J. Cole at O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London | Live Review


Globetrotter, Cole hotter – even way out in London town.

As referenced in his recent single “Can’t Get Enough”, J. Cole is no stranger to London, having this past year performed as Drake and Tinie Tempah’s support acts in the capital. Currently on his first headline tour, Jermaine Lamarr Cole returns to London for four sold out shows (SoulCulture caught him on the second). And with Jay Z as a mentor, a lot is expected from the first Roc Nation signee. So much in fact that a fully packed Shepherd’s Bush Empire was waiting in throngs for J. Cole and his arrival onto the stage. The relatively small venue with its many overhanging balconies was fully brimming with overly excited individuals, all ready and willing to show the North Carolina hailing rapper just how welcome he is on this side of the water.

“There’s a lot of people in here tonight that have been fucking with me for a long time. But I know I’m still technically a new artist,” said the ever so humble Jermaine, before introducing himself to ear splitting screams. Opening the show with ‘Cole World’ the crowd bops their hands vigorously, prematurely singing along to choruses that are yet to have erupted through the speakers. Individuals of all shapes and sizes rap excitedly along word for word, as if to an audience of their own.

Switching up the mood of the set almost as many times as there were tracks, Cole alternates between prancing around the stage and sitting sedately at a stool. Several of the tracks – the likes of “Daddy’s Little Girl” and “Lost Ones” – spat with such enunciation and passion that the audience can’t help but be mesmerised by Cole’s performance.

As with many of the tracks, however, the song is left half sung and half rapped, Cole and DJ quickly jumping on to the next (although also undeniable banger) of a song. Blending uncompleted track into uncompleted track, the night proves to be slightly frustrating; like being at a club when the DJ changes the song before your favourite verse comes on. Repeatedly. This may have been a cause or a consequence of the fact that Cole’s set was fairly short at no longer than an hour and fifteen minutes.

No doubt a veteran entertainer, however, Cole seems to know exactly what to do to drive the crowd into a frenzy, even causing several individuals (girls, no doubt) to be carried out after losing consciousness. Enjoying himself to no end Cole bounces around the stage, playfully tumbling to either side, smile stretched wide on his face. Making every individual in the room feel important, Cole takes pains to wish “farewell” to specific members of the audience before he leaves the stage pointing out fans; “you, in the blue t-shirt, farewell.”

“Cole under pressure, what that make? Diamonds!” Cole utters again and again, exhaustedly wiping his face at the end of the performance. And despite his energetic set, this seems not to exactly ring true. The transition from mixtape to album suggests that perhaps he made better music minus the pressures to be “hip hop’s saviour,” as he is often dubbed. “London, I love you!” he says, before exiting the stage to wild applause. And despite my previous comment, London loves him too.

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