By Kallan Louis
August 10, 2017
J. Cole, the pride of North Carolina, was back in Charlotte for his “4 Your Eyez Only” world tour along with Dreamville label mates Ari Lennox, J.I.D., Bas, and Cozz along with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath artist Anderson .Paak. Surprisingly, it was not a sold-out crowd at the Spectrum Center for the Fayetteville native, although attendance was very impressive for an arena show in Charlotte. Unfortunately that was not the only discouraging thing about the show, but more on that later.
If you follow any hip-hop-related media, by now you were probably aware of Cole’s theme for this concert. The stage performance took place in the center of the area, giving him a 360 degree vantage of the audience. The stage corners were lit with four poles resembling neighborhood street lights. During his intro, he entered the arena floor in an orange prison jumpsuit escorted by police guards, as fans broke into a frenzy.
He started with the “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” the first track off his latest platinum-selling album, and continued in going down the tracklist in chronological order. He would later explain that it was purposely done. He planned to do the entire album with no skips. It was something he has thought about doing since his last tour. However, he did get out of order a little bit, giving us hits from previous albums including “No Role Modelz,” “Power Trip,” “Can’t Get Enough,” and “Love Yourz.” He tested the audience’s knowledge of his work by randomly selecting a fan and having her rap the lyrics to “Light Please.” The arena put the fan on the big screen but didn’t give her a mic so I’m not sure if she really knew the words or not. In the past, a younger, clean-cut Cole said true fans know this song particularly because it was on his “Warm Up” mixtape and later on his debut album, earning him a meeting with Jay-Z who eventually signed him.
Cole’s showmanship stood out most. During “Ville Mentality” he challenged the crowd to live in the moment and give him all the energy they had so he can reciprocate. He knew the ladies would sing along but he urged the guys to not just stand there and nonchalantly nod their heads in approval. He told them not to worry about what they looked or sounded like but to feel the music and react to those emotions.
During the song “Neighbors,” he played the infamous home surveillance video of more than a dozen armed law enforcement officers raiding his North Carolina home studio in the suburbs. Allegedly, a helicopter flew overhead too. Cole and his Dreamville artists were in Austin for SXSW at the time. When officers realized no one was home, there was nothing in the house and surveillance cameras were recording everything, they are seen taking out the cameras. Cole believes neighbors were uncomfortable having him and people like him in the upper class neighborhood coming in and out of the house and must have made the assumption illegal activity was taking place.
If Cole was the single act of the night, I would not have anything negative to say, however, he was not. The J. Cole-loving crowd was non-existent for his Dreamville label mates who performed ahead of him. Most sat unresponsively with the occasional brief applause. I get it, people came to see Cole, but these artists are hand-picked and cultivated under Dreamville, the label he founded. Their projects have been warmly received by industry and critics, particularly, J.I.D. and his debut album The Never Ending Story. Nevertheless, we saw disinterested gazes on the faces of many.
Personally, I felt a little embarrassed about the crowd’s lackluster energy for Anderson .Paak. The two-time Grammy-nominated artist and 2016 XXL Freshmen Class member performed a stellar set with his band, The Free Nationals. There was little appreciation for .Paak’s unique voice, lyrics and impressive skills simultaneously on the drums. He and the Free Nationals opened for the Bruno Mars world tour early this year, but is no longer scheduled to perform when it arrives in Charlotte next month. Quite unfortunate because I believe that crowd might have been more receptive to .Paak’s soulful, eclectic sound.
Check out the remaining dates for the 4 Your Eyez Only tour.