Yes, Roc Nation was in the building.
Droves of students poured into the Siegel center Friday night to watch J. Cole and headliner Wale perform at VCU’s annual Homecoming concert.
Starting at 8 p.m., DJ Rayvon rocked the turntables as students were led to their reserved seats by the event staff. By 8:30, there was not a floor seat left empty, and both sides of the arena were packed to breaking point.
J. Cole stormed the stage and the crowd erupted as he broke into “Welcome,” a song that showcased his lyrical ability and made it clear why hip-hop mogul Jay-Z signed him as the first artist on his record label, Roc Nation.
“Lights Please” slowed down the fervent pace of the set but showcased Cole’s keyboard skills in the intro. He brought fans back to the ’90s with “Enchanted,” which sampled Tupac’s “Hail Mary” chorus. Both the crowd and J. Cole paid homage to the late rapper as the chorus rang eerily throughout the arena.
DJ Rayvon let the crowd in on a secret at the beginning of the show: Friday night was J. Cole’s birthday. After “Enchanted” ended, J. Cole’s DJ, DJ Dummy, conducted the crowd in singing the Stevie Wonder version of “Happy Birthday” to the now 26-year-old rapper.
“In the Morning,” which was released on Cole’s third mix tape “Friday Night Lights,” featuring last year’s Homecoming artist Drake, gave female attendees something to scream about.
Cole dialed the energy back up with “Who Dat,” a grimy down-south jam that rocked the crowd. He followed it up with “Blowup,” a shout out to his haters, before bowing out to his verse in “A Star is Born.” The inspirational song features Cole on the last verse of his boss’s track.
After intermission, Washington, D.C. native Wale and his posse came to the stage. The stage was only a starting point for Wale, who soon left it – as he did throughout the performance – to get more acquainted with the crowd. He jogged around the arena with security guards and the spotlight trailing behind him while he rapped.
Wale opened his set with “The MC,” a throwback hip-hop track, before offering up “World Tour” which was reminiscent of the legendary hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest’s “Award Tour.”
He followed up with “Mirrors,” another song off of his album “Attention Deficit.” Though Lady Gaga was not present, “Chillin” still hit its usual groove. The track was more danceable than the first few songs Wale performed, and the crowd responded accordingly.
Wale gave a shout out to all the ambitious girls with “The Trip (Downtown),” a suggestive number about pleasing that special lady in your life. The rapper’s sensitive side was on display during “The Breakup Song,” at least until the chorus, explosive with profanities aimed at the ex.
“90210,” his portrayal of a regular girl with aspirations of celebrity, was intriguing: Bulimia and cocaine addiction have never seemed so endearing.
Go-go tracks “Sexy Lady” and “Dig Dug (Shake It)” energized the crowd and provided a look back at the style that launched Wale into prominence.
In one of the more memorable moments of the performance, Wale altered the words of the chorus during “The Posse Cut” and emphatically proclaimed, “VCU f*** with me, and I don’t give a f*** who don’t!” The crowd’s resultant energy propelled Wale into his final two songs.
Wale saved two big collaborations for last. “Pretty Girls,” which features Gucci Mane, had the crowd nodding their heads. The chart-topping finale, “No Hands” brought everyone to their feet one last time.
Despite the confusion surrounding the voting process that landed them on the bill, J. Cole’s charismatic energy and Wale’s crowd appeal combined to make the 2011 Homecoming concert a raging success.