A hip-hop superstar is born.
While J. Cole’s latest album is titled “Born Sinner,” something else was born last Wednesday night at the Mann Center in Philadelphia. Performing as the lead act on the “What Dreams May Come” tour, Cole commanded the stage with all the style and savvy of — dare we say it? — labelmate, Jay Z.
Cole entertained after and between songs, with a healthy variety of skits. Most notably, he related a story of traveling overseas: “He told me, ‘I heard your s— playing over in Lithuania … and I’m like, ‘Where the f— is Lithuania?’”
The set was elaborate, complete with yellow and purple lights, TVs and a long ramp that served as a runway — and sometimes as a stoop when fatigue set in for the sweaty performer. It took the production team nearly 40 minutes to set it up.
The half-roof — covering the seats; farther back is lawn — somehow didn’t break during the bass-driven “She Knows.” And Cole constantly reminded everyone that it wasn’t a coincidence he dropped “Born Sinner” on the same day that Kanye West rolled out “Yeezus.” Cole is coming for the throne.
The highlight of the show, at least for this reporter, came when he turned up on the Kendrick Lamar collab, “Forbidden Fruit.” No, Kendrick wasn’t in the building — but Cole did just fine with Lamar’s vocals blaring in the background. The stage resembled a scene out of the Bible, something you would expect to see in a modern-day Garden of Eden. The lighting was red and green, with a haunting skeleton image inside an apple.
“We got skeletons inside of apples and s—,” screamed Cole, descriptively.
Behind Cole was a live band, helping him run through his whole catalogue of his. Right before belting out “Lights Please,” he thanked the fans that were with him from day one, before all the fame. “We’ll get to ‘Power Trip’ and all that shit later, but this is for the real fans,” he said.
Always a man of his word — and the newest superstar in the game — Cole ended the show with “Power Trip.”
Wales starts the party in style
The evening officially started when Cole’s tourmate, Wale, took the stage around 8:30 p.m. The energetic, D.C.-based rapper was billed as the opening act and he stayed true to that role. He expertly warmed up the crowd, busting out hits like “Ambition” (sorry, Meek Mill didn’t make an unexpected cameo), “Slight Work”, “No Hands” and “Lotus Flower.”
“I’m going to party. I’m going to dance like a mother f—er,” Wale shouted. “I’m a partier who likes to rap.”
Wale kept plugging his newest album, “The Gifted,” in a somewhat awkward manner. He apparently hasn’t sold enough copies, a point he kept driving home, backed up by the large promotional signs being handed out to the front row. Still, Wale knew how to work the crowd. He encouraged listeners to smoke during his weed anthem, “Rotation,” pointing out that the security crew had been advised not to kick anyone out for partaking during the track.
“If you smoke right now, you won’t get kicked out,” Wale said.
Then, he hopped off stage — pants falling down, ladies — and did a lap around the concert hall. Wale even stopped in the middle and treated the people in the back to a live, up-close and personal experience. At times, Wale seemed like he wanted to be the headliner — he kept reminding everyone that his time was limited. That being said, he embraced his role and thrilled the audience.
And the masses agreed. As I snuck back to the bathroom immediately following Wale’s exit, a few patrons were chatting while waiting in line.
“Man, what did you think about Wale?,” one person asked.
“He was all right … but you know who we came to see,” another responded.
For better or worse, that seemed to be the theme of the night.