Our friends at HipHopCanada.com did this in-depth review of the recent J. Cole show in Calgary, AB. Check the original post here or read on.
On Jan. 17, the good people over at The Union and Two Towers brought J. Cole’s ‘What Dreams May Come Tour’ to Calgary. The show was slated to go down at the Big Four Building. But several weeks prior to the show, the venue relocated to the BMO Centre (because of high-demand for the Born Sinner).
Our HHC prairies team (Sarosh Rizvi and Sarah Sussman) has been known to do some pretty fun tag-team interviews. We weren’t able to get an interview with J. Cole this time around, so we decided to tag-team a show review instead. And that is how The Unterview came to fruition. See how it all went down after the jump.
Sarah Sussman: Doors opened at 7 p.m. and the evening started off with opening support from DJ Gummi, Dan Major, and New’L. At 8:30 p.m., Dreamville’s own Bas took the stage for a short opening set. Bas is based in Queens and dropped his extensive 16-track Quarter Water Raised Me Vol. II project in 2013. After his set, Bas moseyed over to the stage barrier and greeted his adoring fans. He took photos, he shook hands, and he had the biggest grin on his face. Few people go to a J. Cole show to watch the opening support. So any fan-love is good love. And Bas raked it in.
Just after 9:15 p.m., the lights dimmed and the stage lit up, revealing Cole’s live band. There were keyboard players, a drummer, a guitarist, two backup vocal ladies, and then some. Solid. And then the Born Sinner emerged on to the stage. And everyone lost it.
Sarosh Rizvi: And here’s where my expectations for the show went up tenfold. Every rapper should perform with a live band. It automatically adds texture and depth to the performance and this was no exception.
Sarah Sussman: Cole had a bottle of Hennessy that he strategically consumed throughout the duration of his opening track, “Trouble.” That’s right— a whole bottle of Henny. All to himself. Consequently, he ended up tipsy tripping all over during his choreography. I always fancied J. Cole as one of those really cool suave dudes. You know, the kind that never trips, regardless of the quantity of alcohol in his system. But he was slopping around with his tongue out, and flailing about with some dance moves that I could (possibly potentially) top in the club. But it made me realize that J. Cole is actually kind of down-to-earth. And regardless of said awkward dancing, the dude has great stage presence. He has spot-on hand positioning on the microphone. He’s a rapper, but he works the stage like a rock star. After “Trouble,” J. Cole went on to perform “LAnd of the Snakes” (off Born Sinner), and “Blow Up” (off the Friday Night Lights mixtape).
Sarosh Rizvi: Drake. Yeah, this was the first point (among a few) in the night where I really started to see parallels between Jermaine Cole and Drizzy Drake. Drake’s show from a couple months back was full of stumbles, fall-backs and strange dances (that made you think of the actor and not the MC). Cole did that throughout the night, too – emphasizing lyrics by acting them out subtlety on stage. Good showmanship, for sure. But awfully Drakey.
Sarah Sussman: This is so true. But you know what? This whole soft MC thing seems to be trending in 2014. And Drake’s the poster child for soft rap. So I’m not complaining. I think that’s my demographic, anyways. The best part of the opening portion of the show was when J. Cole performed “Work Out.” It didn’t really get a huge crowd response. But “Work Out” is my jam. It is one of the first songs that made me feel things. Then Cole performed “Runaway.” It’s a solid track. But whenever he gets on that hook, I get Kanye West déjà vu, circa My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Afterwards, Cole performed “She Knows,” followed by “Forbidden Fruit.” Sans Kendrick Lamar, of course. It’s a very provocative song. It’s all Adam and Eve, and drippy fruit juices. And it gave the permission that the show attendees needed in order to begin their sloppy concert-going pursuits.
Sarosh Rizvi: The funny thing about this show, as it went on, was that it really became an accurate analogy for Cole’s career. He came out killing and delivered from the first track onwards. Any track throughout the night you could take a step back from and just take a second to see that Cole’s live flow is phenomenal. Like, studio phenomenal. He’s an MC’s MC, who just happens to be massive. The show started off well and kept up the same way throughout the whole show. No complaints on that. But at some point, it got a little same old. No major downturns or upswings. The music stayed good and the performance solid. But no way I was the only one whose mind started to wander as I lost focus and began thinking of other forms of entertainment.
Sarah Sussman: I think it was at this point when I saw people in the audience going outside for cigarette breaks. And making out. And doing other stuff. And evidently I stopped paying attention to the show because I was keeping tabs on the people going out to smoke, and the people exchanging bodily fluids. So I appreciated the change of pace when J. Cole brought Bas backup on stage for a duo performance of “Lit” off Bas’ Quarter Water Raised Me Vol. II. But poor Bas. Dude got upstaged on his own track. The performance consisted of J. Cole dropping mad rhymes while Bas was demoted to the role of hype man. Not even kidding. He just kind of stared at J. Cole’s greatness and let out a few “Yeahs” and “Yeeughs.”
And then J. Cole made some remarks as Bas exited the stage. Apparently at every show along the What Dreams May Come Tour, J. Cole discourages the audience from clapping for Bas. Gut-instinct tells me that there is some uber hilarious bromance joke between the two of them that we’re all missing out on. But it comes across as a bit uncouth, on Cole’s behalf.
Then we got into the part of the show where J. Cole asked the crowd for suggestions as to which song he should perform next. But let’s be real here: most of the concertgoers were fresh-on-the-Cole bandwagon. Which means they came to hear every hit song off of Born Sinner. Which means they had already sat through 13 tracks, and were just itching to hear “Let Nas Down.” But Cole hammed everyone up. There was crowd response voting, and everything. It was nice and democratic. Crowd response (surprisingly) almost favoured “Who Dat.” But J. Cole ended up performing “Let Nas Down” anyways. Solid showmanship— seemingly giving the crowd what they wanted while sticking to a predetermined set list.
Sarosh Rizvi: And here’s where I get all Poli-Sci nerdy on you. If you’ve looked into J. Cole’s set lists, or even just think about it for a second, you know he’s going to do “Let Nas Down” there. Only the crowd ate up the whole voting-by-crowd response bit. It was the flaw of democracy come-to-life at a J. Cole show. By giving the illusion of choice, you can mask yourself with the supposed transparency and keep everyone happy.
Sarah Sussman: Deep.
Sarosh Rizvi: We know they never rehearsed “Premeditated Murder,” but the 12 people rooting for it still left feeling like their track had a legitimate shot. Anyways, back on-topic, for a second. Cole killed crowd interaction throughout the night. From small talk to just sitting on his stool and creating an intimate connection with the fans, he had people eating out of his hand from the first track forward. I know I said earlier that when the curtains came down to reveal the band that first time, my expectations went up. But I also realized as it went on that not only was he great as an MC, but dude was solid as an entertainer, as well. You also don’t realize how sing-a-long-y his songs are. Again, the crowd eats that up. Does make you wonder why he never gets lumped as being too soft like some other rappers I can think of…
Sarah Sussman: You must be referring to the Drizzyness that is Drake. I think J. Cole is borderline. But he avoids getting lumped into the “soft” category by strategically releasing some pretty hard songs. Even watching him perform “Blow Up,” I was all like, “Oh my goodness. He is pretending to strangle himself with his chain.” It felt like a hard MC move to me. And that line, “Funny how money, chains and whips make me feel free.” I couldn’t picture Drake saying something like that.
The second-last song of the evening was “Crooked Smile.” Which is one of the best chick records of the year. Because it’s a giant metaphor for embracing imperfections. I hate to make another Drake comparison here, but whatever. YOLO. Remember that time when Drake made that track entitled “Best I Ever Had”? And he had that line: “Sweat pants/ Hair tied/ Chillin’ with no make-up on/ That’s when you’re the prettiest/I hope that you don’t take it wrong.” The Internet exploded over that song. Because Drake put everyone under the illusion that women in sweatpants, sans makeup was A) Sexy, B) The most beautiful thing ever, and C) Totally acceptable. I feel like “Crooked Smile” was the more realistic 2013 version of that. And then Cole finished up his set with a sad attempt at shouting out the crowd, à la Jay Z.
Sarosh Rizvi: Drake parallel #4.
Sarah Sussman: Ugh. Yes. Drake definitely did this at his show, too. I thought he did a better job at it. He was more specific with his details. Like, “I see you over there— girl with the curly hair, and the charcoal-hued OVO shirt. And the mole on the left side of your face” kind of thing. J. Cole was a bit more ambiguous in his descriptions. Regardless, it seems everyone is doing Hov these days. And every time a rapper tries to reciprocate this strategy, it feels a little lukewarm.
But the final track of the evening’s set was appropriate. “Power Trip.” It’s one of those heavy all-encompassing tracks, and it perfectly tied together the entire evening. It wasn’t one of those, “Is the show over? Or should we demand an encore?” moments. It was just over. And then everyone went to The Marquee and partied until 3 a.m. while J. Cole sat in V.I.P. and watched the sloppiness ensue.