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J Cole At Manchester Academy Review

Mark Jorgensen takes a trip to Cole World and doesn’t want to come back

Written by . Published on November 23rd 2011.

J Cole At Manchester Academy Review

J COLE was the first artist to be signed to Jay Z’s Roc Nation label in 2009 and has swiftly become one of the biggest mainstream billboard rappers around. To cap the release of his chart-topping debut album Cole World: The Sideline Story, he took to a sold out Manchester Academy as part of the Cole World Tour.

Having heard a lot of his songs prior to the gig, there seems a relatively formulaic structure to J Cole’s early material both in style and subject matter, with an assured flow interspersed with catchy choruses about either his struggles to ‘make it’ or women. But his content is a good deal more thoughtful than most other recent breakthrough rappers.

With the room packed to the rafters, Cole’s own DJ Dummy provided an absolutely thumping warm up set. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a DJ enjoy their own set quite as much as he did; playing predominantly party hip hop and moving on to some more old school stuff via a little dubstep to ‘rep the UK’.

He reached out to a girl in the crowd for a display of hysteria I never thought was possible at the receipt of a sweat-drenched towel.

Dummy danced, laughed and goaded an absolutely apoplectic crowd who didn’t stop jumping, singing and rapping every word for the entire set. “Y’all are crazy. This is the loudest crowd I’ve ever seen”. Flattery perhaps, but if they weren’t the loudest, they can’t have been too far short.

The unbelievable bass from Dummy’s set had left my brain reverberating around my skull like a fleshy walnut in a rubbish snow globe, and this was soon magnified by the wild screams that accompanied J Cole’s arrival, as he crashed emphatically straight into Looking for Trouble and title track Cole World.

Slowing the pace for a more formal and humble introduction over keyboard accompaniment, he continued with a bouncy cover of All I Want is You, with the entire crowd rapping every word. After Higher, he brought the pandemonium to a brief halt as he sat on a stool at the front of the stage for the slower Daddy’s Little Girl; which was incidentally the first time I’ve ever seen seated rapping at a gig.

The tracks continued to come thick and fast, including Lost Ones and Rise and Shine, generally performing one verse and the chorus for a mix of songs from the new album and his previous two mixtapes. He seamlessly switched between songs via either a quick keyboard interlude, or an emphatic beat drop.

With the tempo once again upped for Mr Nice Watch and Work Out, his energy was matched every step of the way by the crowd who continued to go absolutely bananas at the drop of every song. 

After a brief halt to ask the crowd who had bought his album, the inevitable deafening response acted as an intro to him singing a cover of the chorus to 2Pac’s Hail Mary. This was subsequently taken over by a member of his 3-pronged backing troupe on soundboard, giving a quick display of his skills by twisting and contorting his voice using autotune.

Then came an acknowledgement for his keyboard player, who duly performed a jazzy, toe-tapping solo, and the excellent DJ Dummy, who showed skills beyond dropping party classics with some brilliant scratching and beat juggling.

The Crowd At J ColeThe Crowd At J Cole

Just as it appeared the show was over, Cole showcased his general musical ability by taking to the keyboard to play and sing the introduction to Lights Please, before jumping back into action with In The Morning and Who Dat.

At this point, two drunk girls near the front, who, having managed to snare his attention, attempted to celebrate with an excitable High five, only to wonderfully misjudge and slap each other square in the face.

He then split the crowd in two for a rudimentary ‘cheer off’, used as bait to keep them lively before signing off with I Get Up to raucous chanting of his name.

Back on for the encore, he reached out to a girl in the crowd for a display of hysteria I never thought was possible at the receipt of a sweat-drenched towel.

Finishing with rousing performances of Nobody’s Perfect and Farewell, with just enough time in between for a lad jumping over the barrier to be soundly spear tackled by security, J Cole brought down the curtain on what was one of the most eventful and enjoyable gigs I’ve been to in a long while.

Following my initial thought that he cut a lonely figure alone on stage; no hype man or any on-stage entourage, it soon became apparent why. His confidently slick delivery and natural ability to interact with the crowd rendered any additional hype unnecessary. It seemed like every single person there knew every track word for word - who needs a hype man when you have 3000 in the crowd?

Switching between singing and rapping,  J Cole’s consistently energetic and excellent performance throughout was a refreshing antithesis of so many major US rappers I’ve seen turn up for disappointingly listless UK shows, like their only interest is to pick up the cheque, a few girls and leave.

Optimised by his DJ’s warm up, Cole seemed intent and focused to give the crowd a fantastic show from the off and certainly didn’t disappoint.

I’d like to end on a quick salute to the enchanting young lady who, in a rare moment of quiet, shrieked with boundless class“J COLE, GET YOUR D*CK OUT”.

He didn’t, incidentally.

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