SXSW Live Shot: J. Cole

He sings some, raps elsewhere, and shouts – angrily

Outside was a mob scene, with lines wrapping around turnstiles before eventually meeting bigger groups of lines. VIP traffic jams frayed out unto beaucoup bored bystanders. It was the longest line SXSW saw this year, according to Sam Heineman, manager of the conference’s grandest gatherings.

Photo by Gary Miller

Inside, clouds of weed smoke wafted over a jam-packed audience all counting down the arrival of Dreamville/Roc Nation cover boy J. Cole like they were welcoming in the new year. First came three proteges: Omen, Cozz, and Bas, hailing from Chicago, L.A., and Queens, respectively. Take away the stage setup and the pristine sound system at the Moody, and you’ve got rappers No. 1,001-1,003 around Austin this weekend.

Boy does it ever work wonders when you’re operating under the arm of a rap superstar.

Each performed three songs. Midway through Bas’ set the other two came back – along with a handful of others – to jump about the stage shouting “We made it” to a hook. It’s disingenuous musically. They awoke on third and think they’ve slugged a triple.

Then again, anybody standing before J. Cole’s capacity audience must think they hit the big time.

J. Cole arrived after 15 minutes of house lights and stage checks wearing white jeans, a white shirt, and an Afro that looks like it gets smashed under a hat too often. He’s got Drake’s penchant for hazy, pop-rap hybrids, but wisely leans away from Southern sounds unlike his counterparts. He sings some, raps elsewhere, and shouts – angrily – at unforeseen intervals throughout most numbers.

There’s not much he does that’s iconic, however, and yet he steps around the stage like a champion. Saleswise, he is that. December’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive hit No. 1 then went platinum without the release of any advance singles.

Yet he’s neither a messenger like Kendrick Lamar nor an emotional cage match like Drake. And while he moves around stage well, he’s got nothing on a guy like Big K.R.I.T.

Cole’s got a little bit of each of them, and he used that to work his way through the set. Songs weren’t snippets, but segments, vignettes into eight years worth of sought-after material. They began huge and closed suddenly, each one conceived to be entirely different from the next.

This was just the preview, too. Cole said that the tour features a run through December’s album, so that everyone would know his story. Soon, everyone will know what J. Cole is about.

Complete SXSW Music coverage at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

Tanya Tagaq Owns Fusebox Music
Tanya Tagaq Owns Fusebox Music
Inuit throat singer reanimates Nanook of the North

Raoul Hernandez, April 3, 2015

Playback: Upholding the Code
Playback: Upholding the Code
Keeping SXSW safe selectively?

Kevin Curtin, April 3, 2015

More by Chase Hoffberger
Revisiting the Railroad Killer
Revisiting the Railroad Killer
Local journo Alex Hannaford’s Dead Man Talking podcast investigates the case against a man on death row

Nov. 16, 2018

EMS Union Set for Leadership Contest
EMS Union Set for Leadership Contest
Association to cast ballot between incumbent Tony Marquardt or challenger Selena Xie

Nov. 16, 2018


J. Cole, SXSW Music 2015, Omen, Cozz, Bas, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Big K.R.I.T.

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle