J Cole Performs in a Michigan Sweatshirt

Despite being the first artist to get signed by Jay-Z to Roc Nation, Jermaine Cole, known as J Cole, did not relax his work ethic. To most rap artists, signing to a record label is the final stride in their career. However, this proved to be just one of the steps along his path.

Cole released “The Warm Up” mixtape after signing his record deal. Its success was not based on record sales, because mixtapes – routine to the rap world – are free albums, focused on gaining attention and respect rather than money. Rap artists focus on their reputations through the release of mix tapes before releasing and selling an album. “It’s more a respect factor. I’d rather be known as the best, but not just the best to hip-hop fans, I want the world to know,” Cole said to complex.com.

The Internet has changed the way that hip-hop music travels. Artists reach out to fans through free music and online interviews which include freestyle rapping – improvised rap on the spot – which has become one of the best ways to prove talent. In addition, the access to downloading selling-albums for free online can diminish the number of hip-hop albums sold. For artists like J Cole, though he sold a triumphant 220,000 copies of his debut album, “Cole World: The Sideline Story” within a week of its release in late September of 2011, touring and concerts are what make him money. Record labels have a great control over album sales and merchandising revenue, and as these deductions pile on top of the free and pirated music downloaded online, artists depend on concerts.

Thousands of fans packed the seats of Hill Auditorium on April 6, as J Cole stood backstage. The strict security did not allow anyone within 10 yards of him. Opening artists gazed in amazement. He was not overexcited. He was not nervous; all control was his. He spoke only to ask that the volume be turned down in his earpiece.

Screams of joy echoed when he took the stage. There was overwhelming enjoyment throughout his whole performance. Cole did not only perform up-tempo songs with powerful bass. It is common for hip-hop artists to side with only their overpowering songs when performing. However, songs like “Lights Please,” “Never Told” and “Lost Ones,” which are inspired from his struggle as a child through his twenties, gave a foreign yet more realistic feel to the show.

Cole changed into a Michigan sweatshirt midway through the show to please the crowd.

Ann Arbor natives DJ Ell and rap group DSB opened for Cole.