J. Cole is an artist in perpetual motion, and the only direction is forward.
When he toured behind 2014 Forest Hills Drive in 2015, he performed the album in its entirety, playing against the traditional hip-hop concert format which leans heavily on catalog hits. Cole has employed a similar tactic on his 4 Your Eyez Only tour, which rolls into MGM Grand Garden Arena this weekend. Although he has been a bit more generous in weaving in older fan favorites, he has still been starting his show with “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “Immortal,” “Deja Vu” and “Ville Mentality,” the first four songs from his fourth studio album released in December.
Cole has always done his own thing musically, and his versatility and vision place him apart from the other huge names in today’s rap game. His style can’t be easily aligned with Drake, Chance or Kendrick, and his commercial success seems as unlikely as it is consistent. “What has made the emcee successful, besides an ability to craft great singles and solid albums, is likely simply his heterodoxy,” Kyle Petersen wrote in an essay for the Columbia, South Carolina, Free Times. “While Cole is quick to grandstand and mythologize like the greats, he doesn’t do it by donning a fake gangsta persona ... or philosophizing on contemporary race relations. Instead, he owns up to the smallness of his identity as much as the largeness of it.”
To borrow from a hip-hop cliché, keeping it real keeps Cole relatable. But being authentic also keeps his name on top. You’ll see it again co-headlining the Made in America Festival in Philadelphia in September, alongside a guy called Jay-Z. That’s largeness. J. Cole at MGM Grand Garden Arena, July 8.