While J. Cole brought the house down at the Fox Theater in Boulder for the BET Music Matters tour, the real comedy took place long before he hit the stage. The concert was a mash-up of local talent (Pries and J-Blev), along with CJ Hilton and K. Michelle, the performers booked by BET. J-Blev, however, takes the cake for the most enthusiastic, painfully unaware performance of the night, and quite possibly the year.
Let me back it all the way up though. The night started off with the typical banter and music floating overhead as the crowd wandered in and around the Fox, preparing for the hip-hop heavens to open up and rain down blessings of solid bars and lyrical versatility.
KDJ Above kicked things off with a lively medley of power anthems, inciting crowd participation by asking: "Where all my ladies at with degrees?!" There was a two second delay before a few educated hands shot in the air. When he asked where the single ladies were, though, the Fox lit up brighter than a Christmas tree.
Pries, the fresh faced rapper/singer with the uber catchy hooks, performed material from his new mix tape Transfer Student. Pretty much everything was working for Pries, the fellas were nodding, and the ladies were dancing, and, in typical reluctant sex symbol behavior, he removed his shirt for a confident performance of "Tattoos."
Pries and KDJ Above did a great job of warming folks up, asses were shaking, drinks were flowing and the bass was good and plenty. How J-Blev couldn't capitalize off of that entrance isn't known, but the Florida native, Colorado Springs resident was the spider on the birthday cake.
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He came out rocking what looked like an empty backpack that nearly came down to his knees and flapped all over the place, calling attention to what could have been laminated hall passes attached to it, and it was all downhill from there.
Having covered J-Blev before, I was surprised that I couldn't recognize any of the tracks he performed. I was also so distracted by his backpack and overzealous bouncing that I couldn't understand if this was a joke or if he really was that oblivious to how bad it was going.
He kicked a track called "Boom" that he said debuted on September 11th on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher. I couldn't confirm that but I can confirm that a minute into the song, it became much too painful, and I chose to wander the venue gazing at flyers, rather than watch any further.
Fast-forward to the BET acts, CJ Hilton's singing was loud and mid key; he serenaded a young lady who laughed as he transitioned into a falsetto that was colder than the November air, and then had the nerve to drag an Usher medley into the mix. We survived his twenty minute set, though, with only a few uncomfortable glances from the super hip-hop heads in the building.
K.Michelle, the lower budget R&B descendant of Keyshia Cole, and Mary J. Blige was a ball of singing, drinking hilarity. Declaring herself the "next R. Kelly," she drank and sang and sang and drank, and joked around with the men about her "thunder cat pussy." Yes, this happened. Michelle got down with her popular single "Fallin'," and a few others, taking the time to tell a back story. She finished up and dragged a gang of rowdy ladies backstage with her.
Before long the strains of Jay-Z's "Encore" began blaring through the speakers, "Roc" signs were thrown every which way, and before long, Hov's protégée hit the stage for what would be the whole evening's saving grace.
Donning a college letter sweater in a nice shade of brown, J. Cole got busy on his set with tracks from The Warm Up. People were losing their minds all over the venue, rapping along with Cole at rapid pace and being enticed to instrumental thrill by his band, two keyboardist and a deejaying drummer.
His voice was so clear and loud on tracks like "Dead Presidents," he reminded everyone who may have forgotten over this past year why J. Cole really is the guy to watch this season. Cole thanked the audience "sincerely for coming out tonight" and gave a shout-out to Boulder that was met with such a heavy booing, he quickly switched it up to recognize the Denver heavy crowd.
"Lights Please" was a big highlight of the evening, as well as several songs Cole performed a capella, even as his voice got weaker. He paid homage to Tupac with a rendition of "I Ain't Mad at Cha," further allowing his band members to shine, before weaving his way through Friday Night Lights' "Enchanted," which borrows the chorus from Pac's "Hail Mary."
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People freaking loved it, man. There was not a moment where he needed to energize the crowd. He split the room for a very loud back and forth performance of "Who Dat" and squeezed in as many songs as possible. When it came time for the DJ shine, he scratched Biggie's "Ten Crack Commandments" to chopped perfection, which further amped the audience.
J. Cole tried to close with his verse from Jigga's "A Star is Born" from The Blueprint 3 but was begged out for an encore, and then another encore, giving us one last song in "I Get Down." It's easy to get caught up in the fanfare, both real and perceived regarding the Roc Nation imprint, but with his stellar execution in Boulder last night, J. Cole proved that he is the new face of hip-hop and those who yet haven't, should definitely get familiar.
*Ed note: J. Cole's camp enforced a strict no-photos policy during his set, thus the conspicuous absence of pics featuring him. Also an earlier version of this review incorrectly identified CJ Hilton as CJ Hood.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I like J. Cole better than Wale, better than Cudi, better than Drake. J. Cole is totally class president. By The Way: Pries can actually sing. Random Detail: This is the second time in a week where I've had the pleasure of watching a show from the back of a venue with Zome of Diamond Bois, Esnine and A.V.I.U.S. of Prime Element.