Mic in hand and head bowed in silence onstage, J. Cole appeared to take his own advice to the audience.
“We’re all breathing the same air and hearing the same music, all on the same … frequency right now,” Cole said. “Tonight (Los Angeles), live in the moment.”
The audience listened, just as it did to his latest platinum album promoted by the 2017 tour of the same title, “4 Your Eyez Only.”
The sold-out show opened with hip-hop artists J.I.D and Bas, both of whom performed acts that pumped up the audience before Cole’s symbolic entrance.
Four screens suspended above the middle of the auditorium displayed a handheld camera’s live recording as it trailed behind the hip-hop artist, who walked through the crowd dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and was escorted onstage by men wearing police uniforms.
Cole took command of the packed venue as fans searched for a glimpse of the orange jumpsuit in the crowd. While his saunter toward the spotlight was modest, Cole’s mere presence was enough to elicit waves of thunderous applause and an atmosphere of collective elation.
Cole’s influence over the audience was like that of a conductor over his orchestra, demonstrated in his back-and-forth arm movements, which he timed to the beat of the music.
During his second consecutive night at The Forum in Inglewood, California, Cole owned the stage with refreshing vigor, diving into the night with the album’s first track, “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
He also performed other songs from the album such as “Immortal,” “Foldin Clothes” and “Ville Mentality,” spewing lyrics that depict the fragility of life alongside themes of racial oppression, police brutality, finding hope from love and reflection on fame. Lights erratically flashed, spun and changed colors, establishing a distinct mood and complementing the vibrations of the beat for each track.
Ari Lennox joined him onstage for his fifth song of the night, “Change,” accompanying his captivating verses with her angelic voice. Cole made sure the band and Lennox received erupting applauses by shifting the spotlight away from himself, giving frequent shoutouts to his fellow live musicians, who produced a constant flow of soulful and dreamy instrumentals during the show.
Cole’s incorporation of fan favorites from previous albums garnered blaring gratification from the audience, which instantly recognized upbeat hits including “Wet Dreamz” and “Power Trip” as soon as the first beats reverberated against the walls of the indoor venue.
The audience enhanced transitions between each song every time the lights dimmed by chanting Cole’s simple two-syllable name in a pulsating rhythm. Cole would also stop mid-bar to hear his lyrics echoed back at him from the audience.
At some points, Cole showed his authenticity as a performer by becoming a motivational speaker of sorts, integrating poetic monologues with eloquent social and political commentary. His passion for what and to whom he preached was apparent in his expressive body language, as he paced the stage and pumped his arms to emphasize words.
When Cole showed video footage of a SWAT team breaking into his house because neighbors had filed a racist complaint on what he called “blacktivity” in the neighborhood – which inspired the hit “Neighbors” – an indignant yet inspired sentiment lingered among the crowd even after he transitioned back into song.
Cole took on a more serious tone at the end of the show as he performed the lengthy eight-minute track “4 Your Eyez Only,” a tribute to a friend who was murdered, leaving a young daughter behind.
For the first time in the night, everyone took a seat and a ruminating stillness settled over the crowd. It was then that Cole’s advice to live in the moment resonated the most, and the eight-minute song didn’t seem so long after all.