J. Cole: In A Major Way
With the new wave of rappers coming out who seem to be closely apprenticed by their older counterparts, J. Cole and Jay's relationship is a unique one. It seems that he's trusted more to create and come up with quality material and use the Roc's resources as he wishes. Being compared to Drake is another feat to overcome, yet the comparison isn't by any means a negative one. The St. Johns graduate from North Carolina proves that being an educated artist with a major in creativity and minor in drive will land you somewhere.
HipHopDX: What was the driving force that brought you to New York?
J. Cole: My mentors, these dudes that I really look up to when I was on the come-up, I saw that they werent getting the attention that I thought they deserved. It was really the location. It is tough coming out from where Im from. Nobody is really checking for anybody where Im from and most people in the city arent either. People were more interested in who was hot in the mainstream.
DX: You never thought to go to Atlanta? I find that people from the South tend to stay in the Southern area and try to make their mark there first.
J. Cole: I've wanted to go to New York ever since I was a little kid, with the music and what I thought the city was like. The big buildings and stuff, I always liked New York. When I came up here Atlanta was hotter, but, it worked out better for me being a kid from the south and coming up here.
DX: Your sound isn't a typical southern flow. Who influenced your flow?
J. Cole: A lot of 2Pac and Nas. I was a big fan of Canibus [click to read] back in the day. A lot of people like [Jay-Z] [click to read] [and] of course, Andre 3000 [click to read], a lot of OutKast shit.
DX: Was the plan to do school and than focus on rapping?
J. Cole: I was always rapping period. School was just my ticket to get to New York. I just thought if I could get to New York with school I won't have to finish college. In my head I figured I wouldn't even have to finish because I'm so good and whatnot I would get signed. The reality was that I had to take more time, but it worked out.
DX: I heard you were really into basketball at first and then switched it up to rapping. Was the decision made because you felt you couldnt make it as a baller?
J. Cole: It wasn't like I gave up. I wasn't like, "Oh, I'm not good at this" and that was that." I still was interested in it. I was good at it and stuff. I was a average pretty good player. I wasn't top of the line stand out player. I just preferred rapping. It wasn't a serious or hard decision; it's just the way it was.
DX: Can we clear up this mixtape confusion. How many do you officially have out?
J. Cole: I got one million mixtapes out. [Laughs] I really have one called The Come Up that is an official mixtape. I have another one that is a sampler to The Warm Up [click to download] that came out in October. The reason we put that out was because I had a couple shows in North Carolina and I wanted to pass out CDs. The Come Up was kinda old so I wanted something that was fresher. That's how the sampler came to be. It's not an official mixtape and it'll probably never be heard again are on there. The Warm Up is the follow up for an official mixtape [click to listen].
DX: How did you land the deal with Jay?
J. Cole: My business partner Mike Rooney [was] getting my music to the right people. This was about a year-and-a-half of us trying to get our foot in the door and trying to get somebody to pay attention. Every time he would play my music the reaction would get crazier and crazier. Eventually, somebody he gave it to ended up giving it to Jay. He played it for him and Jay was like, "Who is this kid? We need to bring him in." We set up a meeting and I didn't believe it. Three weeks later I was in his office and a couple months after that I was signed.
DX: How does it feel to be the first artist on his label?
J. Cole: It feels good. I dont even pay attention to being the first. Im just happy to be on something. If I started paying attention to the pressure I might start to feel some type of way. I feel privileged and honored, but, I dont feel the pressure because I dont really look at it like that. I look at it like I got an opportunity and a platform. Im thankful, thank you, now lets go.
DX: when youre in the studio is Jay ever there with you?
J. Cole: I been in the studio with Jay. When Im working on stuff in the studio, hes not there. Hes not overseeing my every move. Hes too busy to micromanage me. When Im in the studio its just me, unless its a special occasion and Im in there with him.
DX: What is your take on Death of Autotune?
J. Cole: I think that shit is fuckin' crazy, man. That shit gave me the chills when I first heard it. Not necessarily Death of Autotune, but just Jay coming back the way he did. Coming back that hard and coming back that strong was like, Damn, he did it again. How did he do it again? I think it solidified his relevance if anyone was questioning it.
DX: How do you feel about Auto-Tune?
J. Cole: I think its cool. I think its actually ill when its used in a classy way. When its overdone and sloppy with no melody, its distasteful.
DX: Speaking of fads, which Hip Hop fad was your favorite? For instance; singing rappers, jerseys, North Faces etc.
J. Cole: The Soul beats. The sped up chipmunk sample, that would have to be the best. I was in love with those. Those were good times in Rap. Except that was another thing, people overdid that. It was so overdone and terrible. Again, when it was done in a classy way its always good.
DX: Whats your favorite song that you created so far?
J. Cole: I got way too many. This song I got called Night Rider like the show. Im saving that one for the album. Its one of those conceptual songs that is like the Nas' I Gave You Power. Lights Please is a song that I have and Lost Ones, which is for the album. Lost Ones is about pregnancy at a young age. Its not in a corny way either; it puts you in a very real feel. Its almost like watching a movie.
DX: Whats your favorite verse?
J. Cole: I dont know I got too many verses to have just one favorite. I really have no clue. Actually one of them is off the mixtape with the song called The Badness. It starts off like this:
"Believe in God like the stars up in the sky / Science can tell us how but it cant tell us why / I seen a baby cry, than seconds later she laughs / The beauty of life, the pain never lasts / The rain always pass / The Sun dont always shine/ Then its gone Im lonely, but when its there Im fine / I hate the winter time because the nights come quicker / the light makes them whites think Im a nice young nigga / But at night, they think twice and walk a little faster / Its funny how years ago I woulda called this niggaa masta / How the tables turn" and so on and so forth.
Its just real, its kinda out there. Its one of them deep verses that is still cool. You can just listen to it and you wouldnt even know that its so deep.
DX: How do you feel about the Drake comparisons?
J. Cole: I really think its the fact that were light skin. [Laughs] Honestly, I dont necessarily agree with it. I think the people who say that just get a first listen or first glance at me and decide from there. People say, Oh, a light skin kid who is not rapping about guns. He sounds like Drake. Once people dive into the music theyll have a clear picture. It doesnt bother me because its not like Drake is wack, hes super hot right now. Hes one of the hottest niggas in the Rap game. If you wanna compare me to him, and thats what floats your boat its only helping me out in the long run. I would just hope they dive into the music.
DX: What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
J. Cole: I just got a new iPod so I gotta step my whole library up. I got old shit. Im listening to OutKast's Aquemini, this album [My World] by this guy Lee Fields that my man Damien put me on to. Its a current album that he just put out this month [by Now-Again/Stones Throw Records], but it sounds like its straight outta the '70s. I actually sampled a couple joints off of that on The Warm Up. Those are just a couple things.
DX: What are some other upcoming projects other than The Warm Up? What can people look forward to?
J. Cole: Im on Wales [click to read] album. Theres a song with me, him and Melanie Fiona [click to read] and its produced by Green Lantern [click to read]. Im on his [Back To The Feature] [click to listen] mixtape as well. Just look out for a lot of features. Im on a few joints with Young Chris [click to read]. I got some other special top secret stuff that Ima be on.
DX: Is there any talks of touring?
J. Cole: I want to set up a college tour for next semester. My goal is to not just visit a regular college, but I wanna do all the auditoriums. Remember when we were in school and we would have guest speakers, like poets come? When I was in school we had Nikki Giovanni come and it was more like a talking session. I think she did three poems. Even though she came to recite poems she ended up talking the whole time. I want to do something a little bit more intimate like that. Something where I can be more interactive with the people because I feel like a large percentage of people who are going to relate to me right now is in college. Seeing that Im fresh outta there, it makes sense.
DX: Who would you like to work with?
J. Cole: For my album, Im in the type of zone where I dont mind staying to myself. Im not anxious to just go in the studio with anyone in particular, but Im open to everything. My favorite producer in the history of the world is Kanye West. That would be a great day.
DX: Where do you think Hip Hop is headed?
J. Cole: its headed back to another high. It turned the corner. I think it had to go through a phase where fans were kind of complaining. It went from fans feeling like they had nobody to root for and nobody to check for. They were so bored and annoyed. Now theyre arguing over whos your favorite. Is it Drake, is it J. Cole, is it Wale? This guy's better than such and such. Now they got their hands full and I think its only going to get better. Im just happy to be apart of the people who are turning the corner. I want to be one of the ones who last for a very long time.