Hip-hop’s newest phenomenon, J. Cole, knows how to command a stage. The rapper performed March 18 at the University of Pennsylvania’s Irvine Auditorium at 8 p.m., sponsored by SPECTRUM. The 24-year-old North Carolina native graced the stage with much enthusiasm and spunk, his tall, imposing presence along with his take-no-prisoner attitude only adding to his incredible performance.
J. Cole showcased a slew of songs, ranging from his first mix tape, “The Come Up,” to his current mix tape, “Friday Night Lights.” His opening act was the extraordinary, eccentric and fun-loving Philadelphia-based DJ, Diplo. Diplo created a great atmosphere, spinning and mixing an eclectic mix of 80s mash up pop, techno, hip-hop and alternative. After Diplo set the tone for the night, J. Cole made his entrance to an already highly enthused audience. Cole’s stamina on stage and his ability to capture the audience for the entire hour-long set was simply amazing and showcased not only his talent, but also his robustness. He appeared on stage with his pianist and DJ, both of whom had solos about midway through the performance. His DJ, DJ Dummy, was a crowd-pleaser; his ability on the ones and twos showed how talented he is in handling the spin table.
Even though the concert was set in a sitting auditorium, not one audience member sat down. Cole’s capacity to seize the attention of his audience confirms why he is the first rapper to be signed by rap mogul Jay-Z’s record label, Roc Nation. Throughout the concert, he thanked the audience several times and seemed genuinely surprise that people were singing along to his songs. There is an engulfing quality to his music; not only does Cole have great songs to dance along to, but the songs have great substance that touch on his hard upbringing in poverty in Fayetteville, N.C. In the song “Blow Up,” Cole talks about this decision of choosing to pursue his dream career of becoming a rapper over getting into law: “Mama say I should reconsider law school / that means I’ll wear a suit, and bend the truth, and feel awful / Hell naw, gotta degree but what’d that cost you / You’re making good salary, just to pay Sallie Mae.” In “See World,” he explores the horrible dynamics of the world – in particular, a poverty-stricken neighborhood: “It’s funny somehow thought the money could erase it / No matter how much dough you got you gotta face it.”
Before he left the stage, J. Cole sincerely thanked the crowd a final time. He acknowledged specific sections of the arena, even having the house lights turned on so he could see the faces of his fans. At the young age of 24, J. Cole has captured the eyes of the nation with his youthful vitality and intellectual vigor. Cole, who aspires to collaborate with “Lauryn Hill, Lil Wayne and Alicia Keys” in the future, is one to be watched and a legend in the making.