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Review: 10 Thoughts On J. Cole's '2014 Forest Hills Drive' Tour

Here are some takeaways from VIBE's recent trip to Cole World.

In front of a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night (Aug. 4), J. Cole is treating the stage as his personal stoop. Offering hilarious, personal anecdotes like a Kevin Hart stand-in, the tall, lanky rapper is sporting a wild Weeknd-esque hairstyle for what could be considered his homecoming show on the 2014 Forest Hills Drive tour.

One borough away lies St. John's University's Queens campus where the New York-by-way-of-North Carolina rep graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2007, duking it out with Sallie Mae and stressing over bank overdrafts. Nearly eight years later, he's doing way better than good enough. As the founder of Dreamville Records and one of the most revered wordsmiths in the millennial age, Cole is living out the very fantasies he would dream about as a broke undergrad.

But for his New York City tour stop, Cole blessed his second home with a good time, great songs and the best version of himself. Here are some takeaways from our recent trip to Cole World.

1. J. Cole could be a stand-up comic. While running through his full-length masterpiece that shares the tour's namesake, he manages to squeeze in emoji-worthy narratives that set the scene for his deep and not-so-deep cuts. Before launching into his anti-ho anthem, "No Role Modelz," Cole relays the lessons he's learned from Hollywood. He warns of "phony n***as" and signs of a chick who may be "f**ked up." "She has a artificial a**, that's my first clue," he said, as creepy Michael Myers sounds play in the background. "Sh*t feel like a bag of wet cement mixed with some SuperGlue rubber adhesive type sh*t. It's f**kin' weird. I don't even know if I like it. [Pauses.] No, I hate it. It's disgusting." Second clue was revealing Instagram thirst traps with Deepak Chopra-esque captions "that ain't got sh*t to do with the picture I just got done looking at." Cole even calls out one dude in the audience, dubbing him a "zoomer," or a fellow who zooms into a woman's sexy Instagram flick.

2. Jeremih needs to stop playing and drop this Late Nights: The Album A.S.A.P. With a slew of hits in the stash like his breakout single "Birthday Sex" to his DJ Mustard-produced jam "Don't Tell 'Em," the timing couldn't be riper for the Ratchet&B crooner. He also re-appears for a live rendition of his elevated love song, "Planes" alongside Cole. [Insert praise hands emojis here.]

#latepass: tripped when these two performed "planes" #2014foresthillsdrivetour

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3. YG hosted a gangsta party with cuts from his should-have-been-Grammy-nominated LP My Krazy Life. With W's in the air and a special cameo from Harlemite, A$AP Ferg, for "Work," Bompton's very own made the Empire State a welcome West Coast affair.

4. Big Sean packed his aspirational mantras and middle fingers for the warm-up set before Cole. In front of a makeshift bar called "Paradise Liquor," Sean Don cycled through his recent release Dark Sky Paradise, capping off with the overt F.U. single, "IDFWU." Peak moment: shouting out his late grandmama before orchestrating an iPhone light show for "One Man Can Change The World."

#latepass: in case you needed a reminder from big sean #2014foresthillsdrivetour

A video posted by adelle (@adelleplaton) on

5. J. Cole knows why he's here. For his headlining gig at the "world's most famous arena," Cole appears in his usual low-profile uniform of a black tee, black shorts, black socks, white sneaks and zero bling. It could have easily been the same 'fit at a show for his Dollar & A Dream tour (the gig where he charged fans one George Washington bill for admission to his more intimate shows) but even at MSG, Cole genuinely suits up like a college student ready to shoot hoops with a swag that doesn't come off corny but rather, real.

READ: Review: A St. John’s University Grad Reflects On J. Cole’s ‘Dollar And A Dream Tour II’ NYC Show & His Humble Beginnings

6. Despite sing-rapping about dreams of fame and fortune on "St. Tropez," Cole admitted he never hit up the French Riviera hot spot. He reminisces on moving to New York City at 18 years old from his native Fayetteville, North Carolina home and taking a leap of faith:

"The name of the song is "St. Tropez" but New York, if I'm being honest with y'all, then the truth is I don't actually even know where the f*ck St. Tropez is at on a map. I don't know where it's at. If you paid me a million dollars right now, I couldn't point to it on a map. I don't give a f*ck, honestly. I don't care. What I do know is St. Tropez seems like the type of place that really rich people go to when they have a lot of bread, they wanna get photographed on yachts in bikinis, holding champagne glasses and sh*t so therefore, it seems like the type of place I want to go to one day but when I talk about St. Tropez on this song, it's just a metaphor. This song about is when you come from a small city like me ... a lot of times you suffer from a small town mentality. That means you grew up your whole life, seeing sh*t on TV and on the movies, places like St. Tropez, places like Paris, France; London, England; Los Angeles, California, f**kin' New York city. We see places like this and you tell yourself when you a little kid like, 'Yo, one day when I get older, I'ma go there. I gotta go there.' But what ends up happening? As you get older, because you suffer from a small town mentality, you become comfortable in your safe zone, safe area and you're too afraid to leave. ... This song is actually about how I had to overcome that small town mentality and say f*ck it."

7. While songs like "G.O.M.D." and "Wet Dreamz" would be nails-to-chalkboard for a concerned mother, Cole's high-energy jams have even the most timid on their feet. Lines like "Get off my d*ck" and "I ain't even did this before" are automatic crowd chants and cues for any haters to proceed to the nearest exit. Despite flourishing off album no. 3, Cole consistently addresses the Average Joes and Janes who are still figuring out their own come-up.

8. With J. Cole's name illuminated on the MSG marquee, no big-name features hailing from New York appeared for his set (Where ya at, Hov?). Yet, day-one loyalists left satisfied. Tracks from his first two albums, Cole World: The Sideline Story and Born Sinner don't make the set list, except his usual trifecta of radio hits for the closer including "Can't Get Enough," "Crooked Smile" and "Power Trip."

9. Cole leaves his fears on the stage. While performing a project in its entirety isn't the norm for hip-hop concerts, Cole treats 2014 Forest Hills Drive as proof he is still the same Cole from Fayettenam. "I been touring for five or six years, and I can tell you, n***as don't come and do this sh*t. They don't perform their whole albums and I know why. Two reasons: the first reason being they albums f**kin' suck. [Laughs.] The second reason—which is the real reason—as an artist, it's the scariest thing in the world to put your heart and soul into this song. You bleeded on this song and then you come do that song at the shows, but because it's not the radio record or the f**kin' club song, you come perform it and the crowd is lookin' at you like... [Puts on disinterested face.] "This n***a." Why he not doing a song with Rich Homie Quan? I don't f**kin' understand." But I had to say, 'F**k it and get over that fear because this album mean a lot to me. It is very f**kin' important that I did it like this."

He continues with his album's mission statement like a presidential candidate on a campaign run: "When we young and even when we old, the world is constantly, constantly pumping us with images and messages about what life is supposed to be about and what it takes to make this happen. In the United States, we call it the American Dream. But what does it include all the time? A lot of f**kin' money, a big a** house, a brand new car and a wife that's, like, not even genetically possible to have ... I'm the same dude on the other side of the fence."

10. The appropriate tagline for Cole's shows could be a remix of the old Gatorade slogan: "Anything I can do, you can do better." Cole raps like he is always on the cusp of success, even if he has far surpassed it. His roots and imperfect past remain the fuel for his progress. He's also the type of rapper to remind you to call your mom and guilt your a** if you don't. As a prelude to his performance of "Hello," he pulls the curtain back on his thought process while dealing with the f**kery of the music biz and missing home sweet home. "You start thinking about sh*t like that, trying to connect with what's real. You call your mother, start to think of your homeboys back home, start thinking about old relationships..." As long as Cole remembers where he's been, there's no telling how much further he can—and will—go.

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Choir members perform at Sunday Service during the 2019 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival on April 21, 2019 in Indio, California.
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One Day In L.A.: Inside Kanye West's Sunday Service Sanctuary

On one weekend in Los Angeles (March 31), I got the unique opportunity to partake in an otherworldly experience: Kanye West’s Sunday Service. It was transformative, to say the least, but that weekend, something else happened in L.A., too. Nipsey Hussle was murdered in front of his Marathon clothing store. A black man’s life was taken in cold blood, and as we collectively mourn, Kanye’s Sunday Service makes so much more sense in the context of this senseless murder.

But first, how did I even wind up at Ye’s exclusive weekly praise and worship-esque Sunday Service? I really have some dope people that continue to grace my life. Through all the things that I’m passionate about—my job, music, art, motherhood—I became friends with a music producer/actor/musician who was kind enough to get me on the list for service.

I’m a true audiophile, and my love of music, especially live instrumentation, had me all into those Sunday Service videos popping up on social feeds for some time. I was that kid in church texting my best friend, the church organist, to kick off the Holy Ghost session. I’m the same person who will slide to a jam session in any city I travel to just to catch a vibe. The music really spoke to me in the videos and I felt like this is the place where Kanye was getting back to his original self. I wanted to experience that. The nature of Sunday Service was so far from any of his “slavery is a choice” statements and wild Trump rhetoric that it forced me to wash away the negative sentiments and take this experience for what it was.

 

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I approached the mountainous California ranch locale with wonder, anticipation, and some lightweight hesitation: What if they making us draw blood and we have to sacrifice a lamb? What if they’re turning water to wine in here? What happens if they have us pass a collection plate for the building fund? I didn’t bring cash. What if he’s got people in the spot saying Yeezus instead of Jesus? My co-worker friend Lena and I pulled up to the gates just before 9 a.m. We got to the entrance and were checked off on the list, then were ushered in by greeters wearing all white. Most of the people inside were white, so I made a quiet joke that maybe this was Kanye’s attempt at enslaving white people and forcing them to make a “choice.” But then I saw some black staff members which put that conspiracy theory to rest.

As we waited in the estate’s holding area, a barista offered delicately crafted matchas and lattes with frothy designs. The cool L.A. air and wispy tree leaves carried the sounds of the choir and band rehearsing. We could also hear the stories of other people who waited: a white woman in her 30s who was there to see her boyfriend in the choir and really didn’t know what to expect; older neighbors who had a standing invite to Sunday Service; a black music producer from Houston whose friend was in the band; an L.A. artist who was the plus-one of one of his homies; a Latino family with their five-year-old little girl, her brother, mom and dad outfitted in Balenciaga.

Finally, we were ushered in about seven to 10 people at a time. We ascended a hill on a dirt road that took us to a rotunda. Soft music could be heard as the choir, the band, and Ye stood around dressed in all white. It was intimate, intimate, with around 75 people in the rotunda, and about 75 as a part of the band-slash-choir. Everyone was real chill, doing the little church hellos. And just like in the videos, the whole Kardashian family was there—except I didn’t see Rob, Mama Kris, or Caitlyn. I don’t really follow the Kardashians just because I actually can’t keep up, but they do have some beautiful children. The girls (North included) were so full of life and joy, like any other kids, which was refreshing. For whatever reason, I’m always so happy to see celebrity kids having what appears to be a carefree childhood.

 

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A post shared by lemarguillary (@lemarguillary) on Apr 7, 2019 at 7:21pm PDT

OK, onto the actual service. All I can say is think of the best church choir you’ve ever heard, then swag them out, drop some 808s on that, then put this all in the mountains closer to God. It was magic. Unpretentious, unassuming, beautiful, soulful, groove-evoking and as much as it was gospel, it was the rhythm and syncopation of hip-hop. It was Milly Rock. It was shaking dreads. It was soul claps. It was a few white folks clapping off-beat. It was dope. As a music lover with a keen ear for sound, I could tell each instrument and voice was hand-selected for a reason. And even with Kanye as the mastermind, my friend mentioned that he felt tertiary. I would even go as far to say he felt like the fifth element. It was God, the nature, the people, the band and choir, then Ye. Each song had medicinal purpose. There were recordings of Kanye’s voice orating about life and purpose and all of the questions we ask as we attempt to ascend and evolve. It was all so timely. I strive to live a purpose-centered life, but some portions feel like they need further definition. This felt like a catapult, like a launching pad, like a playground for inspiration.

Now slight pause, because I know you’re thinking, WE CANCELLED KANYE, VEJURNAÉ. He’s been too detrimental to the culture. He’s trying to trick you with these soulful beats and 808 machines, and some Jesus and matcha. Ni**a, you’re kiki-ing with Yeezy over some beats and tea. I thought about this, too. And still am. I think where I sit is a place that is all about purpose and intent. Kanye says some outrageous and outlandish things at times, some that we support and some that we go in on him for, but who doesn’t? What he is doing in this arena has greater weight than probably anything else he has ever done, in my eyes. What he’s doing will potentially change the way that millennials interact with church. It’s a needed shift. One guy we sat with said, “If church was like this, I’d never miss a Sunday.” We’ll get back to this, though.

It’s hard for me to recall the set list. Aly Us’ “Follow Me” was dope. (They need to bring this to the house picnic.) They did Richard Smallwood’s “Total Praise.” For the church folk, the choir made this song effortless, but added a syncopation with the 808s that I will never forget. Most people know how completely perfect this specific song is, but this arrangement was PERFECTER. Yes, perfecter. The harmonies with the Amens, and breaking them down almost into footwork beats. Flipping back when they get to, “You are the source of my strength,” to hit the 808s and bring it back again. It was just... Shout out to my Second Baptist Church family that knows that Dr. Hycel B. Taylor special ending.

Then there was Stevie Wonder’s “I’ll Be Loving You Always.” That song is LOVE. I actually suggested it to my producer friend in the band a few weeks before I came to L.A. I know, that’s an extra request, and who am I? But my Mom always said, “If you never ask you’ll never know.” And yo, it actually happened. The band jammed with Kanye on the drum machine. HOW IS THIS MY LIFE? Pinch. THIS IS MY LIFE. The day before I left to go out west, my sons and I did car karaoke to this song. And how special is it that Kanye is sharing these moments with his kids, his family, his friends and the world? It’s special.

In the circular space, I was seated at eye level with Ye and the 808 machine. This was wild. You know when you’re a musician and you look at the crowd and you know who’s vibing? I was in that motherf**ker VIBING. For anyone who attends parties with me, church services, karaoke, in the car, it’s a given that music and dancing is a thing. Do you think I’m going to pull up to Kanye church and not f**k it up for Jesus (no disrespect)? With the sun beating down on all of us, the music accelerated. Then, I thought about deodorant… Have you ever started sweating hard and been hot and start thinking, How many swipes did I do this morning? Mind you, they are performing all the songs that require you to put your fully extended hands in the air… The dilemma! I just had to do a side sniff for freshness and deal with the pit stains, because I took my locs down and it was just like nirvana. We’re out here on a mountain praising God with a full choir, band and Kanye is smiling, smiling, playing the beat machine. Ni**a, whet!?

They also played some Ye classics like “Power,” “Jesus Walks,” “Good Morning,” and “Otis.” “Jesus, won’t leave us/Neva leaveeee us/NA NA,NA NA, NAH NAH NAH!” All the while, the babies are in the middle of the performance area living their best lives, dancing with their daddy. It was love. The purest love. Unadulterated God-sent love. The intensity of the band never waned, the choir never diminished, and the soloists were straight from Sister Mary Clarence for real, for real. I did the, “girl, Goodbye, you sing too good” wave about four times and I needed another cup of water, but I didn’t want to miss anything.

 

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A post shared by What's Hatnin'? (@whatshatninpc) on Apr 9, 2019 at 1:04am PDT

When service ended and Ye announced that Sunday Service would be at Coachella during Weekend 2, we all then proceeded further up the hill for a full catered brunch. (Note: They had the thick bacon and at brunch, that is all anyone cares about, so thank you for that.) During the brunch, folks shared stories, networked, and simply took it all in. The West/Kardashian family mingled and embraced everyone on some regular Sunday after church service ish. I sat still in awe, thankful for the experience. I thought to go over to his table to say thank you, but I chilled because, you know, sometimes you just don’t want to be extra, so I just kept it moving recapping everything with my friend and airing out my underarms.

Post-brunch, we walked back down the hill and chatted with gospel artist Ricky Dillard about how positive the music was and how transformative the experience was. Once we got back to the original holding area, we saw Ye was just standing there talking to people as they left. Now was my time.

Me: (Gives Ye a hug) Yo, thank you. Ye: Yo, I saw you vibing girl. Me in My Head: NI**A, WHAT! I SAW YOU VIBING, TOO. THAT SH*T WAS BANANAS! Me in Real Life (Remembers this is like church): I’m from Chi-town. Man, that was just amazing! It’s really going to change how young people approach church. Me in My Head: You should let me bring Cairo and Phoenix out to Coachella. Me in Real Life: I remember booking you when you came to [The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign] back in the beginning of your career. The show was like $11. Ye: (Smiles) And look, this one cost even less. Me in Real Life: (Laughs) You’re right. You need to bring this back to the crib. Ye: Definitely, we’re on mission work!

 

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A post shared by Jammcard (@jammcard) on Apr 17, 2019 at 10:07am PDT

All of it was awesome. From the restorative power of the music to the purpose-driven message to the people out here giving their full glory to God. No additional anything. It was like, Let’s go praise God and that will be sufficient, that will be enough. Let’s put our full effort into praising the Lord and see where that gets us.

In retrospect, I think this energy is the same energy and same fervor that Nipsey used to inject into his community. Like, let’s see what it looks like when I empty the tank for my hood, for my people, for these kids. Nipsey being murdered on the same day of this experience felt like someone took a pin, popped the balloon and let all the helium out. After the Ye experience, we went to Malibu, then to Venice Beach to meet up with friends. That’s when the news that he had been shot six times and killed in front of his own store broke. Like many, I was at a loss for words. Just hours ago, I felt so inspired and hopeful, and now I sat in disbelief and anger. People in L.A. were so hurt. I was so hurt. It was essentially as if someone ever did something to Chance The Rapper—the hometown guy, the home team, the one that never left but instead building up his area, investing in his people. Slain.

The one thing that felt even more real after this day was the immediacy of now. Each and every moment is your moment. Waiting won’t get the job done. If you want to make an impact, you have to take the steps now. If you want a life of value, you have to move. I reflect back on the images of Nipsey and his partner Lauren London from their ethereal GQ shoot and I think about how striking those images are. They’re so beautiful. To have love captured on camera in that way and so close to him being murdered is unfathomable. In summation, whatever “it” is to you, do it now. Have that conversation, tell them you love them, make that move, invest in that business, repair that relationship, quit that job. Make it happen today, and know that regardless, whether His presence manifests through the pews of church or some rattling 808s or the warmth of the community that raised you, God is with you.

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Songs Of Freedom: The Lasting Effects Of Buju Banton's "Long Walk" Concert

“My destination is homeward bound,” sang Buju Banton on stage at Jamaica’s National Stadium in the heart of Kingston. “Though forces try hold I down. Breaking chains has become the norm. I know I must get through no matter what a gwaan.” As the Grammy-winning reggae icon performed his song “Destiny,” a hit single from the 1997 album Inna Heights, the words took on added resonance due to the enormity of the occasion—a homecoming celebration for a living legend who’d been gone too long.

A crowd of more than 30,000 turned out to watch Buju launch his Long Walk To Freedom tour, named after Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. After much anticipation and speculation, Buju’s first performance since being released from federal prison in the U.S. could not have been held in a more fitting location. Jamaica’s National Stadium was the same place where Mandela addressed the people of Jamaica during his first visit to the island in July of 1991. Prior to Buju Banton, no other Jamaican artist headlined this prestigious venue since Bob Marley performed here at the One Love Peace Concert on April 22, 1978—when the Tuff Gong brought rival political leaders together onstage, demonstrating the power of reggae music.

“It was epic to see the amount of people that came to the stadium,” said dancehall superstar Sean Paul after the Buju show. “With Usain Bolt or with our football team, when the stadium is full we don’t see the field full as well. So to see that for one person—that was really amazing.”

 

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... AND THANK YOU ONE MORE TIME!

A post shared by Buju Banton (@bujuofficial) on Mar 17, 2019 at 2:32pm PDT

This historic performance was not the first time Buju ever appeared at the National Stadium. In December 1991 the rising dancehall star Wayne Wonder called out the tall, skinny, short-haired 18-year-old as a surprise guest during his own set on Sting, the annual Boxing Day stage show. “Nobody knew Buju,” recalls Donovan Germaine of Penthouse Records, who produced Buju’s early hits “Love Me Browning” and “Love Black Woman,” both of which were featured on his classic 1992 album Mr. Mention. “They heard the song but they had never seen him, so Wayne Wonder brought him onstage at Sting and then the world saw Buju Banton.”

That quick set back in 1991 was a mere glimpse of the greatness to come, and nearly three decades later the artist had come full circle. Witnessing Buju run through highlights of his extensive catalog backed by the 10-piece Shiloh Band left no question that one of reggae’s greatest artists was back in top form. Dressed in full white, Buju commanded the audience’s attention like no other act before him. Having given no official public appearances, interviews, and only a handful of statements on social media since his return home last December, Buju had the audience hanging on his every word. For many Buju fans, missing this once-in-a-lifetime event would be inexcusable.

Celebrities and music lovers alike snapped up all available plane tickets and flew in from all corners of the globe, creating a “Buju Boost” to the local economy. Jamaica’s ministry of tourism reported a 143 percent increase in arrivals to Kingston compared with the same day last year. All those fortunate enough to make it to the big show did so with great expectations—and they were not disappointed.

The opening acts at the Long Walk to Freedom concert were a mixture of veteran artists from Buju’s era like Ghost, Delly Ranx, and Cocoa Tea, more recent reggae stars like Etana, Romain Virgo, Christopher Martin, and Agent Sasco, and promising new talents like Buju’s son Jahaziel Myrie making his first major live appearance, rising star Koffee, who joined Cocoa Tea as a surprise guest, and Chronixx, who turned in a rousing performance with his Zinc Fence Redemption band just before Buju took the stage. Every one of the supporting acts rose to the occasion, performing as if they knew the whole world was watching. Many other top artists, from Tarrus Riley and Tony Rebel to Konshens, Govana, and Aidonia chilled backstage, soaking up the vibes.

Around 11 p.m. it was time for the main event. Emerging from his backstage tent wearing dark shades, Buju was mobbed by crowds of people straining for a glimpse as he made his way to the elevated stage. Escorted by a human chain of bodyguards, Buju strode with ease followed by longtime friend DJ Khaled and his wife Nicole Tuck. Khaled was one of Buju’s first overseas visitors and the two spent time in the recording studio in December, fueling speculation that Buju’s first new release may be included on Khaled’s forthcoming Father of Asahd album. The 100-yard walk to the stage seemed to take forever. Soon after Buju climbed the staircase a scuffle broke out at the foot of the stage. Khaled and his wife did finally make it through after some persistent efforts.

After a dramatic intro adapted from “Hate Me Now” by Nas, Buju entered the stage with words of prayer, going down on bended knee. From that moment forward, he sprinkled his performance with candid remarks that revealed his thoughts about all that he has been through, his hopes and plans for the future. “Now where we?” he remarked before launching into the first verse of his opening song, “Not an Easy Road.” Running through track after track—from “Close One Yesterday” to “Give I Strength,” and “Over Hills And Valleys”—Buju’s music spoke to the artist’s triumph over trials and tribulations.

Having had a long time to plan this concert, Buju’s care and preparation shone through in every detail. As he delved into harder-edged dancehall cuts like “Big It Up,” “Champion” and “Batty Rider,” he made a point of reaching out to a new generation of listeners. “Some of you might be pretty young—much too young to have been introduced to Buju Banton,” he said with a smile. “Hi, this is Mark Myrie aka Buju Banton. I’m sorry I didn’t met you earlier, due to unforeseen circumstances. However I’m here now. And I’m gonna take you back a little, to just educate you about the early ’90s, and how we dedicated ourselves to change the culture of our music, the direction of our music, and the quality of our music.”

After touching a few more dancehall classics, and giving props to some of those who helped him along the way, Buju applied a little pressure to Jamaica’s current wave of artists. “You guys are playing around today,” said the veteran hitmaker, sounding intent on restoring some order to the music. “We old folks ain’t gonna stand for it.”

One vintage cut that he did not perform was the infamous “Boom Bye Bye,” which Buju cut from his setlist well over a decade ago. Soon after his return from prison Buju voluntarily removed the song from all streaming platforms as well, a decisive move to make a fresh start and leave behind years of protests over the song. “After all the adversity we’ve been through,” Buju declared in a statement, “I am determined to put this song in the past and continue moving forward as an artist and as a man.”

As the evening built to a crescendo, Buju invited out a few special guests, the first of whom used to sing with Bob Marley as he performed his songs of freedom all over the world. “This is mother apart from my mother,” Buju said as he welcomed Marcia Griffiths, noting that she had been sending him words of encouragement since he was 17 years old. They shared a warm embrace and two powerful duets, “Closer To You” and “Stepping Out of Babylon.” Then Marcia made way for another icon of Jamaican music, the beloved soul man Beres Hammond.

Beres had been looking forward to this moment for years. Having recorded many great collaborations at Penthouse, the smooth singer and the rough-and-rugged DJ have a tradition of trading parts when they perform together live. Even during the years when Buju wasn’t able to join him in person, Beres would do his best to recreate his young friend’s gravelly roar.

“It’s been too long,” Beres said as he greeted Buju with a joyful hug. Buju replied that he had tried to visit, driving himself to the singer’s home, but got turned away. “I was asleep,” Beres replied with a smile, and soon they got down to business, trading parts on “Who Say” just like they used to do, and making the crowd fall in love all over again. As Beres declared, “This is a welcome party!”

The next guest artist on stage was Wayne Wonder, the very same singer who helped launch Buju’s career here in the National Stadium almost three decades earlier. “Dancehall massive we don't forget you,” Buju roared as the band launched into the “Real Rock” riddim and Wayne began singing “Forever Young,” a collaboration made famous on a dubplate for the Stone Love sound system. When Buju started his verse, “Tell them fi test wi now, if them feel them bad like we,” he drove his hardcore fans into a frenzy.

Wayne’s presence seemed to take Buju back to the essence, tapping into the magic that made the early ’90s such a special era in Jamaican music. Standing next to his old friend, Buju shared one of his most candid remarks of the night. “Even though Buju Banton lock up mi still rough,” he stated with a serious expression. “Eight years, six months, 27 days, 13 hours, five minutes, and 26 seconds.” Buju then proceeded to address rumors that he’d been sexually abused during his incarceration—refuting the notion with a fiery freestyle.

The “Long Walk to Freedom” concert will go down as a milestone for a mighty musical genre that was recently honored by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, highlighting its "contribution to international discourse on issues of injustice, resistance, love and humanity.” While Buju’s place in history is assured, many are hopeful that his triumphant homecoming may signal a new way forward for the future of the music. He returns to a reggae scene that’s experienced profound changes during his absence. Although the dancehall sound is obviously a powerful influence on international artists like Drake, Major Lazer, and Rihanna, the rise of “tropical house,” “island pop,” and Afrobeats has left reggae music’s mission at a crossroads.

While Buju did not hesitate to offer a critique of modern dancehall music, he did extend an invitation to UK dancehall artist Stefflon Don, hailing her as “very instrumental in taking our culture international.” Later in his set, he offered words of encouragement to the new generation. “I wanna say nuff respect to all the younger generation of youths who kept the music,” Buju stated. “We don’t kill champions, we raise them. We want you to know that Buju Banton love what you’re doing. We just want you to find your way, and change it up a bit, and make it… wholesome.”

Returning home to the biggest stage on the island, Buju not only silenced his critics and reasserted his place as one of Jamaica’s foremost artists, he also underscored what UNESCO described as “the basic social functions of the music — as a vehicle for social commentary, a cathartic practice, and a means of praising God." As he closed his set with a medley that included anthems like “Murderer,” “Driver A,” and “Psalms 23” with Gramps Morgan, Buju demonstrated the full potential of reggae music, leading by example.

Staring out at a stadium filled with bright lights, his shirt dripping with sweat, Buju used his platform to issue a powerful warning. “We are a nation that’s built on some spiritual foundation,” Buju told the massive audience. “The day we lose that is the day we are over, and we are edging closer and closer to the edge.” As he continues his Long Walk to Freedom tour—with stops planned in the Bahamas, Trinidad, Barbados, Tortola, and St. Kitts—Buju seems perfectly positioned to lead the music forward to higher heights.

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Anderson .Paak's Grammy Glow Lights Up New York's Hammerstein Ballroom

"I told y'all I would come back but I had to come back with a motherf***in Grammy yo!" Anderson .Paak belted to the crowd inside of New York's Hammerstein Ballroom. On Friday (Feb. 22), the musician was elated to return to New York for his Andy's Beach Club World Tour with opening act Tayla Parx and his band, the Free Nationals. His energy has unsurprisingly remained on a thrilling high since taking home his first Grammy just three weeks ago.

The Cali native was a breath of fresh air for the crowd in attendance, who after a long work week was ready to hear some tunes from his stellar albums Venice, Malibu and his recent musical offering, Oxnard.

.Paak was that jukebox for the crowd, with select bubbly tunes from Parx, who just like her main act, has a funky vibe to herself. Parx, an artist who most recently wrote on Ariana Grande's "Thank U, Next" as she told the crowd got the energy bubbling with known covers and performances of her songs like, "Mama Aint Raise No B****." Parx set up the funky vibes that .Paak would go on to later execute and perfect.

The musician jumped out on stage an hour and a half later and started his heading set with the song, "Bubblin" that earned him a Best Rap Performance Grammy.

From the jump, his megawatt smile peaked under his red bucket hat as he performed more deserving tunes like "Tints," "Trippy" and "Come Down."

 

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His bliss of just being in the moment was abundantly clear as well as his chemistry with the Free Nationals. He danced along to their song "Beauty & Essex" featuring Daniel Caesar, grooving to the smooth beat while transitioning to "Saviers Road."

There was not a moment in the night that skilled drummer wasn't in tune with the crowd. At one point, he even crowd surfed, calling out New Jersey natives to catch him. Because of his old soul, the musician easily crafted his flavor of soul and funk to keep body rolls going throughout the evening with cuts like "Smile/Petty" and "The Heart Don't Stand a Chance."

Although his drum solos showed off his musical talent and capabilities, .Paak's tribute to late rapper, Mac Miller with a performance of their song "Dang!" towards the end of the concert is what really sealed the deal.

"If you miss Mac Miller like we miss Mac Miller make some f***ing noise! Say we love you Mac, say we miss you Mac," the Oxnard musician urged the crowd to yell, and the crowd obediently obliged.

Seeing the crowd and .Paak arrived in sync one last time for Miller was the finishing touch for the concert. Although .Paak's crowd demo was young working adults, they won't forget the moment they shed their corporate garb to be a little weird and carefree again.

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