Though the 1stBank Center only felt about half full and a little awkward for a hip-hop concert, J. Cole brought a confident and well-rehearsed set to Broomfield on Tuesday.
The night started with DC rapper Wale and a spontaneous set — especially compared to the night’s headliner. Dressed in all white and prowling the stage like a cat, Wale opened up with “Slight Work.” He took a few moments to chat about the Broncos (to huge cheers from the audience, of course) before rounding up a slew of fans on stage for “Rotation.” Vocally the MC was in great shape. He sang “Beautiful Bliss” entirely a cappella with help from fans and grinned sheepishly at their exuberant reaction.
Wale bounced all over his catalogue, including his verse from the Rick Ross track “Diced Pineapples.” For “Pretty Girls,” the MC unexpectedly jumped into the audience and bopped his way through the arena, even running up to the seats placed way in the back. The highlight came when he brought out Denver Nugget and fellow DC native Kenneth Faried for an imaginary game of basketball on stage. Faried was in high spirits as he rapped along with the words to “Clappers” and finally “Chillin.”
Whereas Wale’s set was about creating impromptu moments with the audience, J. Cole’s was well-rehearsed down to the infrequent ad-libs. His set opened on a somber note as a fictional news account told the audience that the MC was involved in a serious car crash. Sauntering down the stairs of an intricate stage set-up, Cole opened with “Trouble,” from his album “Born Sinner.”
He launched into “Land of the Snakes” next and used the OutKast beat (“Da Art of Storytelling Part 1”) to work his rhythm into high gear. Cole took a moment to address the audience, saying his previous shows were less theatrical and he aimed to change that with this particular set. His mission was accomplished as he went through his mega hits right out of the gate.
On “Blow Up,” Cole’s background dancers stole the show with their vocals and synchronized dance moves. The Missy Elliot-assisted “Nobody’s Perfect,” loosed Cole up a bit as he performed dramatic dances and of course flashed that famous smile. J. Cole is an adept musician on stage. He knows how to rap the low notes on “Lights Please” in such a way that you can feel the audience blush on cue. Proving he is an incredible storyteller, he held the crowd in the palm of his hand for other tracks from “Born Sinner,” like “Runaway,” before closing the show to screaming adoration.
Ru Johnson is an arts and culture music writer living in Denver. You can follow her on Twitter here.