The last time J. Cole was in town, me and my homie waited in line on a hot summer day with about 2000 other fans who didn’t get to see Cole on his Dollar and a Dream tour: a show where the first ~400 people to show up got to see him perform for $1 at a venue that was announced just hours before the show. While the majority of the fans who showed up didn’t get to see him due to the small capacity of the venue, Cole promised us that he would be back doing a tour in the fall at a larger venue, with much larger ticket prices, and boy did he come through. He sold out the much larger Massey Hall for two consecutive nights for one of the most expensive concerts I’ll go to this year (only Wu-Tang Clan’s 20th Anniversary tour cost me more). So here we are, J. Cole’s second show in two days in Toronto, my personal first time seeing him perform (second time for a couple of my friends), and my first time actually seeing a show at Massey Hall; but first, we had to sit through Wale’s performance.
My opinion of Wale is similar to my opinion of Drake (which you can read about here), except there’s none of that hometown/Canadian bias, so I don’t make as much of an effort to like his music. I found Wale’s first two albums to be really boring; he may not have been “wack” per se, but his rhyming was really basic and he wasn’t saying anything that grabbed my attention. If it wasn’t for him opening for J. Cole at this show, I wouldn’t have even bothered to check out his latest album, The Gifted. I was pleasantly surprised with this album though; while his rapping is still really basic, his choice of production and his songwriting (i.e. hooks and concepts) has improved. Very similar to Drake, I think his latest album is his best one, but he’s still not rapping competitively enough to make the cut for my Top 30 Favourite Albums of the Year Countdown in December.
My crew showed up a little late to the show, so we only caught something like the last five songs of Wale’s set. Most of his music has been easily forgettable to me, so I didn’t recognize any of these songs other than one track off of The Gifted that features Nicki Minaj and Juicy J (although they weren’t in the building); the hook went like “shawty got a big ol’ butt, oh yeaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!”. Wale did his thing, he brought a lot of energy and he did what a typical bullsh** radio-rapper is expected to do. “Vanity” is the only song I wish I had seen him perform, I don’t know if I missed it by showing up late or if he just didn’t perform it at all.
Up next was J. Cole, we had to wait a bit because he brought a whole band with him along with visuals to go with his songs. I had first heard J. Cole in 2009 as a guest feature on Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3 album, and then again in 2010 on Reflection Eternal’s Revolutions Per Minute album. It wasn’t until I heard one of his own songs, “World is Empty” off his Warm Up mixtape while riding in my homie’s car, that I decided to actually check out a full-length project of his. I went and listened to the entire Warm Up mixtape as well as Friday Night Lights before his debut album, Cole World: The Sideline Story came out. I think that some of his best work was on those first few mixtapes and that his official studio albums have seen him sort of adapt to the mainstream media sound. That’s not to say he’s become wack now; he’s still a talented emcee who can flow to the beat, rhyme above average and use decent wordplay. It’s just that his subject matter in recent years seems to be molded to fit into a stereotype rather than having him be more creative. I do enjoy a good amount of his work though, and we will definitely see Born Sinner in my Top 30 Favourite Albums of 2013 Countdown in December.
For the most part I enjoyed J. Cole’s set; it started off with a video clip of a fictional news report of a car crash he had been in, a theme that would continue throughout the show so he could have time to change his shirts. He then came out to “Trouble” off of the new Born Sinner album and continued into “LAnd of the Snakes”. J. Cole pretty much performed the entire Born Sinner album minus the skits, the bonus tracks and three other songs (“Chaining Day”, “Let Nas Down”, and “Born Sinner”). I was wearing a Nas t-shirt too, which became completely irrelevant. Aside from the new songs, he also did some of his older hits like “Blow Up”, “Lights Please” and “Can’t Get Enough”. I do have to point out that even the songs I didn’t like off of his new album sounded a lot better with the live instrumentation. In fact, I think the live instruments were the main factor that justified the expensive ticket price.
Massey Hall is a venue that’s designed to host spectacles such as musicals and stage-dramas, and J. Cole took full advantage of that by bringing the full band to recreate his beats, including a couple choir singers. The only things I would’ve liked to see happen would be for his microphone to be turned up so his verses didn’t get drowned out by the instruments and the crowd, and to see him perform more songs that showcase his rapping abilities such as “World is Empty” or “Rise and Shine”. I understand he has to make time for the radio hits because that’s what the radio fans want to hear though. Overall, it was a great show and much better than the show he did in Toronto for the Dollar and a Dream tour (based on reviews I read and word-of-mouth).
For more videos from concerts I’ve been to, check out the Youtube channel: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjiIhS7fd3t1ZutK1va7w8g?feature=watch