J. Cole opens the show with hit song “Window Pain (Outro)” at the Schottenstein Center on Sept. 23. Credit: Amal Saeed | Assistant Photo Editor

Popular rapper J. Cole performed in Columbus, joined by EarthGang, Jaden Smith and Young Thug for the latest stop on his “KOD” tour at the Schottenstein Center Sunday night.

I’ve always been a casual fan of J. Cole, but his latest album, “KOD,” has become one of my favorite albums released this year, so my expectations were pretty high going into the show.

However, before Cole hit the stage, his opening acts made sure to keep over 17,000 concertgoers on their feet the entire show.

Hip-hop duo EarthGang’s set included performances of “Meditate” and “Up,” and a surprise appearance from Cole’s alter ego, “kiLL Edward,” clad in an all-black mask and hoodie.

Jaden Smith opens for J. Cole’s KOD tour at the Schottenstein Center on Sept. 23. Credit: Amal Saeed | Assistant Photo Editor

Immediately after, Jaden Smith hit the stage with the charisma and confidence of a seasoned veteran, although his hip-hop career is fairly new to the mainstream. Smith performed cuts from his latest album “Syre,” including “Batman,” “Ninety” and “Watch Me,” a personal highlight for me.

Smith’s most popular song, “Icon,” got the biggest crowd reaction as he performed it twice, lapped the floor of the arena and ran up the stairs to the second level of the crowd to get closer to his fans.

Next up was Young Thug, whose set was pretty solid as he breezed through his catalog of hits, including “Lifestyle,” “Digits,” “Wyclef Jean” and “Relationship.” I did think it was weird how he made no mention of his new EP, “On the Rvn,” which dropped at midnight immediately after the concert.

After the numerous openers finished, Cole opened his set with “Window Pain (Outro),” before delving into the three meanings behind his album title, “KOD.”

First: Kids on Drugs. He said that kids are influenced by rappers to turn to drugs and alcohol, not knowing that some adults use drugs as a form of running from their everyday problems.

Second: King Overdose. He said this is a character he personifies when he feels afflicted by those very addictions.

And third: Kill our Demons. Cole said that killing our demons takes place when people are willing to look their problems in the face and overcome them.

Even though I don’t love when artists talk a lot during their concert sets, Cole hit the perfect balance between giving valuable advice, but not coming across as too preachy.

As the night went on, Cole played songs from his catalog that spanned his nearly decade-long career, including “Photograph,” “ATM,” “Work Out,” A Tale of 2 Citiez,” “Power Trip” and “Neighbors.”

Young Thug opens for J. Cole’s KOD tour at the Schottenstein Center on Sept. 23. Credit: Amal Saeed | Assistant Photo Editor

His alter ego, “kiLL Edward,” made a return for performances of “The Cut Off” and “BRACKETS,” but instead of throwing on a mask for those parts, Cole turned his back to the stage and modified his voice through the microphone.

Personal highlights included his intimate performance of “Love Yourz,” “Kevin’s Heart,” “KOD,” “No Role Modelz” and his acapella version of “1985.”

As I think back to the highlights of the concert, the moments that stuck with me the most, above the actual music, were the intimate conversations he had with the crowd.

Throughout the show, J. Cole talked about a range of topics, including his issues with how taxes work, how his album is about pain and how the people closest to you can end up hurting you.

Instead of sounding like he was complaining, it felt like I was hearing uplifting and wise words from a friend who was speaking from his own personal experiences.

A constant theme throughout the night was that there’s no such thing as an overnight success and that everyone’s goals are about a journey, not a destination. Cole said that even though there will be hurdles for everyone, you have to keep going.

“People leave this Earth every day and I’m telling y’all I ain’t tryna wait till I die to deal with mine. I’m tired of running and I feel like if I don’t face it it’s going to throw me off track,” Cole said. “Everyone goes off track sometimes, but everyone also needs reminders to keep going.”

This kind of vulnerability was just a glimpse of how a rap superstar like J. Cole delivered an intimate performance in a packed arena.