For many of us hip-hop fans at UConn, a lot of fan-girling went down in Gampel Friday night. J. Cole, the underrated Born Sinner rapper performed a set that left Huskies hungry for more. Covering all the bases with an array of material from past mixtapes “The Warm Up” and “Friday Night Lights,” the NC artist’s breakout 2011 studio album “Cole World: The Sideline Story,” as well as Cole’s most recent “Born Sinner,” the rapper appealed to all fans of varying longevity.
The concert opener, fellow Dreamville teammate Bas, helped hype students up for the main act. He performed songs from the recently released “Revenge of the Dreamers” mixtape, a collaboration featuring J. Cole and other artists on the record label. Bas did many UConn shout-outs, praising both our men’s and women’s basketball teams for their recent victories. The opening set lasted a full hour, paid homage to some of Bas’ role models in the game, showed off the rapper’s astute and Schoolboy Q-ish flow and pumped us up in the process.
With no fancy introduction or elaborate buildup, Cole appeared. He introduced the show with “Land of the Snakes”, one of the tracks from the summer 2013-released “Born Sinner” (yep, the one that topped the sales of Kanye’s release the same day). After laying down some bars from “The Sideline Story,” the emotion-filled “Nobody’s Perfect” and the club classic “Work Out,” J. Cole greeted the crowd and expressed–in a short and sweet speech–just how much he appreciated the love. Like Bas, Cole also raved about UConn basketball, leading us into multiple chants throughout the concert and eventually throwing on a UConn hoodie sometime between “Forbidden Fruit” and “Can’t Get Enough.”
Jermaine couldn’t have made his gratitude clearer; the gaps between songs were filled with counting blessings and thank-yous for a history of musical support since his come-up in 2009. There was also a 15-minute break taken to introduce all the members of his live band (electric guitar, keyboards/piano, drums and two female vocalists whose fit-for-R&B pipes delivered goosebumps).
Though it was warmly familiar to hear the more mainstream classics like “Crooked Smile (Feat. TLC),” “Work Out” and “Power Trip (Feat. Miguel),” the highlight for the die-hard Cole fans was the inclusion of lesser-known gems from the rapper’s first two mixtapes and rougher, more underground tracks off “Born Sinner” (i.e. “She Knows (Feat. Amber Coffman).” Renditions of these were raw and more intense than you’d experience via an EP listening session; Cole is too good live.
A brief one hour and 20-minute set list, the concert flew before our eyes but still allowed fans to soak up some quality bars and lyricism from Jermaine and even made some of us get a little light-headed during “Power Trip.” Following the two encores, students in the front row, myself included, were lucky enough to get a quick handshake, fist bump or high five from Cole (in my case, a bear hug)—who personally jumped down from the stage to greet the front row fanatics. All in all, the mutual appreciation between fan and artist was felt and the crowd response was hyped and strong—two traits vital to UConn spring concerts, and ones that made the last one of my senior year unforgettable.