It's been just two weeks since J. Cole released his latest album, KOD, and the eloquent rapper is riding a high. The album broke the record for most first-day streams on both Apple Music and Spotify, a spot previously owned by Drake. If those aren't enough bragging rights, five of the top 10 hip-hop/R&B songs on last week's chart bear his name. As the headliner for JMBLYA in Dallas on Friday, J. Cole discarded the usual hype-man warm up and dove headfirst into a stunning lyrical stream of consciousness for a devoted late-night audience.
He was the only big-name performer who opted for a live band with a drum kit, and he doesn't lean on pre-recorded vocals. He got a late start (due to the hour-plus delay from preceding act Migos), so J. Cole cut some of his biggest songs down to make it through his vibrant set list. He wooed fans with songs from the archives such as "Lights Please" and "Work Out" while showcasing much of his freshest material along the way.
His verses were unwavering as ever in "KOD," the new album's hypnotic title track.
His appeal is about more than just a great hook or clever flow. He raps about social issues like fighting for equal rights, and he talks about female self-worth in a lyrical world that often celebrates the casualness of a one-night stand.
The music came to a screeching stop when J. Cole took a fan's request to perform another new song, "1985 - Intro to 'The Fall Off.'" His DJ only had the music with vocals, to which J. Cole thankfully replied, "it's a sin to rap over vocals." Instead, he delivered the single a cappella, causing a dramatic hush to fall over the crowd as he hit the rapid-fire verses with passion and force.
Earlier in the evening, threesome Migos outstayed their welcome before they even arrived.
After an hour-and-10-minute delay (which was blamed on transportation), the trending group finally made an appearance to an impatient but celebratory crowd. Striding through heavy hitters like "Slippery" and "Stir Fry," the auto-tuned group was quickly forgiven by their young fans. Offset (the fiancé and expectant father to Cardi B), Quavo and Takeoff seamlessly danced around each another, chiming in on verses with their signature layered and sometimes-chaotic trap style.
"Bad and Boujee" sent the party-hungry audience into a frenzy. Migos has managed to stay in the spotlight with two hit records, but time will tell if the group's catchy choruses and sizzling beats will fade out with the next wave.
Over the last week and a half, two prominent JMBLYA headliners canceled, causing the festival to scramble for replacements: Young Thug filled in for Cardi B, and T.I. filled in for Kevin Gates.
T.I. offered a lighter, pop-influenced style with songs like "Live Your Life" and "Whatever You Like." But Young Thug's set fell short. His vocals were so muted that it was easier to see his mouth moving than hear what he was saying, causing an abrupt disconnect with the distracted crowd.
If JMBLYA can maintain a steady lineup that promises today's hottest hip-hop acts, the go-hard-or-go-home festival will continue to bring in fans of all ages and encourage Dallas' rap culture.