Originally written Wednesday, Oct. 27.
Short & Brief: J. Cole will go down as a Rap Legend. Only he knows if his status is what he dreamed of when he started his pursuit at 13. And that’s his prerogative. Yet, from the bird’s eye view of the fans, his status is solidified. And it’s no longer this best-kept secret within the cosmos of Cole World. It’s LOUD AND CLEAR.
“I came to New York to be a rap legend. When I fell in love with the craft at 13 years old….”– J. Cole “The Audacity” The Player’s Tribune
I’m not sure where to begin. Attending “The Off-Season” tour on Monday was a gift I didn’t know I needed.
Now, let me explain. I planned on attending with the intent to get some coverage for a concert review. But, as a Cole fan — established in the summer leading into 8th grade fast-forward to 2021, and I’m 26, so you do the math — I knew I’d lose my cool in the arena.
While I was clear on that, I had no idea that my light would reignite.
I didn’t know I was due for a spark, honestly speaking.
You see, when I too was 13, I had a dream, and I found a light of possibility in J.Cole’s music. Mixtapes like The Warm Up and Friday Night Lights really meant something to me.
It was tangible proof that creativity and wordplay could be a profession. I fell in love with his music before anyone knew I wanted to write for a living.
“I get up,” “Just To Get By,” “Too Deep For The Intro,” “The Autograph,” and “Premeditated Murder” the list goes on as these songs felt dearer than any page of a diary.
Back then, as a young fan, needing to see his success as confirmation that my dreams were tangible, I asked big of J.Cole.
“Sharing things I think quietly/ with those that admire me
Remember MTV Diaries?/ This something like that
I wear my heart up on my sleeve/and I bleed for you
Cookin’ beats hoping to reach like each one you
When I release/ trust if you feel like my sh** is weak
When you see me on the street/ then speak/ I refund you,”– J. Cole ” Cole Summer”, Truly Yours 2
The enchantment of a J.Cole concert lies in the intimacy of the show. There are no smoke and mirrors, no gimmicks for your entertainment. Shoot, Cole dresses as casually as the audience, and he gets on stage and delivers bars.
The only catch is that you get to see his inextricable love for Hip Hop in the flesh.
And boy, is it a sight to see.
It shines brighter than any stage light, literally fluorescent in its essence. It beams.
It’s all organic. His stage presence is minimalistic, solely giving what he feels is necessary. Yet it’s the closest peek into his character you’ll probably get — as the rapper steers clear from interviews and opts out of using his social media platforms regularly.
To see him live is to embody his passion for the craft.
Whether you’re a fan or a nonbeliever, I guarantee you’ll walk away from his show with an appreciation for his devotion.
From the time he walked on the stage, he was present in the moment, dancing to the verses of guests Morray and Bas when it was their turn. Then, rushing to take brief sips of water while the band showed their talents with an exclusive song ending.
He never left.
Not to dabble into stan territory, but his voice cracked during his final goodbye, and I felt incredibly satisfied. I was delighted to see him leave it all on the stage. To know that he still cares about the money spent by fans, their thoughts, and criticism.
To me, that’s the brilliance of J.Cole. His success is something special because it’s hard-earned. Not to say the peak of any other rappers isn’t —such a statement would be foolish.
With Cole, it’s different, and I’m not saying that as a fan of his work, but as someone who grew up watching his rise in the industry. The ebbs and flows of his career were very public. We saw the album sales and tours that weren’t selling out. We saw the pivots he made in his career, and Monday, I saw Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan, SELL OUT for the second time.
All for a ‘conscious’ rapper that cares more about bars than anything that remotely resembles the glare of VVS’s.
“You know I feel ya pain/ that’s why I slang this hope sh**/ and give you lines that you rewind and think oh sh**/ these rappers talk a lot of money, cars, and h** sh**/ I give you that and a whole lot more sh**/ that got richer and still rapping like I’m poor sh**.J. Cole “The Autograph”, Friday Night Lights
I saw the very man —who told us these lines in 2010 — receive his flowers on Monday. Flowers from the fans who believed in his mission and craft all the while.
Now, as for the show itself, it was spotless! My only disappointment was 21 Savage’s absence. However, it wasn’t a complete drawback. The show continued seamlessly.
Cole’s setlist was thorough as he included songs from The Off Season and several surprises with throwbacks such as “Nobody’s Perfect,” “Work Out,” “ Planez,” and many more — even including “Back to the Topic” from Friday Night Lights.
Below you’ll find some footage from the show. DISCLAIMER: This video does contain explicit language.
[Now, I’m not sure why this video is so grainy! It was such a drama even to get it to upload, but it’s here. If the quality is distracting, head over to my Tik Tok @wordsmithbri, and you’ll find some TOP TIER quality. iPhone 13 understands the assignment — sometimes too much!]
Almost not getting into the venue, to begin with, after faulty re-sell tickets. Finally, I managed to sit and give myself entirely to the show.
I locked in and engaged my senses to all that was in front of me, and as odd as it sounds, I found old lyrics dancing through my mind.
“Still at it/ Villematic/What a life we chose/ I’m sending this out to those/
Who fell down but then rose/ I’m hot/I’m hellbound with these flows/ Cole
And when my story’s told/ let it be know I’d never fold/I took my time/ I gave my soul
I watched you shine/ but me I glow/ so/I’m coming for what I’m owed,”– J. Cole “ Intro”, Cole World: The Sideline Story
And while I stood in that arena, watching his genius in full throttle, I realized just how he delivered time and time again —making good on every request.