Rain Can't Stop J.Cole & Big Sean's Climb to Hip-Hop Royalty
Photos by Francisco Montes
J.Cole, Big Sean, Jeremih, YG
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
August 21, 2015
When J.Cole speaks, he speaks with the knowledge that three albums, two lauded mixtapes and a pretty lethargic following have enabled his voice. He’s engaging, conversational and often thankful for the moment he’s been granted. Both he and Friday's undercard friend/early “blog rap” contemporary Big Sean were thankful for reaching points in their careers where performing at Warehouse Live and House of Blues seemed like early proving moments. Here was Cole, sitting on a makeshift roof that looked like his childhood home, reciting his story to a more than sold-out Cynthia Woods crowd.
“You ever hit a fake ass before?” he asked the crowd before launching into “No Role Modelz” from 2014 Forest Hills Drive. “It feel like somebody mixed sand and concrete together.” He then imitated the shortest of pelvic thrusts, backed by small hints of the Jaws theme by his band. If he didn’t already have the look and feel of a rapper far too comfortable in his own skin, he made damn sure of it Friday night. His twisted and matted hair has become sort of a mid-career trademark, same for barely hiding a near unibrow and rocking a pair of Air Jordan sneakers and basketball shorts. He wanted to seem just as normal as you or I. He joked about how he zooms in on pics of Instagram models, how he got dismissed time and time again when he used to send music to record labels via MySpace. J.Cole wants to be seen as the most down to Earth rapper in the world, faults and all.
True to his word, Cole dictated that the night would be dedicated to his lauded third album, performing every song from it in order. He only allowed himself to venture backwards for the “day ones” and “diehards” by brushing up on “Lights Please” from The Warm Up and “In the Morning” from Friday Night Lights, along with “Nobody’s Perfect” and “Can’t Get Enough” from Cole World: The Sideline Story. Any song that wasn’t particularly meant for the women, you weren’t going to get it. Not “2 Face,” not “Blow Up,” not “Who Dat,” not any of it.
At Cynthia Woods, Cole was a slight departure from his last Houston stop, when he performed a large chunk of his Born Sinner album and even got an onstage cameo from Kendrick Lamar. All of that was for a mere $1. The Forest Hills Drive Tour Cole was solo, along with an LED background and a giant screen that took its images and iconography straight from pre-Yeezus-era Kanye West. He told the faithful never to lose sight of their dreams, even if somebody like him tells them “no.” He’s far more aware of who he is as a musician now, offering far more humane responses to dreamers than anyone save a few others.
Among them would be Big Sean. Much like Cole, Sean Anderson is playing bigger venues to louder fanfare this tour, but Friday almost fell completely by the wayside. His Hall of Fame, while singles-driven, registered to be nothing. His third album, Dark Sky Paradise, not only turned out to be the best of his career, it revitalized everything about him. He’s still a bit bird-chested, but when Big Sean raps about something or someone he cares about, he truly asks the fans to join him and his passion.
See, Big Sean has a catalog that is a mix of braggadocio, outright nasally pomp (“IDFWU”) and even ‘80s-baby perfect (“Play No Games”). A song like “One Man Can Change the World,” however, shifts every cocky thing you’ve ever heard about him and flips it on its head. For three minutes, he launches into a constantly moving thank-you note to his grandmother; every time I’ve seen him perform it, he’s almost on the verge of tears. He and his mom heard the song on the radio one day and they immediately pulled over to hear it in full. It’s that moving of a record.
If not for Cynthia Woods extending the usual 10:59 p.m. curfew, fans might have missed out on that moment of Big Sean performing atop a makeshift corner store. That’s because a rain delay of near epic proportions hit The Woodlands at exactly the wrong time.
I’ve been to many a show at the venue. I was there for one of the initial #KanyeRants during the "Glow In the Dark" Tour in 2008, and last year when Drake dissed Chris Brown and Rihanna in one shady-ass move. I was there when Jay Z & 50 Cent tried to one-up one another during the "Roc the Mic" tour and got my last glimpse of Roc-A-Fella Records as it originally existed.
All of those concerts dealt with onstage issues or little wrinkles. Getting slapped with a huge weather delay in the middle of what was supposed to be Big Sean’s set is an entirely different situation.
Big Sean was to be the warmup before J.Cole headlined. Then the rains came rolling in and everything ground to a halt. You couldn’t even tell if YG had already turned the arena into a Bompton party or Jeremih tried to detour everyone into their feelings with “Planes” or “No Tellin'," because everyone couldn’t stop talking about the rain. Even the concession stands said, “NO BUSINESS BUT WE CAN PROBABLY STILL SELL YOU ALCOHOL!”
The fans who had purchased lawn seats immediately zoomed past security to sit in prime seats as well as hang near the front, almost daring security to move them back once the rains settled and dried up.
Once people realized that teenagers and oblivious girls and bros who hadn’t graduated to being Bros occupied their seats, the mass punkings began. Grown adults, obviously not fans of being wet or missing Big Sean or especially missing J.Cole, promptly escorted all of the teens away and back to their relative purgatory on the lawn. Then, the show resumed as expected.
And Cole and Sean took their rightful places as the new league of hip-hop royalty.
J.COLE SET LIST
A Tale of 2 Citiez
In The Morning
No Role Modelz
Can't Get Enough
Note To Self
BIG SEAN SET LIST
All Your Fault
Play No Games
One Man Can Change the World
Marvin & Chardonnay
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.