October 10, 2018 @ TD Garden
Wednesday, October 10th was a special night for Boston as it welcomed the last show of a unique and inspiring tour from one of hip hop’s most recognizable faces. Jermaine Cole, also known as J. Cole, wrapped up his KOD tour in TD Garden on Wednesday night alongside supporting acts Young Thug, the electric Jaden Smith, and Dreamville Records label mates EarthGang.
EarthGang kicked off the show with a brief but energetic set, emerging with large goofy hats and bright, engaging visuals behind them on stage, and playing some of their biggest hit like “Red Light” and their cut off “Jermaine’s Interlude.” EarthGang exhibited a genuine energy throughout their set, keeping up with bouncy, upbeat sounds by maintaining a charismatic flow and tight lyrical deliveries. Earthgang exhibited moments of both confidence and humility.
Following EarthGang, the influential and charismatic 20-year old Jaden Smith took the stage, serving as a hype man, dance performer, and musician all at once. Smith gave the city of Boston multiple shout outs during his set,, encouraging fans to check out some of the places he had explored, including MIT and Harvard’s campuses. Jaden quickly engaged the crowd with slick dance moves and passionate performances of hits like “Icon,” which he performed twice. During the last performance, he took a lap around the floor section of the arena, taking videos on fan’s phones and connecting personally with his audience.
After Smith left the stage, veteran superstar Young Thug came on, face hidden behind thick sunglasses, a beanie hat and a hoodie, playing very well into his mysterious and hidden aurora. Thug performed a wide array of music from his diverse and lengthy catalogue, with throwback hits like “Lifestyle,” “Digits,” and “Pick Up the Phone” woven cleverly in between new hits like “Sin” off of his new album On the Rvn, where he brought Jaden Smith back out to complete his segment of the song. As expected, Thug used his voice as his most prominent instrument, sounding like a true rap heavy hitter at certain points and an emotional crooner at others.
Upon the end of Thug’s set, an immediate energy and excitement filled up the now-packed Garden, as a large curtain explaining the three meanings of J. Cole’s album KOD (Kids on Drugs, King Overdosed, Kill our Demons) hid the stage from view. When Cole’s set started, the curtain fell, revealing the three letters of the album as large balloons hung above the stage. Cole wasted no time tapping into the crowd’s love of his most beloved hits; after playing the intro to KOD and opening with “Window Pain (Outro)”, Cole threw the crowd into a frenzy with performances of “A Tale of 2 Citiez” and “Fire Squad” off of his double platinum third solo album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive. From there, Cole drew from a number of previous projects to complete his impressive setlist, including Born Sinner (performing “Power Trip”), 2016’s 4 Your Eyez Only (performing “Déjà Vu”, “Ville Mentality”, and “Neighbors”), and even taking it back to 2011, where he performed “Work Out” from Cole World: The Sideline Story, after giving an emotional explanation of the song’s importance to his career. Cole explained that without a hit radio single, he might never have earned the platform and respect that allowed him to become who he is today. From there, J. Cole wrapped up his set with fan favorites such as “Wet Dreamz”, “G.O.M.D.”, and a bouncy, rage-inducing performance of the title track “KOD” that ended his set until cheers and applause brought him out for two encores; one being the controversial and thought-provoking “1985”, and the other being “No Role Modelz.”
The most impressive thing about Cole’s set was not necessarily the music or the performances, but rather the way he carried himself. Despite being a rap titan in 2018, Cole expressed humility and vulnerability with the crowd, explaining that part of the reason KOD means so much to him is that he also has demons he is trying to overcome. He got very personal with the crowd at numerous points, giving life advice, criticizing the politics of things such as tax and wealth, and reminding us all to work to see the beauty in others and take time to learn one’s journey before you judge. As a legitimate star, he could have just performed his required music and left, but instead decided to take his last night on tour as a chance to reach out and give the themes and motifs behind his songs a face and identity. In typical J. Cole fashion, however, he never dismissed the opportunity to assert himself as a dominant force in music where he could, filling up the jumbotron screen with goat emojis over his face as he rapped his fast-paced closing verse to “KOD” acapella, to roaring applause from fans.