After hip-hop was rocked by the devastating loss of Nipsey Hussle last Sunday (March 31), J. Cole remedied fans’ heartaches during his first annual Dreamville Festival in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Saturday (April 6).
Despite coming out 30 minutes late, Cole delivered a riveting set, squeezing every drop of energy from the packed house of 40,000 people at Raleigh’s Dorothea Dix Park. Clad in a red Dreamville jersey and blue and black-striped Puma sweatpants, Cole played the role of conductor, orchestrating the fans through his ten-year catalog. Because he was in his home state, Cole felt compelled to venture back into his mixtape days, especially for his “die-hard day ones,” who rode with him during his early beginnings.
To commemorate that period, Cole revisited his 2009 mixtape, The Warm Up, and performed “Grown Simba.” Though he was worried about forgetting his lyrics, the Dreamville general breezed through the track without any fumbles. In the spirit of paying homage back to his hardcore fan-base, Cole continued blazing through his archive, this time, delving into his 2010 mixtape, Friday Night Lights.
Before ripping through his “Back to the Topic” freestyle, the fiery locomotive took a step back to reminiscence of his days crafting his lauded project.
“Times were hard. I was trying to get it, trying to sustain, trying to level up,” he said. I had to sacrifice, and it was beautiful.”
Though the project is nine years old, Cole tapped back to his younger self and powered through the three-minute freestyle with vigor. Elated by his song choice, fans rapped alongside Cole, some with their eyes closed, in hopes of recapturing the vibes of 2010.
Again, Cole journeyed back into the past to relive some of his rookie moments. Dialed-in on his fans’ thirst for more vintage material, the Carolina star dipped into his first album, Cole World: The Sideline Story. Instead of treating the crowd to only one cut, Cole felt generous, serving hearty helpings of “Can’t Get Enough,” “Nobody’s Perfect,” and “Work Out.”
Though fans relished Cole’s decision to spend time on his past works, they equally enjoyed his ability to stay current, as he took pit stops, circling over to his last album, KOD. Despite the muddy field, his audience stood firm, rapping along with Cole “ATM” and “Kevin’s Heart.”
Later, he shared the stage with his fellow peers, inviting 21 Savage to perform “a lot” and Meek Mill to deliver a frenetic rendition “Uptown Vibes,” “Going Bad” and “Dreams & Nightmares (Intro).” As Cole allowed his contemporaries to receive their flowers and just due, he also highlighted the loss of Nipsey Hussle with an endearing tribute.
“I just seen footage yesterday of all types of different sets and hoods walking together through L.A. to get pay homage and pay respect to Nipsey Hussle. So I need us to do the same thing tonight,” said Cole before diving into his 2014 Forest Hills Drive deep cut “Love Yours.”
As he instructed fans to place their cell phones in the sky, a video montage began to play, highlighting the career of Hussle. The sad moment had many in the crowd reeling, as tears began to shed during Cole’s most reflective time on stage.
With fans locked-in emotionally, this fueled Cole to sing “Note to Self,” as a way to rally people of all races to join forces and close out the show in a loving manner. At the request of Cole, fans gathered together with their arms around each other, as he anchored them through the harmonious outro.
With peace permeating the air, Cole’s headlining set was not only a much-needed break from what was a turbulent week in hip-hop, but a positive way in bringing his home state of North Carolina closer together.