J. Cole Owns Talking Stick Resort Arena

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J. Cole performs in concert at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, AZ on July 6, 2017 (Photo by Greg Cohen).
J. Cole performs in concert at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, AZ on July 6, 2017 (Photo by Greg Cohen).

J. Cole’s got something to say. it’s important. It’s significant. It speaks to his experience and the experience of young black men across this country.  

Yes he’s now rich. And he’s sold a shit ton of records.  And he’s appeared in front of hundreds of thousands of screaming fans.  And he’s had the opportunity to meet with the President of the United States.  But that doesn’t make him immune from prejudice, bias, discrimination, and disenfranchisement.  And Cole wants to talk about that. 

He wants you to know about it so badly that he’s not only written an entire album about it, but he will tell the story straight up during the middle of the concert so everyone knows exactly what the hell he’s talking about and how important it is that we understand it.  And he’ll show a video of 16 SWAT officers crashing through his front door to prove that it’s real.  So when he raps about neighbors being suspicious that he’s selling dope out of an upscale rented home in North Carolina simply because young black men were coming and going from the house, it’s real.  And just to make we get it, he follows his hit track Neighbors with comments like,

Why do you think they busted into my crib.  Because of the fucking next door neighbor.  Actually, I think that it was the dude that lived behind us.  He called the police and said ‘Hey, uh, something strange going on over here in the neighborhood.  We got these young black guys moving in over here and there’s a lot of activity going on.  A lot of black activity.  A lot of blacktivity. You might want to check it out’…
It was like a wake-up call in a sense and I had to have a conversation with myself and what I said was ‘Why is it that every time that a black man whats the first place that we want to move to – the burbs.  9 times out of 10 staying right next to someone who doesn’t want us there’…So I had to check myself. And it made me write this shit right here.

And after an incident less than a month before the concert when a black man was approached, tackled and beaten by Mesa Police Department officers after allegedly jaywalking, it not only becomes real but incredibly local.  So when Cole explains it in concert, it’s easy to understand, and relate to, his experience even if it’s not an experience you’ve lived yourself.

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Cole’s words resonate with people. Cole has found an incredible way of speaking to people and sharing his story in a way in which his fans can relate to and identify with.  Maybe it’s the way he makes himself vulnerable in concert by admitting being afraid of whether fans will be receptive to him presenting his entire album in concert instead of just the big hits.  Maybe it’s the way he tells the back story for many of his songs so as to humanize them and make them personal and approachable.  Maybe it’s the way he acknowledges in Folding Laundry that life is often dominated by mundane moments that are worth appreciating. Or maybe it’s the way he presents his own life as a multi-dimensional experience that includes both highs and lows resulting from both successes and failures.  

J. Cole performs in concert at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, AZ on July 6, 2017 (Photo by Greg Cohen).

Regardless of the reason, the amazing part is that it resonates incredibly well with his fans.  Not only does it resonate with young black men who have very directly shared Cole’s life experiences, it clearly resonated in concert with everyone in the audience who appeared to feel disenfranchised for whatever reason, whether the result of their color, ethnicity, gender, gender preference, age or any other factor.  

And when Cole appeared at the Talking Stick Resort Arena on July 6, 2017, as part of the 4 Your Eyez Only tour, it clearly resonated with the 13,000 in attendance.  Though this was the 14th show of the tour, it was the first big-venue arena show.  The first 13 shows were held in smaller, more intimate theatres and venues.   

Performing from a single platform in the middle of the venue, Cole felt like he was close, both physically and metaphorically, to everybody in the arena.  By being in the middle of the arena, Cole made the large venue feel much more intimate than it would have if he had appeared on stage at one end – not quite like a small venue, but much more intimate than the big arena normally feels.  And it worked to great effect because that intimacy facilitated the relationship between Cole and the audience that helped make him as relatable as he was in concert.  It was clear that everyone in attendance felt that they didn’t just attend the concert, but that they participated in it with Cole in a meaningful way.

Cole clearly knows his audience, knows how to stage a concert and knows how to relate to his fans.  But perhaps most importantly, Cole has tremendous self-awareness and knows himself, which appears to truly be the source of his success.

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