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J. Cole and Big Sean Light up the DMV at the 2014 Forest Hills Drive Tour [REVIEW]

J. Cole's Dramatic Monologue Challenges Hip-Hop's Status Quo
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Hip-Hop monologue? That’s almost an oxymoron. Theater isn’t Hip-Hop! Yeah I know, but last night somehow Jermaine Cole, better known as J. Cole, introduced millennials to an art form typically reserved for high society (or Baby Boomers.) The best part? The crowd didn’t even realize it!

I know, you hear “concert” and you want to know how lit it was. Don’t get me wrong, the 2014 Forest Hills Drive is without a doubt this Summer’s must-see live show. With YG, Jeremih and Big Sean as his opening acts, the turn up is real, but I connected with the show on another level. Follow me.

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For Starters
To be honest, I missed the entire first half of the show. (Sorry YG and Jeremih. You know I love you!) I promise we left an hour before the show started, but still got stuck only 4 miles away in the ridiculous traffic the sold-out show drew. The trip from DC to Bristow, Va. should’ve been 43 minutes, but it turned into an hour and a half.

Picture this, Jiffy Lube Live was packed with 25,000 screaming fans. Within the pavilion there are 10,000 seats plus standing room right in front of the stage. Then outside, there’s a massive lawn wrapping the pavilion allowing another 15,000 people to rock out to several jumbotron monitors. Traffic was pretty much a shitshow.

Once me and TMO365 Photography, the photographer responsible for these amazing images, got to the venue and got our media passes there was just enough time to catch our breath and get to work. I grabbed a hot dog and made my way to my seat in section 102. (Thank you LiveNation DC for the amazing seats!) As I was identifying my row the lights dimmed and the crowd roared.

Big Sean Takes Us to Dark Sky Paradise
As an amazing image of the duality of a good boy with a bad streak, a digital backdrop appeared of a typical inner-city block: a liquor store next to a church. Each venue aptly named “Paradise” tips us all off. It’s Big Sean!

He comes out and performs all his hits from Dark Sky Paradise including “I Know,” “Stay Down,” “IDFWU,” “Blessings” and “Play No Games.”

Big Sean then opened up for a vulnerable performance of “One Man Can Change The World,” dedicated to his late grandmother. He shared how she achieved a professional degree, cooked and provided a home for her kids and their kids, was one the first black female captains during World War II and later became one of the first black women to serve as a police officer in his hometown of Detroit.

The heartwarming segment showed us a side of Big Sean that was endearing, and helped to explain his drive for success. I enjoyed seeing that side of him, but to make sure we didn’t get the wrong idea, he got back to the dark side and revisited a time when he was traveling, opening for DMV rapper Wale. He performed songs from Finally Famous, Hall of Fame and even did “Beware.”

Fog filled the room and the rapper made his way off stage leaving the crowd begging for more. The house lights came up, curtains came down and we all found ways to occupy the 15-minute intermission. I grabbed a beer and caught up with a few people I bumped into. Before you knew it it was time to make my way back to my seat for the main event.

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J. Cole the Thespian
J. Cole’s set was simple: we were all his best friend just chilling on the roof of 2014 Forest Hills Drive.

The album’s intro began to play and we could only hear his voice. The fog clears and we see the stage where Cole in his athletic socks, basketball shorts and tall tee is perched on the roof as though he’s been waiting for us.

With “January 28th” setting the tone, he explained that the album is a journey and that he’ll be performing the entire body of work from front to back. Without further ado, we began our voyage with “Wet Dreamz.”

A naive young man has sex for the first time and awakens a man– an enlightened man who notices that life must have more to offer than what his immediate surroundings in Fayetteville, N.C. portrays.

Needing to escape the “small town mentality,” Cole takes us to New York with him for school, but more so to pursue music– “A Tale of 2 Citiez.” In this scene the 30-foot screen at the back of the stage portrays the Brooklyn bridge through what could be the sunroof of a moving car.

The windows of the house’s roof turn red and the pavilion fills with fog again at the drop of “Fire Squad,” illustrating Cole’s “arrival.”

He’s in the game and smoking with his role models, but things aren’t what they seemed to be from Fayetteville.

The crowd’s reaction to the Iggy Azelea line was interesting considering the crowd was skewed white. Apparently white people don’t really like Iggy either, but I digress. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

At this point J. Cole takes a moment to revisit the project he produced upon first being signed to Jay-Z’s RocNation, Cole World: The Sideline Story. “Lights Please,” “In the Morning” and “Nobody’s Perfect” made the cut.

Back to your regularly schedule programming…

By now I’m a beer in and I’m just now noticing that the DJ, band and background singers are lined up horizontally within the LED backdrop. Brilliant. The sole focus is J. Cole. The two black female singers kill the interlude to “St. Tropez” while the horn section rang out! Signifying Cole’s ascension into fame, the background changes to a sunny, daytime image of the Hollywood sign. We’ve arrived! Well, everyone but the naysayers who didn’t believe in him. That’s simple though. He tells them to “G.O.M.D.”

J. Cole explains that he has actually never been to St. Tropez, rather it’s a metaphor for paradise, “In my mind it’s where all the rich mother fuckers go.”

He takes a second to describe Hollywood– both the physical city and the culture for those of us who haven’t experienced it. The analogy is a Kim Kardashian type with a “fake ass” that “feels like a bag of cement.” As he tells this story of a broken girl the Hollywood sign catches fire until it burns down, and we’re led into “No Role Models.” The background now illustrates a daze using a rotating image of Downtown Los Angeles at night.

Realizing that the grass truly isn’t greener on the other side, Cole begins to miss home and takes us back through the clouds via more fog and a driving image of trees in Fayetteville for “Hello.” After seeing how money and fame doesn’t guarantee happiness, “Apparently” he was fine with the life he already had and encouraged us all to “Love Yours.”

J. Cole makes his way back to the rooftop and sits down. He thanks us for supporting him as he makes history– most artists don’t perform their entire album and he says it’s because it’s trash. The crowd obviously agreed as they cheered after the statement. Cole leaves the stage. The crowd chants for more. People began to exit.

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Pro Tip: When an artist seems to leave the stage abruptly, keep your seat and assume they’re coming back
He came back out and brought Jeremih with him to perform “Planes.” J. Cole performed another 20-minute set including some of his older hits like “Work Out”, “Crooked Smile” and ended the show on “Power Trip.”
My Review
I thoroughly enjoyed myself. This was my first show at Jiffy Lube Live and I really like the setup of the venue. The staff was friendly and organized. Leaving the parking lot was night and day as compared to my experience the night before at Merriweather Post Pavilion.

I was really impressed with the set. The thought and skill that went into lighting and visuals was impressive and helped to enhance the overall experience. This was more than a concert. It was a production and the theatre geek in me loved every second of it. Funny point, this guy walking out behind me had the audacity to say that Cole’s raps had too many lyrics for him to really enjoy the production– clearly it all went over his head. That’s the whole point, dude.

Anyway, I’d be willing to travel to the next city to catch the show again because it was that good. Big Sean and J. Cole provided their 13-38 year-old crowd with a ghetto gospel that was both entertaining, enjoyable and uplifting. 5 out of 5 stars easily.

Have you caught the show in your city? What did you think?