It might seem that J. Cole kind of rehashed the whole university tour thing, but after headlining a few tours dedicated to his degree-seeking fan base, the guy's a pro at it. Headlining the University of North Texas' spring concert, Cole along with his live band brought a minimalist experience that can't be classified as your typical school sponsored show.
Normally, spring college concerts fall into two categories. The first, a craptastic event where fat stacks of campus cash get thrown at musical acts clutching their 15 minutes of undeserved fame. The second, a techno laser show starring dehydrated co-eds, book bags filled with Jello shots, and fire hoses spewing neon body paint at 50 miles per hour.
But from the moment the self-professed Born Sinner touched the stage, it was clear a new category was about to be created at UNT's Colliseum.
The onstage warning lights flashed and yellow fog cleared as the live band appeared to the crowd of starry cell-phone screens. Beneath the drum roll, Cole hit the stage welcomed by his two background vocalists introducing the soulful melody of "Return of Simba". By the time the first verse started, Cole had split the standing crowd with a single gesture like... well, like that one guy that parted that one sea. A performer that's known to travel back and forth between angsty soul and animated bravado, this time he was all confidence.
"Turn the lights up so I can see everybody in this mothafucka," Cole shouted during an interlude. "Oh, we deep in here tonight I see." The entranced crowd starting back at him were a far cry from the kids who just 30 minutes ago were entertained by outbursts of the wave. From every "Thug Life" t-shirt wearing sorority girl to the guy that brought his girl Mary Jane along, the arena was filled with raised hands and closed eyes as Cole's DJ transitioned out of "Nobody's Perfect."
After admitting he had a backstage rendezvous with a bottle of Hennessy, Dreamville Records' leading light bounced across the psychedelic lightshow of a stage as he picked up the pace and yes, turned up. Joined by New York MC and opening acts, Bas, Cole took a break from the show for a comedic bit over who was lighting Bas' blunt. If Abbot & Costello were rappers, that's the type of banter they would have.
After coming together to perform "Lit", Bas found someone else to light his blunt as Cole grabbed a stool to belt out one his more underrated tracks, "Kenny Lofton." It was here where the still standing crowd was reintroduced to the angsty guy who knows he's not receiving the type of recognition he should be but still plays his role until the rap gods decide that it's his time to shine.
Pac on the mic in his prime They only care 'bout a nigga when he writing a rhyme, boy Kenny Lofton you feelin' my pace? They only care 'bout a nigga when he stealin' the base It's like I'm Wilt the Stilt, I'm fucking them all They only care 'bout a nigga when he dunkin' the ball And it breaks my heart The world's a stage, I'll just play my part
Before fading to black Cole took a moment to completely let go of his power trip in favor of his supporters. "Ya'll voted for me to be here, and that makes me feel really good," he said as the student body has shifted into full-on kumbaya mode.
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Cole's final outing into his Cole World experience was simply to leave the crowd with something to bounce to: "Can't Get Enough." Like a hypnotist snapping his fingers, he brought the arena of captivated masses full circle and back to where they started -- ready to party and high off life.
Cole meshes so well with college crowds because he knows what it was like to be that kid shooting to be a university star. Overlooking the fact that he graduated magna cum laude from St. John's University, his sets show he's still the underdog with nothing but a dream in his head, a lyrical repertoire of impatience, and a conscience that keeps him on track, for the most part.
With a couple of album certified gold, platinum singles, and both Nas and Jay-Z in his corner, it's may be weird seeing Cole play small festivals and college concerts on a regular basis. But by the time he closed his University of North Texas visit, he created a spring college concert experience that was for the people and by the people. All 5,000+ of his fellow born sinners turned winners.