To some, 29-year-old rapper J. Cole is the most boring rapper in the game. Last year, LA Weekly put out a track by track review of Cole’s sophomore album Born Sinner using sleeping cat gifs. His most recent single “Crooked Smile” was the song of the summer…last year. So what made hundreds of people spend hours in the pouring rain for a shot at watching him perform?
On June 15th, J. Cole announced the second annual Dollar and a Dream tour that would hit London, New York, Miami, Raleigh, Chicago and Los Angeles. The rules of the tour are to wait for Cole to tweet the venue location for the show on the day of the event, get there as soon as possible and then wait until you get your ticket. It sounds simple but because the ticket costs only a dollar, fans must endure a grueling wait to ensure their spot– rain or shine. This year, in celebration of the five year anniversary, he only performed songs from his 2009 mixtape The Warm Up.
New York City on July 15th had particularly miserable weather. The humidity was thick and thunder rumbled through the city streets. I approached a group of boys around the block from the venue and asked them where they were headed. From the dejected looks on their face, I could tell they didn’t get their ticket. They told me they waited six hours through torrential downpours before the show sold out and cops started pushing people away. Their clothes were soaked and they were visibly upset. But once I asked them about Cole, their energy skyrocketed.
“It’s real sh-t he talks,” they said when I asked why they were fans. “He’s not just babbling on the mic.” But what about people who say he’s boring? “They’re dumb. They’re not intellectual. How is it boring when all he talks about is real life situations? I’m not talking about the fake Instagram or swagged out life people think they live in. I’m mean real life. He talks on that every day perspective.” I looked ahead at the sprawling line of people of all ages and races huddled together while steam rose from the concrete. It was still drizzling and so damn hot, but the mob of fans stuck together, some standing, some in beach chairs.
In his official statement regarding the 5-year anniversary of The Warm Up entitled, “Can I Last In This,” Cole recalls meaningful moments with fans:
“I think about all the times over the past few years that one of you has said to me, ‘you’re the reason I went to college.’ ‘yo, The Warm Up got me through some hard times,’ ‘got me through law school,’ ‘med school,’ ‘high school.’ ‘The Warm Up changed my life.’”
It doesn’t take much to see how J. Cole attracts fans. Cole represents an older brother figure. Someone you can kick it with, but can also offer you advice. He claims that he “coulda been a lawyer but he made it rapping.” He raps about college and how education was the route he chose to make his dream come true. He is someone people aspire to be and his music reaches his fans at a deeper level.
Musically, Cole’s rule is quality over quantity. He takes his time to craft his own songs instead of dropping random tracks into an already over-saturated hip hop pool of music. In an interview with Vevo, Cole explains, “I remember waiting on a Nas album for like three years, you know what I mean? I would like to come once a year. And I try to drop little songs in the middle but I feel like that wait makes them appreciate it even more when it does come. I’m not into playing that internet game and trying to keep up with that rat race.”
When Cole decides to do something, it’s not because he’s trying to keep up with what’s hot or what’s expected. He strictly keeps to his own terms, trying time and time again to outdo only himself with his next track. That confidence and belief in himself is rare when pop culture, music critics and trends can tempt people to try and do things that aren’t authentic to themselves. That conviction was also visible in the hundreds of fans standing in an endless line, waiting for hours to see Cole live last week at the Highline Ballroom.