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Kanye West is a marketing genius.
Why? The buzz around the Heineken Inspire Encore event in New York was less about the artists on the bill–Cee Lo, Nas, Diplo, and Pete Rock for starters–and more about whether the Yeeze’d one would make an appearance.
Long story short, he didn’t. But that fortunately the line-up and atmosphere at the South Manhattan warehouse was to the point that after the “special guest” did show up, nobody complained, or even cared.
Filling that role was none other than J Cole, who might not have Ye’s superstar presence, but is well on his way. Cole’s confidence and swagger has increased 100 fold since I last saw him at Sneaker Pimps a last year, and I now understand why. The crowd, by this time tipsy off of 3 hours of free Heineken, knew every word, from every track he dropped, and greeted him like a star.
North Carolina-based J Cole makes NYC hip-hop better than anyone in NYC right now, and him raucous reception from 1000 of the cities sometimes jaded tastemakers has to be a stepping stone is his career.
But if J Cole got the crowd hype, unfortunately Cee Lo’s set was quite the opposite.
Let me re-iterate that I’m a huge fan of Cee Lo, and I was looking forward to his set more than Nas or the “special guest.” However, a combination of technical issues, a cavernous warehouse that drowned his sound, and an audience unfamiliar with his new work made for a less than stellar performance for The Lady Killer. At most points, the audience was bored, in which Cee replied “yeah, I’m bored too.” Cee Lo even shouted at the sound guys with some Georgia swagger “Can somebody turn up my muthafucking mic? God damn! I brought out the good clothes for this performance.” Gangsta.
Even if technical issues plagued Cee Lo’s set, I could watch his band play trashcan lids and air guitars. Whoever had the idea for Cee Lo to have an all female band needs to be thanked.
After a lengthy wait, more beer, and frequent trips to the nicely appointed mobile bathrooms, Nas came on stage fronted by a live band, going through his greatest hits like “If I Ruled The World,” and a Pete Rock assisted “The World Is Yours.” Noticeably absent were any tracks from his latest LP Distant Relatives with Damien Marley, which is was most likely a good thing thanks to the nature of his set.
In addition to the main performers, Heineken also featured a rather ambitious DJ lineup. Starting off the night was NYC club queen Roxy Cottontail, who tried to warm up the hip-hop focused crowd with Russian electro–bad move. Afterwards Diplo entered in his new trademark suit (hipsters step your game up!) and even though he looked like he was phoning it in, more than warmed up the crowd with a combination of hip-hop hits, sprinkled with dubstep and moombaton. Pete Rock’s set of classic New York hip-hop got even the cops moving to the rhythm, although a slightly awkward appearance by Dres of Black Sheep had the younger kids scratching their heads. Yes honey, it’s the dude from the song in the Kia commercial.