The flash flood warnings hit up every iPhone in New York without any sign of respect for the city’s plans Tuesday afternoon (July 15). Still, no child of Mother Nature was stopping J. Cole fans from wrapping around 16th Street and 9th Avenue for the second annual Dollar and a Dream tour in the rapper’s second home.
The show paid homage to Cole’s classic mixtape, The Warm Up, the 22-track opus responsible for cementing him a rap deal with Jay Z and a spot on the Roc Nation roster. A soaked crowd of teen-looking Stans, covered in Dreamville jerseys (signifying Cole’s label/ business venture with Interscope) piled into the Highline Ballroom, which would host two concerts that night (one at 7pm, the other at 10pm) because it was “small.” This coming from the guy who once headlined HOT97’S Who’s Next Series at S.O.B.’s (a venue three times as tiny) four years ago.
Small venue today so 2 shows is a definite.
— J. Cole (@JColeNC) July 15, 2014
Rewind to 2007 when Jermaine Cole, a Fayetteville, North Carolina native, made the upward trek to New York to be a Communications major at St. John’s University. Cole (whose original rap name was Therapist) was just scratching the surface of his rap talents with his debut mixtape The Come Up, which included his first “Dead Presidents” freestyle and the baby cub to “Grown Simba”, simply titled “Simba.” In 2009, the SJU grad dropped The Warm Up, which served as audible proof that he was a wordsmith with potential to be a star.
In 2010, I was a sophomore at St. John’s and also entertainment editor for the university’s newspaper The Torch. When J. Cole headlined that year’s spring concert, he was like the Danny Zuko of the Queens campus (minus the leather threads, hip swivels and John Travolta’s slicked back hairstyle). Girls wanted to take selfies (before selfies were on trend) with him as familiar faces approached him and gave him daps. It was like Cole never graduated.
While seated outside Montgoris Hall, the dorms’ main dining area, I asked him what made him worthy of the attention.
He simply said, “I have a different story.”
Back at Highline, déjà vu is kicking in. Cole is still spitting on the mic with the same vigor as an unsigned rapper. The words he’s kicking through the speakers aren’t just his personal gospel (cheating on his girl, being broke, following his dreams), they’re his real-life stories preserved on wax. Even Cole’s set hasn’t changed since his St. John’s homecoming: he’s performing “Grown Simba,” “Dead Presidents 2”, the close-to-home “Losing My Balance” and invites one of his female fans to sing the hook on “Dreams.” (Sidebar: where is Brandon Hines hiding these days?) Manager and Dreamville Prez Ibrahim “Ib” Hamad is also rocking along in the shadows like he and Cole are still undergrads. For the full story click here.