J. Cole at the PNE Forum

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Remember when rappers used to be menacing? Back in the day, Straight Outta Compton sounded like an emergency transmission from a war zone, and Ice Cube had us all convinced that the AK-47 was his tool, and that the slightest provocation might make him act the motherfuckin’ fool. These days, we get the likes of Rick Ross, who talks tough but looks like a flight of stairs could be his undoing, and Drake, whose navel-gazing rap-singing is about as hard as you’d expect from someone who used to star on Degrassi: The Next Generation. There is likewise nothing at all threatening about J. Cole, but you know what? We don’t even care. The man—who plays the PNE Forum on Tuesday (January 14)—has got skills, so we’re most definitely in his corner. Plus, he sampled a Cults song on his latest single, “She Knows”, which also features a vocal cameo from the Dirty Projectors’ Amber Coffman. You sure as hell didn’t get that kind of awesomely genre-blurring cross-pollination back when N.W.A seemed like the scariest thing on the planet.

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