The Dollar and a Dream Show, J. Cole, Dreamville

When: Sat., March 3 2012

J. COLE He may have started with a dollar and a dream when he dropped his first mixtape, but one Jay-Z signing and a Grammy nod later, J. Cole is riding high while keeping his underground cred. Critically, his commercial success has cast Cole between a Roc Nation and a hard place: The big label debut can’t match the grit of his masterful mixes, yet he’s still too uncomfortably heartfelt for mainstream hip hop. Carolina raised, but N.Y. educated, Cole can come off like a too-earnest grad student. But intertwined with ’90s jazz-rap beats, ’70s soul influences, Afro-pop samples and lots of grand piano, his forthright storytelling is far removed from boilerplate hip hop’s empty glitz and cartoon thuggery. Instead, J. Cole proves that compelling narrative is a powerful reality, and that we can make sense of the world by the tales we tell. (Pat Moran)

Price: $36-$48.50

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