J. Cole’s headline show @KOKOLondon | Live Review

On Sunday (9th January) J. Cole delivered his first headlined show on UK soil and, in the eyes of the hip hop loving Londoners in attendance at least, cemented his position as a leader of the scene’s new school. Audience crammed into a sold-out KOKO in North London to spend a couple of hours in Cole’s World – and the Fayetteville, North Carolina rapper, who is three mixtapes in but yet to release an album, ensured we didn’t want to leave.

We’re in a new generation where artists don’t need albums to sell shows; similarly to his peer Drake and many other names coming up, Cole has blown without a definitive hit single, almost purely based off of his mixtape catalogue. One of my biggest areas of contention I have with the artists finding fame online is that we can never be quite sure if their physical presence on-stage possesses the same prowess as their mixtapes, online leaks and videos. With Cole, that was a concern I lost very swiftly.

Bursting onstage with “Welcome” from The Warm Up, Cole invited us to welcome him and we did so readily. The teeming crowd, spread across the the four-storey venue, surged forward and clambered to secure a spot where they could catch a glimpse of the stage.

Supported by a solid live band and an amazing DJ, Cole tore through material from all three mixtapes, The Come Up, The Warm Up and his most recent release, Friday Night Lights. “Blow Up,” “Who Dat,” “Dollar And A Dream,” “In The Morning” and “Lights Please,” which saw him jump on the piano, were amongst the crowd’s favourites, however, cuts Cole seemingly expected a lesser response from, such as “I Get Up” and “Higher”, still had the majority of the crowd rhyming along. He also delivered his verses on his most prominent features; Miguel’s “All I Want Is You,” Wale’s “Beautiful Bliss” and of course, Jay-Z’s “Star Is Born.”

Gratuitously Cole, who is currently opening support for the European leg of Drake’s tour, Lightdreams & Nightmares, acknowledged that the robust audience were there for him and thanked us for ‘jumping on’ him early. His performance expressed an earnest excitement as he commanded the stage without a hype man, and delivered his lyrics clearly, even stopping the track many a time and rhyming lyrically dexterous verses acapella.

For me, the Roc Nation signee’s show evoked an energy I’d not felt at a (solely) hip hop show for a long time, and from murmurs by fellow audience members, the sense that we’d witnessed something monumental was in the air. With J. Cole hoping to release an album this year, Sunday’s performance could’ve potentially been his first and last London show as an ‘up-and-coming’ artist. Here’s hoping that if this year does cement his stardom, his stage performance will steadily grow to match the bigger audiences he captures.

Photo by @Versetti

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