Much has been made of J. Cole’s journey from small town dreamer to the centerpiece of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation and the story can almost seem too perfect. Hence the criticism of his debut album “Cole World: The Sideline Story” not matching the hype (despite topping the Billboard charts upon its release last month.) But if the sold out Fillmore show of his first headlining tour truly revealed this heralded rapper’s potential, J. Cole is more than comfortable wearing the princely robes as heir to Jay-Z’s crown.
Even if you hadn’t spent the past four years consuming J. Cole’s mixtape releases and featured verses, seeing him live you immediately understand his star power. The packed house chanted his lyrics in unison and at a deafening volume. But Cole’s show was winning for more reasons than having a young, adoring crowd fully committed to a pep rally for their favorite ascendant rapper.
The young artist has a pacing and presence that supported his claim of having studied the greats. And backed by the deft work of DJ Dummy as well as Cole’s production partners on keyboards, the music was more dynamic than a bland stream of tracks. From the rowdy bounce of “Higher” from his Friday Night Lights mixtape to a serious moment of rapping “Daddy’s Little Girl” from a stool on the stage, J. Cole strung most of the tunes on his album together with a few back catalog pieces to command unwavering attention for his hour plus set.
He is not a rapper’s rapper but has enough quotables for your average male rap fan to cite with admiration and self-identification. But it’s J. Cole’s combination of swagger and vulnerability that prove irresistible to the ladies and therein lies his projected longevity in a game that ruthlessly discards rappers. His harshest tales of sexual conquest are tempered by his penchant for singing his own hooks, but not in the cloying way that his peer Drake has popularized. Which is why he was just as enthusiastically received when crooning the Paula Abdul interpolated chorus of “Work Out,” propositioning a young lady for a one night stand, and then baring emotion on “Lost Ones”, a tale of a young couple struggling with an unplanned pregnancy.