All words by Marcus Dowling
All photos from the Internet
“My debut album just hit number one, but I’m sure a lot of you are still wondering just who this light-skinned n**** is on stage. Well let me tell you my story…” – J. Cole, onstage at a sold out Fillmore Silver Spring
J. Cole graduated magna cum laude with a degree in communications from St. John’s University. By this fact alone, the success of the Fayetville, NC born emcee whose debut Roc Nation album Cole World: The Sideline Story sold nearly 250,000 domestic units in its first week, shouldn’t be a shock. The man is clearly acquainted with the concept that when talent is meticulously groomed to exceed expectation that excellence ensues.
Cole’s trajectory as a blog-friendly emcee is well known to rap fanatics. 2010’s Friday Night Lights mixtape was lauded by many hip hop insiders as of a higher quality than most top-tier artists’ albums. This was the apex of a five-year journey in which the rapper went from having the bright eyed visions of super-stardom to the narrow-eyed focus of a professional emcee demanding recognition and renumeration for his herculean efforts.
Cole’s hour-plus live set featured two keyboardists and the legendary DJ Dummy and exemplified hip hop’s latest crossover appeal. He combines the bar for bar lyrical excellence expected from all underground tested performers with a newfound ability to punctuate his efforts with tremendous, pop friendly hooks. Cole’s enormous fan base had already co-signed his likable demeanor and connective underdog tale. However, studying at Roc Nation and clearly observing the talents of label executive Jay-Z and his frequent Louis Vuitton clad collaborator Kanye West have proven effective if pushing him into the mainstream.
2011 hit single “Work Out” was the highlight of Cole’s set. The track builds uniquely, opening with the hook of Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” into yet another hook borrowed from the track that is interpolated for the melody, Kanye West’s “Workout Plan.” It’s a brilliant split-level effect that captures the entirety of rap music’s increasingly diverse fan base in a four-minute production.
Cole’s diction and elocution have largely improved as well. In prior performances, he has appeared to be laconic and unimpressive to those unaware of his mixtape legacy, mostly due to an inability to allow his voice to dominate over his tracks in the live realm. Cole has much to say, and a fun-loving, catchy way to say it, and his new found confidence in his voice added greatly to the performance. As growing in comfort as he is with hooks and producing radio friendly melodies, his bread and butter at the moment is having a rapier like wit and ice cold flow, which on tracks like 2010 marching band percussion driven heavy hitter “Who Dat,” was showcased.
J. Cole’s success proves that the children of the blog generation have matured into adults willing to financially support their lyrical heroes. However, this is not the end of the story. In being a battle-tested emcee now bearing the perfect pedigree, Cole is clearly once again at the head of the class.