South Philly’s Wells Fargo Center entered Cole’s World on Saturday as the North Carolina raised raper J. Cole was open and vulnerable onstage, giving words of wisdom that left the audience thinking while rocking their Saturday night. On the lead-up Earthgang, Young Thug and Jaden Smith lifted our spirits with performances that got the blood pumping and feet moving before the Dreamville artist drop some heavy material upon us.
Atlanta duo Earthgang took everyone by surprise they bopped around the platform, playing multiple tracks from their catalog including “Meditate” and “Up.” Their performance was brief but gave us of hint what is yet to come. Earthgang was followed by Jaden Smith, son of Philly-born star Will Smith, who started off his set with a haunting lullaby as visuals of himself on a beach and the intricate motions of the sea played on the screens. The mood was mellow until the screens turned red and the strobe lights began to escalate. Jaden stormed the stage, yelling “PHILLY” into his mic. Throughout the show, Smith performed quick cuts from his latest album Syre including “Batman,” “Ninety” and “Watch Me.” The young rapper was jaunting around on stage and even hopped off to take a lap around the arena. Smith’s most well-known track, “Icon,” got so much love that he performed it twice to start and finish his performance.
Following Smith’s departure, smoke rolled onto the stage, creating a runway as rapper and style icon Young Thug as he made his way into the center. Dressed to the nines with ice on both wrists, he got right into it with his 2016 track “Digits”. The audience was cheering throughout his performance as he performed hit after hit. He kept everyone on their toes with “Wyclef” and vibin’ with “pick up the phone.” The hype anthem “Best Friend” got everyone ongoing ballistic then he sent us off with his nostalgic track “Lifestyle,” bringing it back to the good old days.
Following Young Thug’s set, a banner dropped down with the words “Kid On Drugs / King Overdosed / Kill Our Demons”, which are all the meanings behind J. Cole’s 2018 album K.O.D. The lights dimmed down, and the sensual spoken word of “Intro” filled the arena as an emotional video played in the background of a child’s birth, then transitioning into “Window Pain (Outro).” Channeling Charles Dickens’s classic tale, he followed with “A Tale Of Two Cities,” rumbling the arena as the whole audience waved their hands in the air.
J. Cole settled the chaos to speak about the meaning behind his latest album K.O.D. With the sweet sounds of the piano playing, J. Cole explained how it is about “pain and our ability to deal with pain.” After his speech, he went into “The Cut Off” then the mopey track “Deja Vu” with a video of the hip-hop veteran Notorious B.I.G. Following the mood, J. Cole slipped into silence for a quick second then cracked the silence with “Kevin’s Heart.” Towards the end, he cut the music and delivered the rest of the emotional track a cappella. Cole didn’t just stick to his two current albums. He branched out as he performed “Nobody’s Perfect” and “Workout” from his debut studio album Cole World: The Sideline Story along with “Ville Mentality” and “Neighbor” from his 2016 album 4 Your Eyez Only.
There were multiple times Cole addressed the crowd on serious societal issues. He brought up the topic of mental health, which he mentions frequently on K.O.D., urging the crowd to love their life as well as highlighting the importance of seeking help if needed, and then he got personal as he played “Love Yourz” and “Apparently.” Without warning, he flipped the switch into “Wet Dreams,” reminiscing back to the days of a young Jermaine Lamarr Cole. His performance of “G.O.M.D. and “K.O.D.” had the crowd going absolutely wild and chanting along. Shortly after, Cole gave a spoken-word bit as he preached the truth in “1985,” closing on the epic “No Role Modelz” where he showed a brief clip of George W. Bush’s famous “fool me once” quote.
J. Cole is a storyteller. When he performs, he forges a connection with the audience, who in turn hangs onto his every word. Cole draws his audience deep into his own personal world, and at Wells Fargo Center, he brought an unprecedented amount of energy and charisma throughout the show. His words were honest and felt as if he was speaking directly to each member of the audience in an open manner. His show was eye-opening yet a refreshing experience that left us with a pure, new, and positive perspective on life.
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