There is a lot of rap around these days. Maybe you’ve noticed. As of just May of this year, there are over 8,000 artists on Spotify who sport the prefix “Lil” as part of their artist moniker. Is it a good thing? Well, we’ve definitely seen a sort of renaissance in terms of quality in recent years, and J. Cole has definitely played his part in that. Also, when he stopped by the Bell Center in Montreal as part of his K.O.D. tour, he brought some other people along, and we’ll talk about them too.
Opening act EARTHGANG were awesome. The Atlanta, Georgia duo didn’t stand still for a second, clearly relishing their inclusion on such a high-profile tour. It’s well deserved; Cole himself recently signed them to his own Dreamville Records (who also sponsored this tour, complete with exclusive merchandise the lineup for which rivalled the lineup for your local theme park’s most popular ride on a hot day) and has produced everything they’ve released since. They played the tried-and-true game of “When we say ‘Earth,’ Y’all say gang!” with the crowd and this, coupled with the infectious grooves of their beats and flows, worked to get the budding crowd moving. The crowd got really into it when they launched into their anti-Trump moment, complete with “Fuck Donald Trump” chorus and illustrations of The Donald’s mug with negative signs superimposed over them.
Then Young Thug played.
When J. Cole…What? I have to talk about Young Thug?… Fine.
Young Thug is something I can see the appeal of, but his performance was less than reflective of what he’s capable of sounding like in a booth. To be fair, the sound capabilities of a major stadium can be very unforgiving (with the emphasis generally focusing on nothing other than being as loud as possible) but that aside, the mixture of his fully auto-tuned backing tracks combined with the microphone-as-close-to-the-mouth-as-literally-physically-possible-without-swallowing-it approach from his decidedly not autotuned live delivery made for a very unpleasant sounding set. The visuals were cool, with the two screens on either side of the stage rotating through various images of Medusa and skeletons and stuff, and the kids did seem to know every lyric to every song like holy sh*t how did I miss Young Thug getting this popular? So, I guess I’ll just shut up and be old.
J. Cole came up to the stage via trap door underneath large sets of balloons on either side of the stage bearing the initials of his latest album and tour, “K.O.D.” He wore a white t-shirt and sweatpants, but he might as well have been wearing the robe and crown from the album cover, because throughout the set, he never let us forget who the king was. His delivery was vicious and with each additional rousing chorus, his attack got stronger. There was a live band and DJ who was shrouded in shadow, but three giant screens showed them off at key moments, and six light-up rectangles worked in tandem with the standard assortment of laser lights to highlight punches and climaxes.
In between songs, Cole preached to the 20,000-strong crowd of loyal followers, 100% representing the messages he presents in his music. He wore his heart on his sleeve as he candidly explained the meanings behind songs and his latest project as a whole. “K.O.D” by the way is an acronym for three different things: “Kids On Drugs,” “King OverDosed,” and “Kill Our Demons.” He talked about overnight success (how it doesn’t exist), about dealing with depression and about the struggles of temptation. Hell, if J. Cole were to declare himself a religious leader tomorrow, I’d follow him. He spoke more sense in his hour-plus-long performance than the combined amount of religious doctrine I’ve ever heard. And he got the kids to turn the eff up while he did it. As he played the title track from that disc, goats started filling up the screens until they covered every inch of them. Greatest Of All Time? Maybe, maybe not. But anyone who saw that show will certainly never fail to include him in the conversation ever again.
Written by Syd Ghan
*edited by Danielle Kenedy