As someone who was often referred to as the future of rap music and the second coming of Nas, J. Cole endures his fair share of flack nowadays. Constantly the butt of jokes on blogs and in social media, the man born Jermaine Cole is often buried in the criticism of others who call his personality boring and his music the cure for insomnia. His show at Agganis Arena Tuesday night with rappers Bas, Vic Mensa and Wale , however, was far from a snooze fest.
Preceding the entrance of the Born Sinner himself were a group of artists who ranged tremendously in popularity. Bas, a hip-hop artist and part of Cole’s Dreamville family/label, tried to pump up the crowd first at a time when many seats were still left to be filled. He played the situation well, jokingly acknowledging the elephant in the room and telling all in attendance that he knew what they were thinking: Who is this guy? Several songs and many laughs later, Bas exited and Agganis welcomed Vic Mensa.
Chicago-bred Mensa — perhaps at this point best known for his collaborations with his good friend and rising superstar Chance the Rapper — hails from a similar vein of stylistic, melodic and energetic hip-hop. Mensa bounced around the stage and sprinted through the crowd, making every second of his shortened set count. He and his team drove more than 12 hours to make it to the show.
Considering the reactions received by comparatively successful artists who were billed to follow, responses to Mensa were lukewarm. Unfortunate, as the young man possesses more stage presence and energy than both Wale (Folarin) and J. Cole.
Folarin took inspiration from Mensa, also moving through the crowd. During Wale’s performance, however, a massive circle formed around the D.C.-based rapper. With the help of personal bodyguards and additional venue security, Wale returned atop his rostrum to play a string of hits, varying between trap bangers and lady-pleasing crooners such as “Lotus Flower Bomb” and “Bad.” Most of the songs garnered a solid reaction from the audience, though his departure was welcomed.
At this point in the show, the electronics, stage equipment and projections were all rather unimpressive. As the lead act, however, Cole drastically changed the quality of multimedia elements for the better. The pattering of rain softly pervaded the entire arena, as projections of water droplets slipped down its sides. A fake newscast played on a screen, stating that Cole and his crew had been involved in a car crash and Cole was the only survivor in critical condition. With the crowd hushed, a live band began playing the intro of “Trouble” off of Cole’s Born Sinner album as Cole descended from the top of his grandiose white stairs as if coming from heaven. Despite the microphone’s malfunction for the first thirty seconds of Cole’s segment, however, he plowed through the issue unfazed, never losing the crowd.
The rest of the night consisted largely of energetic sing-alongs from the crowd or quieted and awed listening. Mixtape favorites “Lights Please” and “In The Morning” (albeit also included on his debut album) entranced the audience, and “Nobody’s Perfect” sans Missy Elliott from Cole World produced eruptions of thrilled screams.
Cole took a moment during the show to explain that because he writes and produces his own music, he receives various income sources, including a publishing check, a writing check and a royalty check. It was an entertaining moment meant to set Cole above many of his peers, but following his bragging Cole transitioned into criticizing money with his song “Mo’ Money.”
At the end of the show, the crowd sang loudly to “Power Trip,” the biggest hit of Cole’s career thus far. In fact, the band stopped playing, Cole removed the mic from himself and pointed it out toward the crowd. It was a truly beautiful moment that ended the night of tremendous talent.
“A cure for insomnia”? I think not.