J Cole at Vicar Street, Dublin 11th of December 2013
J Cole likes to talk about his influences a lot. On his second album ‘Born Sinner’, the North Carolina MC manages to drop references to Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, 2Pac, Nas, Kanye West, Outkast, A Tribe Called Quest, P Diddy, 50 Cent… the list goes on. While this may point to a lack of originality, it also shows that he is confident enough to mention his name alongside the greats.
Also, whatever he may lack in originality, he more than makes up for with catchy songwriting, excellent production and a fairly relatable personality. With the prevalence of dark, trap-style rap at the moment, it is refreshing to hear J. Cole’s throwback soul-influenced production, which he mainly handles himself.
The fact that he is a producer as well as a rapper hints that he probably knows how to put a good show together and luckily for the crowd that packed out Vicar Street, this turns out to be the truth. A lot of rappers are happy to just rehash their rhymes on stage over a backing track but J. Cole brings a full band with him that gives his music a harder edge than on record. His songs tend to be fairly laidback but he aggressively flows through everything with much more gusto here, in between sips of Hennessy.
The show naturally leans towards his new album but he peppers it with enough of his older songs to keep the die-hard fans on his side. Early highlights include Nobody’s Perfect and Workout, the latter featuring some excellent Bon-Jovi style talkbox warbling from the keyboard player. Newer tracks like Forbidden Fruit go down just as well. It takes an excellent memory to recall every lyric in these songs but a good portion of the crowd manage to chant back these tunes word-for-word.
The band are excellent on the night and each are given a short solo to demonstrate their talents. Cole is a rapper notably low on ego and doesn’t mind receding from the spotlight, for a few minutes anyway. It’s a professional set-up and there is room for a bit of humour; when bringing out support act BAS for the song Lit he tells the audience “Don’t cheer for him. He’s not a good person.”
It was a bit of a charm offensive all night, J. constantly mentioning how he chose to end his tour in Dublin and bringing up his distant Irish roots. By the time the show reaches the singalong highlights Lights Please and Can’t Get Enough it would be difficult not to get caught up in the energy. For the encore, he saves his two biggest singles, the soulful Power Trip and the TLC-featuring Crooked Smile which is as good an ending as one could hope for.
Although J Cole doesn’t have the back-catalogue of hits that his label boss Jay-Z could fall back on at his recent O2 performance, it was mightily impressive that this concert was every bit as enjoyable as that one. With Kanye West going on his weekly rants recently, Cole is a refreshingly modest and intelligent presence by contrast who can put on a show to match the best of them. Hopefully he’ll gradually stop namedropping his influences in the future because, if this show is anything to go by, he’s talented enough to make it on his own name.