J. Cole and Wale
What Dreams May Come Tour
James L. Knight Center, Miami
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Better Than: Any evening when Rick Ross doesn't suddenly emerge from the darkness. Which is most nights for us.
J. Cole and Wale are both men who, only a handful of years ago, you wouldn't have recognized in the slightest. But damn, have they been on their hustle. Armed with their own unique and uncompromising styles and a dedication that never stalls, each of these MCs has rocketed through the ranks of fame.
It's a dream come true, but dreams are nothing without nightmares, and their co-headlining What Dreams May Come tour is all about these struggles. Last night, they celebrated the first night of their shared success at the James L. Knight Center in Miami, kicking off with special guest appearances and lots of theatrics.
Both stars do a good job toeing the line between pop sensibility and real street cred, and the crowd, filling the 4,600-capacity theater, seemed locked into that same aesthetic.
By the time Wale took the stage at 8 p.m., the venue was just a couple hundred shy of a packed house. People lingered in beer and chicken wing lines as the first booming chords split the air. But white flashes brought the fans back to their seats and then to their feet, while Wale wasted no time, going straight into his verse off the stripper-love anthem "No Hands."
The rapper paraded back and forth across the stage in an all-white suit, sometimes joined on the stage by a singer or a fellow MC. He kept the energy up through tracks "Slight Work" and "The One Eye Kitten Song." His presentation was simple but flashy with lots of lights and a backdrop border that changed colors to set the mood for every cut. And the D.C. rapper was noticeably riding the hype, leading the crowd in a chant of "Turn the fuck up."
He communed with the crowd, sharing weed with fans and passing the mic to some girls in the front row. He slowed it down, upped the drama, and sang under the spotlight. He let his feelings out on "Ambition" and "Rotation." He teased the ladies, admitting that he wanted to take someone home, saying, "I could meet my future wife."
He slowly built the tempo back up with "Vanity" and "Pretty Girls" before dropping it hard with "Clappers." But no doubt, the highlight of the night came after "Lotus Flower Bomb" when Wale said he'd made a promise to celebrate the first stop on his tour by performing the biggest hit from the Maybach camp, whatever it happened to be.
"The biggest hit in Maybach right now is without a doubt 'FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt,'" he said as the crowd roared to attention. "Let's do it like the fat boy was here."
The dark beat thundered out, and Wale began to dance. Everyone was excited to sing along, but the energy exploded as the fat boy himself wandered out of the darkness and onto the stage. Ricky Rozay set the whole place on fire as he jumped and roared into the mic. Miami was fucking with him, he's totally got it.
They ran through a few more rhymes before Ross said his goodbye.
"This is Miami. This is the 305. This is the home of Maybach Music," he said. "One more time for Wale. This guy is an icon."
Wale finished his set with some old-school jams and satisfied the crowd with a little encore of his "Rack City" remix, then it was about an hour between acts for bathroom breaks, or more beer and chicken, while Kendrick Lamar's Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City played over the speakers.
Just as Kendrick's "Sing About Me" hit its chorus, the lights dimmed and rainfall was projected on all the walls. A large curtain had come up, hiding the stage. And when it fell, a full band was revealed, complete with a drummer, guitarist, two singers, a DJ, and two keyboard players. A single mic stand sat in the middle of the stage at the bottom of a large stairway.
A television flicked on the jumbo screen at the top of the steps and a news bulletin reported that J. Cole had been involved in a deadly car accident. His driver and friends were killed, and the rapper remained in critical condition. The guitarist let loose an electric howl as Cole appeared in an all-black ensemble, baseball shirt, and hat.
He set it off with "Trouble," and the crowd went ballistic. Bitches love J. Cole, and the high-pitched screams were kind of intimidating. His band was tight and clear, highly skilled musicians who were happy to help J Cole's drama unfold. As he went into "Land of Snakes," he explained the show's premise.
"This shit tonight is not just a show, it's a journey," he said. And from beginning to end, we followed Cole as he walked through the depths of Hell, looking for redemption and trying to find his way back home. It was all very grand and ambitious, while throughout the show, Cole would sit at his own little VIP table of sorts and drink Hennessey between tracks.
"Miami, I'm not going to lie to you, man. I'm so happy to be here with you right now," he gushed. "This is the biggest thing a nigga like me ever done." And it was true. The last time Cole came to Miami, it was a much smaller affair. Now, as a headliner with an over-the-top production, he wasn't going to underestimate his moment.
He played through "Work Out" and "Mo Money," his voice coming through loud and clear so his words could ring in our ears. Everyone had a little sing-along moment when he played through "Runaway," followed by "She Knows."
The lights dimmed and a quick video showed Cole and a friend in the back of a limo, drinking liquor and having a good time. Suddenly, the tires screeched and the car slammed into something, and the wreckage smoked as their buddies lay slumped over the seats, motionless.
Cole wandered to the front of the stage, finding himself in Hell, wondering how he got there and what was going on. He'd had a little costume change during the break,and now he wore a red jacket. He performed "Forbidden Fruit" and "Lit" with his friend from the car before his buddy walked off to find his own way home.
Suddenly, the voice of Nas came through the darkness, coaching Cole, warning him of his precarious situation. "Look around you, don't you know where you are?" Nas said. But before Cole could climb the steps to meet him, he was gone.
He got dark on "Villuminati" and soulful on "Rich Niggaz," as the band performed choreographed movements behind him.
"I need you to make some fucking noise for yourselves tonight," Cole shouted. "More specifically, I need the niggas who've been rockin' with me from day one. I understand that not everybody can be rocking with me from day one. It's your duty right now to sing this next song with me, word for word, as loud as you can."
Then he took it back with "Lights Please," "Hit It in the Morning" and "Chris Tucker."
"Miami, I clearly got myself into some shit tonight," he addressed the fans. "I'm glad I got you guys in here to fuck with me the first night of this tour."
There was a big rush toward the end as Cole finished with "Can't Get Enough" and then disappeared into the dark. For a moment, the crowd hung on, cheering, until suddenly, the guitar ripped to life again, playing the last notes of the National Anthem.
Cole appeared under a spotlight at the top of the stairs. He was in all white with an American flag draped over his shoulders. He had climbed out of Hell, apparently, and made it to heaven in time to sing "Miss America." He followed it with "Chaining Day," gold necklaces projected all over the walls.
He got a roar of applause from "Let Nas Down" and had all the girls screaming for "Crooked Smile." Again, he walked off stage after a grand send off. The television flickered back on, and this time the newswoman reported that Cole had come out of his coma, showing signs of recovery.
He returned to the stage for a more triumphant rendition of "Power Trip" -- oh yes, he went for the double encore -- then took the time to stay and high five everyone in the front row, stopping to sign pictures and posters as security trailed behind him.
When the lights went up and Kendrick came back, asking for people to "sing about me," we knew it was really over.
But good lord, it felt like we'd really been through a whole Hell of a lot. As J Cole said himself, "It's going to be hard to top tonight, Miami."
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