“Sometimes, I’ll be at shows and everyone knows the words and I’ll feel like Jay Z, then at other shows muthafuckers are silent and I’ll be feeling like J-Kwon”, J. Cole stated mid-way through his compelling performance at Birmingham’s O2 Academy on Monday night. “Ya’ll got me feeling like Jay Z!”
Cole, who’s signed to Dreamville Records (part of Jay’s ROC Nation label), waved goodbye to England on Monday after a second show in as many days in the Second City.
The American rapper, supported by fellow Dreamville artist Bas, was responsible for Born Sinner, one of the most successful and critically acclaimed hip-hop albums of 2013. It out-sold Yeezus and only fell behind Eminem, Jay Z and Drake in terms of units sold this year. Many consider it one of the best albums of 2013, and it was only right that it be taken to the stage.
Following on from a Westwood DJ set and accompanied by a live band, Cole delivered a significantly more energetic performance than his soulful, chilled sound would suggest. Fuelled throughout by a large bottle of Hennessy, Cole performed hits from Born Sinner and debut album Cole World. Opening with ‘Land of the Snakes’, his appetite for call and response with the crowd was obvious, as he rapped, “Damn Cole, wish I knew that you would be rich” before stepping back to observe the Brum crowd’s booming response, “Well, should’ve asked!”
Several Born Sinner tracks followed, including bass-heavy ‘She Knows’ and the Kendrick Lamar featuring ‘Forbidden Fruit’ (“How many records do a nigga gotta sell/Just to get the cover of the double XL?”). This wasn’t the only major piece of hip-hop culture to receive Cole’s scorn, as he was pictured holding up a sign saying ‘Fuck The Grammys’ towards the end of show, presumably in reference to his lack of nominations at this year’s awards. Born Sinner‘s absence from the best rap album category was both surprising and harsh in equal measure, even more so when the list boasts lesser efforts such as Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail or Macklemore’s The Heist .
One of the show’s most interesting moments came at the mid-way point, where Cole offered the crowd to shout out their favourite album tracks, with the loudest requests performed there and then. ‘Lost Ones’ and ‘Let Nas Down’ were the most popular and made for one of the show’s highlights. The performance of ‘Friday Night Lights’ from his 2010 mixtape of the same name was accompanied by a humorous dig at some of his newest followers. “This next song’s for the people that have been fucking with me since day one”, Cole declared, “the rest of ya’ll can go get a drink or something, I’ll play ‘Power Trip’ for ya’ll later.” Whilst surely said in jest, there was a certain hostility about Cole’s tone that suggested he was not 100% joking, whilst his appreciation for the ‘old-timers’ who’ve supported him since his mixtape days was clearly there for all to see.
‘Power Trip’ did duly follow, and Cole’s biggest hit to date was a satisfactory end to a show that not only showcased Cole’s rapping talent, but also his human side. There was a certain showmanship about him that was not present in earlier performances and as he leapt into the crowd in the closing stages, he spent a good 10 minutes mingling within the clutches of his fans.
Birmingham’s O2 Academy might have got him feeling like he was Jay Z, but he certainly wasn’t acting like him, for Cole felt considerably more like one of the people living his dream out on stage, and in an age where hip-hop mega-stars often come across as unreachable to the everyday fan, it was a nice reminder that it is still very much a music of the people.