Live: J. Cole Brings His Stardust To The Bowery Ballroom
Tuesday, August 9
Better than: Listening to "Headlines" on repeat. (Or even once.)
It's not easy being J. Cole. Great expectations have been dumped on him, a steaming pile of hope and hype and hoopla on his shoulders. Bossman Jay-Z shoved him into the spotlight on "A Star is Born"what's the opposite of subtle?in 2009. He was on the cover of XXL's Freshmen issue in 2010, back when people still considered OJ Da Juiceman a thing. What has followed has been a series of speed bumps, traffic, and wrong turns in the parking lot that is Roc Nation. Stars may be born, but stars still have to wait in line behind bigger stars.
J. Cole has entire mixtapes of album cuts, yet no album. (His debut, Cole World: The Sideline Story, hits shelves on September 27; people who have heard it say that it exists! Also, that it's well worth the wait.) His releases have consistently been beautiful, gut-wrenching and clever, cherished keepsakes in an age of quickly forgotten mp3s. It's too bad that beauty doesn't matter on the radio.
Wikipedia says that "Work Out," an oozy slow-burn with a Kanye sample, was the lead single for Cole World, but it might not have been a single at all. There's no video, and the song's had no real push. Wikipedia's not always correct. (A quick second-unreliable-opinion consultation with Yahoo! Answers reveals that it's played "in a lot of clubs," though not in New York, and not much on the radio, save for Tampa.) His next (first?) official single, "Can't Get Enough," has Trey Songz over a soulful beat, and it's awesome. True to form, it sounds nothing like what's on the radio.
People want J. Cole to succeed, but there seems to be a stark difference in who J. Cole is and who his fans want him to be. He is low-key, endlessly likable, friendly. Because of that, people treat his songs like a protective older brother sizing up a sister's suitors, overly cautious and quickly dismissive. A writer at last night's show said of "Work Out," "It's cool, but it shouldn't be his single," which was also the Internet consensus. (People seem to want J. Cole to make straightforward hits a la Drake. In fact, they want him to be Drakewell, a working-class American Drake with an emphasis on lyrics, minus the sadness, and oh yeah, trim the eyebrows. But the pop-ready hooks have to be there. Can't forget the pop-ready hooks.)