J. Cole and company dominate the Dome

Event coverage of the concert featuring the award-winning rapper along with openers Elle Varner and Bas at SU.

It was a Cole World. We were all just living in it.

The Thrillin’ Theta Xi chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., brought J. Cole to campus Friday as part of their “Friday Night Lights: Culture for Service Benefit Concert.” Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Elle Varner and Bas, a member of Cole’s Dreamville record label, opened the show.

The benefit concert raised more than $70,000 in funds for Phi Beta Sigma’s philanthropies, including, but not limited to: March of Dimes, American Cancer Society, Natural Relief Funds, and local organizations.

The anticipation was mounted high. Vanessa Joseph, a freshman studying social work at Syracuse University, said she could not wait to see Cole's show because J. Cole is her “husband.” 

“I got tickets within the first 30 seconds they went on sale, and I sent all my friends texts telling them they better buy theirs then too,” Joseph said.

Fans crowded the Dome on Friday night to see J. Cole's performance, put on by Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. (Photo: Jackie Frere)

However, Joseph and the rest of the crowd would have to wait to see her “husband” take the stage because Bas was up first. It seemed that nobody in the crowd knew about Bas. But he took it in stride, with a certain self-deprecating humor that made the audience laugh and warm up to him.

Bas performed well, putting considerable energy into his act. After two songs, however, I learned that I would not be staying for the full show, and instead would promptly be escorted out by security guards at some time in each set to sit with a group of journalists in the Station Control area of the Dome.

Once I was able to re-enter the concert, Elle Varner was about to take the stage to a crowd long-awaiting her arrival. The sultry singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist had strong vocals and sizzling moves to match. Varner vocally teased the crowd before coming out on stage decked out in black –- she wore a long, flowing see-through ensemble with a sequined black jacket on top, and long curly hair flowing halfway down her back. Black, thick-rimmed glasses accented the look and soon proved to be a prop for her performance.

But after a little while, some concert-goers in the front row seemed to grow restless and started chanting “J. Cole! J. Cole! J. Cole!” Elle seemed to pick up on the restlessness and started to shake her hips with an increasing amount of vigor; she was not going to go down without a fight.

At one point, Elle reached out into the crowd and touched the hand of one lucky concertgoer, Fatima Drame, a sophomore studying public health, from her spot in the front row. Drame said she’s been listening to Varner since the day she came out, and is a fan because of how “relatable” her lyrics are.

“I’m never washing this hand again,” Drame said.  

After three songs, however, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and turn around to see a very irate security guard standing way too close for comfort. His face had contorted into a look of sheer disdain as he screamed at me and my fellow journalists in no unclear terms that it was time to leave, before starting to  physically shove me out. He continued to push me even though he could see I wasn’t physically capable of moving in the packed quarters without dry-humping the photographer bent over directly in front of me.

Again, we were regaled to the Station Control room, where, as another journalist quipped, it “smelled like feet and broken dreams.”

J. Cole sings his "Blow Up" for fans in the Carrier Dome on Friday. (Photo: Jackie Frere)

Once it was time for J. Cole to take the stage, the place turned up from half volume to surround sound level. From the moment J. Cole leapt out on stage, everyone was on their feet and chanting along to his lyrics. 

He kept the crowd on its toes with sexually explicit dance moves to accompany his lyrics, with a perpetual half-smile spread across his face.

Accounting and finance Senior Greston Gill said Phi Beta Sigma chose J. Cole for the concert because of his style.

“We want to bring someone bigger to Syracuse, and J. Cole stands out,” Gill said. “[He] doesn’t give the typical rap game, he talks about political issues and the truth.”

Gill was the events coordinator for Phi Beta Sigma’s last concert, Big Sean, and said this show “brought it to the next level.”

And again it was time for me to leave after two songs. Later on, I thought to leave the show and enter through another gate so that two photographers and I were able to catch the last few minutes of J. Cole’s set. There were of course a few fans in the front, but many concertgoers seemed to be ambling around, unusual for floor seating.

But for the diehard fans, the night was one for the books. Communication & rhetorical studies and sociology Sophomore Molly Estes said J. Cole “made her think things [she] never had before.”

“I was a fan before, but not like this. There’s something about seeing him live that made it so much more real,” Estes said. “I don’t know, but the place got at least 50 degrees warmer when he walked in.”

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