SXSW: J. Cole’s ‘Dreamville Takeover’ keeps the focus on rising stars

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J. Cole performs at the Dreamville Takeover Showcase at ACL Live durin SXSW on Saturday. Erika Rich / For American-Statesman
J. Cole performs at the Dreamville Takeover  Showcase at ACL Live durin SXSW on Saturday. Erika Rich / For American-Statesman

J. Cole performs at the Dreamville Takeover Showcase at ACL Live during SXSW on Saturday.
Erika Rich / For American-Statesman

Rumored guests (Drake! Kanye!!) never showed for J. Cole’s “Dreamville Takeover” show at ACL Live Saturday night, but even without the added star power it was the most high profile hip-hop event of the week. Cole, who has a summer tour in the works which includes a stop at the Austin360 Amphitheater, performed alongside rapidly rising stars Joey Bada$$ and Iamsu as well as artists from his own, label Dreamville records. The bill also featured college rap fave G-Eazy and Redman. The only name missing was Cole’s summer tour mate, Big Sean, who was a featured panelist who played a few parties but (oddly) did not do an official  showcase at the fest.
Nonetheless, Cole, whose highly intelligent fusion of R&B and hip-hop has made him a radio star, had fans lining up early. At 3 p.m. a line wrapped around the block outside the venue. By 7:30 p.m., the line had swelled to a throng and it was moved into a few well-organized queues across the street. The hype level was in overdrive and even official badge holders realized the only way to guarantee entry was to show before 8. Around that time, as the club neared capacity, Bay Area up-and-comer Iamsu took the stage. With an excellent new school West Coast flow, the rapper has had a great week at the fest. Repping for the Bay, he punctuated his set with an appearance from his “uncle” Too Short who showed up to “Blow the Whistle.”
Wu-Tang affiliate and Method Man collaborator Redman, was the only ’90s artist on the bill and he used it to his advantage. He came in blazing his verse on “Da Rockwilder.” He played a few more Meth and Red songs but much of his set was a veritable old school hip-hop clinic shouting out Biggie, Wu-Tang, Slick Rick and a mess of others. “It ain’t even that turnt up music, it’s hip-hop and it still gave you that feeling,” he said, dropping classic groove after classic groove. He also used the occasion to announce he and Meth have a new album in the works and a sequel to their classic stoner flick “How High.”
G-Eazy kept the party moving but there was much more anticipation for Joey Bada$$. “There are so many wack rappers. I truly believe you are seeing some of this generation’s greats tonight,” DJ Statik Selektah — himself one of this generation’s great producers– said while setting up for Bada$$’s set.
With a gravelly voice and a grimy, lyrical flow Bada$$ came with  a NYC street style. Though he’s only 20 years old many consider him an heir to the throne built by rappers like Nas. Throwing down a furious performance he proved he’s aiming to seize the title as new leader of the “Beast Coast.”
The Dreamville portion of the show started with a quick mix of artists from the label helmed by Cole. Southside Chicago emcee Omen who introduced himself with his verse in the J Cole joint “Enchanted” and then dropped his own track “Motion Picture” kicked things off. Then Cozz, J Cole’s newest signee a 21-yr-old L.A. native proved his star potential with “Can’t Knock My Hustle,” before underlining the evening’s theme. “A year ago from this month I dropped a video for a song  called ‘Dreams.’ That (expletive) changed my life,” he said launching into the lyrical track.
With a melodic flow that echoes Cole’s own, Queens emcee Bas was the biggest hit with the crowd and is likely to be the label’s first big breakout. He got the crowd hype with “We Made It” smoked an a Capella and perfectly set the stage for Cole.
Shortly after 11:30, and following a short break during which the crowd chanted his name, Cole hit the stage. As the crowd went wild, he launched into “Wet Dreamz,” the hip-hop/r&b coming of age tale about an awkward first sexual encounter. With his brutally honest storytelling and melodic hooks that tumble into verses the song feels like a game changer in an industry that tends to hang sexual content on bravado. He segued into “A Tale of 2 Citiez,” a harder edged hip-hop take that had the crowd on their feet screaming wildly.
Cole explained he was promoting the summer tour and at those shows he’ll be playing his excellent 2014 joint “Forest Hills Drive” in its entirety. At this show, he said, he was just giving audiences a taste. Nonetheless he put in close to 45 minutes of thrilling performance. The packed crowd sang and rapped along to every song. Though he’s known for his melodic prowess, Cole is no velvet-toned crooner. He proved himself to be a furiously engaging, with the sing-song flow coming off as edgy instead of soft.
About thirty minutes in, he once more explained how he’ll play the entire album through at the summer tour but he was going to call it a night. Then, refreshingly, he decided to skip the artifice of pretending to leave to provoke calls for an encore and instead gallantly offered to play one, no two, more songs. He took it out on a high note with a two-song blast from the past featuring “Crooked Smile” off his 2013 album “Born Sinner” and early single “Can’t Get Enough” off his debut full-length “Cole World.” His set was absolutely riveting and likely had the desired effect of convincing a good portion of the audience that yes, they do in fact want to go see his full show.
Sure there were no superstars save for Cole himself, whose rapidly eclipsed the “B-List celebrity” label he gives himself on “No Role Models,” but it was all for the best. Instead, the show unfolded as a look at the future of hip-hop which is in very capable hands.

This party was presented by New Era Cap.

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