A few weeks ago, I had a date night with J. Cole.
Okay, In reality I went on a date with my husband to attend J. Cole's concert at the Oracle Arena. But same thing, right?
As soon as 4 Your Eyez Only was released, I immediately announced to the entire world that I was going to his show. My husband and I missed our chance to see him on tour for 2014 Forest Hills Drive, and we are still upset about it.
Once the tour dates were announced earlier this year, I knew exactly where I was going to be on July 15th: Oakland.
Before I begin to recap the events from that night, I must address a few things…
I have been a fan of J. Cole since 2007. The evolution of his music has been quite a journey, and I'm proud to say that I've been listening to him since the beginning.
When he made his debut with The Come Up mixtape, I saw his potential. I remember listening to each track, struggling to pinpoint his style. His lyrics was all Fayetteville, North Carolina, but his delivery had an East Coast feel to it, with a little bit of a West Coast tone mixed in. Right away, I was hooked to his distinct raw sound.
He completely took me off guard when I heard his following mixtape, The Warm Up. J. Cole brought his art of storytelling to a whole different level on this one, and he definitely raised the bar. He poured his heart out and laid everything on the table.
Friday Night Lights did not disappoint. His talent was recognized and his rap career began to take off. He eventually signed with Roc Nation, but despite his efforts, the label didn't believe these tracks would sell. Such conflicts forced J. Cole to release them on his final mixtape.
I could go in-depth with his following albums Cole World: The Sideline Story and Born Sinner, and even the Truly Yours series; however, the music speaks for itself. In his debut album, you can hear J. Cole's struggle to maintain his artistic integrity, while keeping up with mainstream music industry's standards. Despite it all, he managed to bring forth a more refined sound with catchy hits. It was a made-for-radio debut, and overall a good album. Just a little different than what I was used to.
He made his transition into mainstream music. Eventually, he finds more control of production and presentation in the latter releases.
After establishing his spot in the rap game, J. Cole literally takes everyone by surprise when he releases 2014 Forest Hills Drive.
No marketing. No singles. Pure genius.
The concept was original. Providing a musical autobiography for his listeners, each track from beginning to end, addresses his personal experiences and events in chronological order. No other artist was featured in this album, and it made sense. Who else can speak about his story except for the man himself? It was all J. Cole.
Looking back, I remember thinking, "How the hell is he going to follow up this one?"
I was completely blown away, and I felt that it would be difficult for J. Cole to surpass the talent and skill he showcased in the aforementioned album. But then he releases 4 Your Eyez Only, and I stand corrected.
Just when I thought, "It can't get any better than this," here he comes and proves me wrong. And yes, it was another surprise.
No announcement. No promotion. Pure genius.
The entire album is brilliant. As a life-long Tupac fan, I appreciated all the references hidden within the details. You can hear his West Coast inspiration sprinkled here and there. From the lyrics, to the beat, the overall piece has hints of Tupac, yet ultimately remains true to J. Cole's unique style. The meaning behind the entire album is also something that is definitely worth mentioning. With no other features (except for Ari Lennox's vocals), once again, J. Cole had another anecdote to tell.
It's the life of a young Black man, trying to survive in the streets. The same man falls in love, gets his girl pregnant, and eventually his daughter is born. He shares his struggles and realizes that he is willing to do anything and everything for his child. He has a completely different perspective once he becomes a father.
In the end, the young man is murdered and his daughter is left with her father's story. A legacy told by J. Cole.
The message is powerful. It resonates truth. It's an unfortunate tale, yet it is far too common throughout our society, specifically within our Black communities. This is an issue that can no longer be ignored, and J. Cole forces you to listen.
I anticipated an excellent show; however, I was never fully prepared for the moving performance I was about to witness.
J. Cole, dressed in a bright orange prison jumpsuit, surrounded by security, walks between the crowd. The spotlight is on him, and as he makes his way to the stage, I can read the words "Property Of " printed on his back.
His entrance compelled the audience to pay attention. What was supposed to be just a concert, turned into a dialogue between J. Cole and his fans.
He spoke of his personal experiences. Like the time when the SWAT team raided his recording studio out in the suburbs, providing video footage and his own commentary.
He expressed his conflicts as an artist. Like how he wants to only perform tracks from his current album, but is told that's a crazy idea, and he should include his past hits as well. So he then proceeds to perform "Lights Please" with a fan he picked out from the audience. He also performed other songs like "A Tale of Two Cities" and "G.O.M.D." – which in my opinion, has one of the hardest beats in all of hip hop history.
He talked about how his songs may not be understood by the younger crowd. Like how "Folding Clothes" will be a classic that they will one day appreciate when they get older – a representation of real, down-to-earth, simple kind of love.
And then he openly spoke about "Ville Mentality."
This is a mentality that is NOT only found in Fayetteville, it can be seen across the U.S. It's the idea of living in the moment, because tomorrow is never promised. Frankly, there are those who live a lifestyle that will ultimately get them locked up or killed in the near future, so it makes sense to have that type of mentality.
However, J. Cole also counteracts his own statement and mentions how unhealthy that way of thinking may be. It traps us into focusing only on the present and prevents us from looking forward into the future. This type of mentality keeps us tied to our daily hustle, without thinking about our dreams and aspirations. It's extremely easy to get sucked in.
I found myself nodding in agreement.
But then J. Cole flips the script and tells the audience that tonight is an exception. Tonight we will have fun and forget about our problems. Tonight we will live in the moment and embrace that "Ville Mentality."
J. Cole ends the show with the final track, "4 Your Eyez Only." He warns the crowd, mentioning the length of the song. With it being eight minutes long, he understands if we can't stay till the end. He gives the audience time to make the decision to stay or leave.
Everyone stood still.
We take our cellphones and lighters out, and illuminate the arena. He serenades us with one last song and a final message.
It was powerful, and it left me speechless.
You're probably thinking, "It's just a concert."
But if you haven't had the opportunity to see J. Cole live, I highly recommend you do so. In fact, go check out his HBO documentary and watch his homecoming performance of 2014 Forest Hills Drive.
For me personally, "It wasn't just a concert."
J. Cole went above and beyond my already high expectations. I might even say this was the best concert I've been to, and that says a lot.
I'll end this post with a quick video clip.