggas from the hood is the best actors / We the ones that gotta wear our face backwards / Put your frown on before they think you’re soft / Never smile long or take your defence off / Acting tough so much we start to feel hard.”), J Cole has signified what it’s like being paranoid in suburban America and having that pressure to adhere to strict gender practices.
The command he possesses on stage is astounding, his showmanship captivating. Able to carry the audience in the palm of his hand equally through stompers, slow jams and each anecdote, this performance was inspiring.
Déjà Vu was the obvious party starter (“Club jumping, don’t stop, off top/But you know we only got ‘til 2 o’clock/Put your motherfuckin’ hood up, it’s the weekend”) A decidedly more bragadicioed affair, it really kicked the tempo up. However, he was still able to take it back down, almost on command, his crowd interaction both articulate and well-timed.
One of the highlights of the evening came courtesy of a drawn-out rendition of Neighbours during which he stopped to show video footage of the police raiding his family home after one of his neighbours alleged that he was selling “dope”.
During the video, police can be seen tampering with his family’s property and greatly intimidating them. Aside from this being a powerful visual tool, it led to one of the most succint but emotionally-charged singalongs of the evening.
Of the slower moments, Ville Mentality was beautifully captured, wonderfully bridging the gap between the classsical and the abrasive.
There was plenty to cheer for as far as old Cole went too, the adolescent macho-aiiming, Wet Dreamz and ‘Cole World: The Sideline Story’’s Nobody’s Perfect both receiving rapturous applause.
If there were to be any criticisms it would be that at times the songs may be underproduced, but that only highlights Cole’s accomplished flow even further.
Overall, a very successful outing, one carried out with both self-confidence and self-deprecation in equal measure. J Cole’s standing will only improve further as his career continues.