Photo by Spencer Murdock
It’s not every day you see someone pack so many impressive things into only 29 years.
Fayetteville, N.C. native Jermaine Cole, or J. Cole, is seen as a leader in a highly talented new school of rappers. Cole has been a high school basketball star, a student on academic scholarship to St. John’s University, and a Grammy-nominated rapper signed to Jay-Z’s record label, with two of the best mix tapes of the last 10 years and two almost fully self-produced gold albums.
Fans shuffled through the brisk September air into Hog’s Back Park, anticipating the performance of hip-hop’s sole representative on the Folk Festival’s lineup. The crowd kept entertained by Cole’s backing band, with a drummer, two keyboardists, a guitar player, two backup singers, and a DJ.
As the chants ran high, the lights came up and out walked Mr. Cole in a hat, Puma hoodie, and shorts to the beat of “Enchanted.” Fans rapped and sang along to the somber track from 2010’s stunning Friday Night Lights, but he soon lightened the mood with the bombastic “Who Dat” that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Throughout the set, Cole thanked fans for coming out to support him despite the weather, cracked jokes, and commanded the audience through a set list of some of his best tracks. He requested the assistance of the fans that have been with him since day one to help him through older tracks like “Blow Up,” “In the Morning,” and “Lights Please.” He pleased the more casual listeners with more radio-friendly hits “Work Out” and “Nobody’s Perfect” from his debut album Cole World: The Sideline Story. Crowd participation was at a high during hits from Cole’s 2013 sophomore release Born Sinner. “Land of the Snakes,” “She Knows,” “Forbidden Fruit,” and “Crooked Smile” were all high points and truly showed the strength of Cole as a performer. He capped it all off with a jump down to crowd level to thank fans in the front.
J. Cole is a man of many facets, but if he proved only one at Folk Fest, it’s that above everything else, he puts on one hell of a show.