Cole world on a hot Los Angeles night.
After a hot day in Los Angeles, the night blessed the crowds surrounding the Staples Center with a decent breeze. Although the home base of the Lakers has hosted several prestigious and powerful names, the excitement for J. Cole was special. KOD marked a triumphant return to form for Cole, whose last album carried a more personal tone. 4 Your Eyez Only was an album Cole made for himself, KOD was an album the Roc Nation rapper crafted to evoke a worldwide sensation. During the NBA season, the floor of the Staples Center is lined with hardwood for the games, but for Cole, the floor was packed with a sea of fans.
Jaden Smith and EarthGang opened for Cole, but fate did not place me inside the arena until the final opener, Young Thug, was halfway through his performance. Thugger's energy was lackadaisical, and he relied on the crowd to sing along for the finals songs I witnessed him perform. Touring can take an enormous amount of energy out of a performer, so I like to give Thugger the benefit of the doubt. His recent run-in with the law may also be weighing on his mind. Whatever the reason may be, Young Thug was just not at his peak performing form. After Thugger wound down his act with a mellow enactment of "Lifestyle," Cole was ready to take the stage.
Cole opted to keep his performance about the music. There weren’t any extravagant fireworks and insane props. Instead, everything was designed to make the music more potent. Each letter in “KOD” received a massive balloon that hung high above Cole as he performed. On each side of the stage were three towering rectangle cube 4K screens. They were arranged to look like descending bars, akin to what the service symbol looks like on your cell phone. The front of the towers, or the screens facing the audience, played visuals that helped illustrate the song. The reaming three sides of the towers stayed alight in a sunset medley of orange, pink, gold for most of the set. A live band accompanied the DJ, and the mixture of instruments and instrumentals meshed well for the entire show.
Cole stepped onto the stage with the intro off KOD to begin his set. The quick and cautionary opening sequence ended abruptly and Cole jumped into "Window Pain," one of the best songs on KOD. His energy to begin was serene, but as the songs progressed, Cole drew from the crowd's energy to increase his own power. By the time he hit "Fire Squad," young Jermaine was on fire himself. The towers beside him turned to scorching flames, and Cole came alive. The next twenty minutes of his set were euphoric and energetic.
Unfortunately, there was a slight malfunction. The lights in Staples Center decided to cease working with the crew, and half of the arena was doused in darkness. The ever-vigilant Cole kept the show rolling regardless. He did pause for several minutes to speak to the audience and allow the lighting crew time to fix the situation. Still, time is money, and Cole dived back into his set after a quick solution was not executed. Sadly, the pause did throw the previous firey energy into a semi-stasis. Cole chose to repeat his process from earlier in the night, allowing the crowd's energy to build him up, to recover from the slight distraction.
What stuck out to me the most in Cole's performance was his crowd interaction. At no point did Cole leave the stage, but he still touched everyone in the building. He spoke to the audience on several occasions, connecting with the average fan about taxes, relationships, weather, and even sports. When he dropped LeBron James' name in the sold-out Staples Center, a pestering crowd of "boos" cracked through the cheers for the athlete. "You better keep booing when he brings you that 'chip," retorted Cole, calling out those who would revel in the Lakers' success while denigrating their star player. Cole also gave Jay Rock a shout-out, which made the audience roar in approval.
Cole navigated through choice cuts off all of his albums, but dedicated a moment to claim 2014 Forest Hills Drive was a "special" project for him. To some, 2014 was Cole's best work. For others, Born Sinner or KOD take the number one spot. Still, Cole taking time to give 2014 a nod made those in the audience who place that album as his best work swell with pride. As expected, Cole "ended" with "1985 (Intro to "The Fall Off")." Performed mostly in acapella, Cole laid down his most infamous bars of the year. There were no chants of hate aimed at anyone that Cole assumingly dissed on that song, which displayed a sense of maturity from the audience. Everyone has moved past the feud, and the only that thing that mattered was KOD. After a fakeout scenario, where Cole feigned that his set was over, he came out to perform one last song. "No Role Modelz." The horns shook the arena and the crowd enjoyed one last moment of excellence from Cole before he bid the audience farewell. He blessed the crowd with a cautionary "be safe" and a passionate "'til we meet again." For some, that will be in 24 hours as Jermaine takes the stage at Staples Center a second time. Cole still has a long list of shows left on the KOD tour, and this isn't a performance you should miss as a Cole fan. Tickets are available at LiveNation.com.