Photos By: Amir Mohammadzadeh

By: Tyler McQuillan

It is a Friday night. I find myself sitting in the midst of the traffic horror that is the road to Sleep Train Amphitheatre. A hustled jog to the venue and an adventure dealing with the city’s finest per diem security force follows. But these were small prices to pay. To say the premium spot directly behind J Cole’s crew and soundboard with a front row view of stage was not worth it would be a straight lie. J. Cole offered a show that was truly an experience–it was a good night for hip hop in San Diego.

As he is touring promoting his most recent album, 2014 Forrest Hills Drive, the crowd had the fortune of hearing it performed live in its entirety. And during the encore, J. Cole even had the courtesy to throw down a few throwbacks he knew the crowd was hoping to hear as well. (Sadly, though, my sense of irony was left wanting when Workout went accompanied by Let Nas Down.) I would say J. Cole’s music places the poetically expressive lyrics of underground hip hop against the feel of a more mainstream hip hop artist. The result is a sound appealable to the mass market that doesn’t require one to check their sense of intelligence at the door. More importantly, it is a sound completely amenable to live performance, especially at a venue as large as the Amphitheatre. J. Cole’s lyrics cut sharply through the heavy bass lines and flowed with ease over his diverse library of beats.

In between tracks, the crowd got to see J.’s showmanship as well. From divulging narratives about his modest beginnings in North Carolina to ripping on the melancholic realities of upper-class Hollywood living, J. showed himself to be a speaker as much a music artist. The man is the definition of articulate, don’t let his playfully lax diction and attitude fool you. It really reminded me a lot of an Immortal Technique, minus the overt political agenda. Recognizing his rampant success in a lighthearted manner, J. Cole just felt like a very relatable guy wanting to share the music he proudly made. It is cool to see an artist with such a strong and broad following maintaining a sense of humility.

The Amphitheatre can sometimes host a subpar crowd; the sorts there for the Facebook likes as much they are the show. But the excitement and fandom in the Amphitheatre Friday was truly palpable. It was clear the packed-in audience had come to hear J. preach, and absolutely everyone was enthralled in his performance from start to finish. J. Cole has a finely tuned stage presence that exudes confidence tantalizes the crowd, and it truly felt he was there for the crowd as much as they were there for him. Though I was familiar with his work before, this concert established and secured my fandom for this guy. J. Cole’s live performance is definitely something to experience. For long time followers, be sure to continue listening and watch for this man to do big things in hip hop in the coming years. For those less familiar, do yourself a favor and give J. Cole a listen immediately.