Los Angeles loves J. Cole. That’s just one of the takeaways following the second night of the rapper’s sold-out Forum stopover (July 11-12) on his 4 Your Eyez Only World Tour.
Amid thunderous applause and resounding chants of “J. Cole,” the rapper reeled off a piercing, illuminating and fun performance that kept the audience’s unwavering attention throughout its 90-minute run. The spotlight remained squarely on Cole, literally and figuratively. He was the sole figure on a square platform centered in the middle of the Forum floor. Reminiscent of a boxing ring without the ropes, the bare black-floored stage — above which hung a cube of four video screens — doubled as Cole’s pulpit.
The charismatic rapper alternately strode and bounced around the stage during his 19-song set, which included all 10 tracks from his platinum-certified fourth album 4 Your Eyez Only. Save for a cameo appearance by his Dreamville artist Ari Lennox, Cole’s only other accompaniment were occasional video images playing overhead and a live band — complete with strings — positioned at the opposite end of the venue on The Forum’s traditional stage setup.
Cole’s no-frills approach and skill at delivering an intimate and interactive experience within an arena setting made for one of 2017’s best concerts. His engaging flow, lyricism and passion underscored a bottom line that was all about the music and the message, about living in the moment without losing sight of your dreams, and about change and persevering despite the odds that may arise. As one fan was overheard saying to a friend, “He’s definitely a showman.”
Among the evening’s other memorable takeaways:
A statement-making entrance and exit. At 9:50 p.m., after the house lights went dark, the rapper emerged at the far end of the venue dressed in a red prison jumpsuit emblazoned on the back with the phrase “Property Of.” He was surrounded by a phalanx of security guards who followed him to the foot of the platform where he was frisked and then allowed to come onstage. Standing alone in a circular spotlight, Cole launches into “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and the packed house erupts in screams and shout-outs. At the end of the show, Cole — accompanied by the same guards — walked out the same way he came in, taking time along the way to slap delighted fans’ outstretched hands and sign a couple of quick autographs as phone cameras flashed incessantly.
Giving back. After leading fans in a raucous rap-along to “Ville Mentality,” Cole commented, “That’s the type of energy we need all night. As much of that shit you give me, I’ll give it back to the 100th power.” And true to his pledge, Cole gave back as good as he got. The audience especially went wild on such “day one” songs (in the rapper’s terms) as “Nobody’s Perfect,” “Can’t Get Enough” and “Wet Dreamz.” The most moving performances came when Cole dove into “Neighbors” and concert closer “4 Your Eyez Only.” To underscore the former track’s true-story inspiration, Cole showed the audience actual video footage of a SWAT team that invaded his home owing to unfounded suspicions called in by a neighbor. Informing the audience at 11:25 p.m. that “there were no more hits” and that “Eyez” would be the night’s last song (eliciting a chorus of boos), Cole also noted that the track was eight minutes long. So if anyone wants to leave now, he said, “It’s cool and thank you for coming out.” Basically, everyone stayed put.
The evening’s new-talent alert. This occurred early on when Ari Lennox opened the proceedings at 8 p.m. Signed to Cole’s Dreamville label, the newcomer confidently showcased her soulful Washington, D.C., roots during a 15-minute set that included crowd-pleaser “Backseat,” featured on her 2016 EP Pho. The audience later got a second helping of Lennox’s arresting voice when Cole brought the singer/songwriter back for his performance of “Change.” Dreamville labelmates J.I.D and Bas rounded out the bill’s opening lineup.
The North America leg of the 4 Your Eyez Only World Tour continues with upcoming stops in Seattle (July 17), Chicago (July 24), Brooklyn, New York (Aug. 1), Washington, D.C. (Aug. 8), and Dallas (Aug. 20).