J. Cole has had a lot of success in Toronto. Every time he came here in 2013, he sold out every show he did and had to do extra shows to meet the demand. While I couldn’t get into his one-dollar small-venue show last summer, I got to see him at his second consecutive sold out show at Massey Hall last October, which you can read about here. This time, he would be at Roundhouse Park performing for Mountain Dew’s Dew Tour AM Series, which is a free event where amateur BMX and skate athletes can compete for prizes. It would be my first time going to Roundhouse Park, but when I got there I noticed the great view with the CN Tower and the Rogers Centre (Skydome) literally across the street, as well as the Steamwhistle brewery.
After being part the crowd that waited to see J. Cole on his Dollar And A Dream Tour last summer, I knew the crowd at this show would be huge, so I showed up pretty early. Those who follow me on Twitter already know I wasn’t really into the opening acts, as they seemed to just come and go as we all waited to see J. Cole. Their flows seemed a little sloppy, as it was hard to pick up what they were rapping, and their stage presence wasn’t that impressive (although to be fair, the tall people in front of me were blocking my view of the stage). The boring opening acts made the wait for J. Cole seem much longer than it was, and the crowd grew restless as Mountain Dew bottles got thrown at people climbing on their friends’ shoulders or the trees in the park.
When J. Cole finally came out with his live band (although he lacked the visuals and choir singers from last year), the crowd got compressed as we all pushed closer to the stage, and it became hard to move. While Cole mostly avoided his mixtape tracks when he played at Massey Hall last year, this time he started the show with “Enchanted” off of Friday Night Lights. With the familiar 2Pac chorus from “Hail Mary” on “Enchanted”, Cole continued to get his biter tracks out of the way quickly by performing “LAnd of the Snakes” (which bites OutKast) and “Work Out” (which samples Kanye West) next. Surprisingly, he never performed “Forbidden Fruit” this time. Next, he got into a favourite of mine off Friday Night Lights, “Blow Up”, before doing “Nobody’s Perfect” and “Who Dat” off Cole World: The Sideline Story.
Next was a track I usually skip when I play through the Born Sinner album, “She Knows”, although the live instruments combined with the crowd’s reaction made it one of the highlights of the night. Cole got the crowd jumping by telling us to touch the top of “that building” behind us (referring to the CN Tower), and you could feel the ground shake regardless of whether or not you consumed certain substances. Afterwards, J. Cole’s Dreamville Records signee, Bas, joined him on stage to perform a couple songs. I’m unfamiliar with Bas’ work, but his songs seemed pretty hype.
After Bas left the stage, Cole continued with a couple more mixtape tracks (that also made it onto his debut album) with a more mellow version of “Lights Please” and “In The Morning”. Next was another single off that first album, “Can’t Get Enough”, with a little nod to Jay-Z by switching the beat to “Big Pimpin'” during the bridge, and then Cole pretended to end the show. Of course he was joking though, as he still had to do his two biggest singles off of last year’s Born Sinner: “Crooked Smile” and “Power Trip”. For an artist who tends to bite/borrow/praise a lot of other artists’ work, I was thinking maybe J. Cole would do something for the 20th anniversary of The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready To Die album, but no mention of Biggie was made on this special day for hip-hop.
Overall, it was a solid show. While it wasn’t as extravagant as the set he prepared for Massey Hall last year, it’s good to see that J. Cole is constantly making changes to his set and adapting to the different types of venues he performs in. Roundhouse Park was a nice area to hold a concert, and although my view of the stage wasn’t that well, it might have just been bad luck to have a lot of taller people in front of me. The crowd got really hype and were mostly fun, although it was disappointing to see some racism and selfishness from some people. Still, for a free show it was a fun time.
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