Introducing J. Cole…
Jermaine Lamarr Cole is an American rapper and producer, better known by his stage name J. Cole. In 2009 he was the first artist signed to Jay-Z’s label Roc Nation. Born in Germany and raised in North Carolina, the 26-year-old started testing his skill when he was 12 and began making beats at 15 after his mom bought him a beat machine. Years later, he decided to go to college in New York at St. Johns University so that he would be closer to the record labels as he was confident about getting a deal. After graduating college, he had a chance meeting with Mark Pitts, the former manager of Notorious B.I.G., who introduced him to Jay-z and the rest is history.
After many delays that left his fans wondering if his album would ever come out, his debut ‘Cole World: The Sideline Story’ finally hit stores yesterday. It’s been a while since I’ve been this excited about a rapper. I like his music because it gives me a Kanye West vibe from his College Dropout days. Ladies and gentlemen, I think we’re witnessing the birth of a star. Necole Bitchie recently caught up with J. Cole at his sold out show at Nokia Live in Los Angeles and he opened up about his recent collaboration with Missy Elliot, what it felt like to see his CD for the first time and his refusal to sell out for commercial gain:
Necole Bitchie: You recently released a track titled ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ with Missy Elliot. How did the collaboration come about?
J. Cole: The last week of the album I had like five days to finish the album and I did two songs in those five days. First, I did ‘Mr. Nicewatch’ with Jay-Z and then I did the Missy song. I ran to Jay-Z’s office….I do references sometimes; I’ll make the beat and I’ll record with the mic right there and I’ll record a rough version. I ran to Jay’s office and I played both of those songs for him and I was like ‘What do you think this? Do you think I should finish these songs because I only have five days left?’ I had already played him the album and he was like, ‘Yo, you’re good,’ and this time he was like, ‘You need to finish those.’ I finished ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ and I was like, ‘Yo, this sounds like an Aaliyah type of song. I wish I had Aaliyah to sing this.’ Then I instantly, as soon as I said it my mind thought of Missy because I wanted to work with her a year ago but I could never get in with her. It was the perfect thing because I wrote the hook with her in mind and she killed it.
How did the record get into Missy’s hands?
I got in touch with her management to see if she could even do it or if she was even interested. I ended up Skyping with her and it was cool as hell like, ‘I’m Skyping with Missy’. It was a crazy thing. So I sent it to her through Skype; she heard it and loved it and then the next day or whatever, she knocked it out for me.
What was your reaction when you first heard the track ‘Nobody’s Perfect’?
We were going crazy! We were like, ‘Wooooooooooo!’ I don’t know but to like the younger generation they’re probably like ‘Missy, where she been?,’ but anybody college age and up I think we know what Missy was to us or whatever. It was almost the same reaction as when I heard Jay on [Mr Nice Watch]. That’s just how excited I was.
You know it’s big to have her on a record she didn’t produce. A lot of people thought she produced it.
Oh, that’s dope! I’ll take it because she’s an incredible producer too but yeah, that was me.
I just saw a video of you on stage and someone in the audience had your CD. It looked like you had ‘a moment’ right there on stage…
We were in Phoenix last night and I had a meet & greet at the school Arizona State and when I got there six kids had my album. First, I’m like how you get my album (being super defensive) then they pulled out their receipts. They bought the album from Target; Target was selling them early, which is all good. I was just excited to see it and that same kid ended up in the first row. So while I was on stage I had to show him some love and show my fans it’s real because my fans, we’ve been waiting so long. I remember a period when they were like ‘Man, is it ever going to come out?,’ and I was like that too like, ‘Am I ever going to get a release date?’ My fans know and appreciate that moment when I hold up the physical CD. They feel like I feel like, ‘Ahh, it’s real.’
Do you feel your fans pressed your label to push the project out?
Nah, the label didn’t care about that. If anything, I was the one like the fans pressured me. I was already under pressure but I was basically telling Jay and my management like, ‘We need to go. Let’s just move.’ They didn’t want to put out an album understandably without a hit record. Could you imagine if I had like a ‘Black and Yellow’ right now or ‘The Best I Ever Had,’ we sell a million in a week or something crazy like that? But I was just ready to go so much, I’m like, ‘I’ve established a fan base and I’ve worked hard so let’s just go with the flow and see what happens.’ I kind of had to press the button a little bit.
You graduated college…What happened in between college and you getting signed?
A lot of crazy stories if you got the time. You know what happened? When you graduate college, it’s like a six month period before or some people are on it a year ahead and start applying for jobs. The late comers it’s like six months, some of them three months before you graduate you start applying for jobs. All of my friends were applying to jobs for like 9-5 positions in the city, PR positions, some of them got jobs, and some of them graduated and was still waiting. I was like just chilling because I was so confident with the music that I always though I would get signed in like three weeks. That was my true feeling even though it didn’t happen like that I was like, ‘I’m good.’ My mom would be like, ‘Son, what are you going to do after you graduate?’ I’d be like ‘Mom, I’m about to get signed its cool, chill out, relax,’ but it didn’t happen like that. So like, two months after I graduated I’m like on rock bottom because I’m dead broke, real life hits, I can’t pay my rent, can’t pay for my food because I don’t have no income and I realized like, ‘Yo, fam you have to still work because it’s not going to come like that.’ So I had to go get a job that was part time, $8.00 an hour that would allow me the flexibility to still go to the studio late and call-in when I wanted to. You know you got those jobs were the manager is cool or whatever so I had to work those jobs for the next two years while I tried to get on. That’s a long story…I could’ve kept on going.
You missed a few months rent?
Oh, yeah! Yeah, I probably stacked the most rent recorded ever in history of landlords. It was thousands of dollars of a tab but I had this landlord named Muhammad, he believed in me. I use to tell him, ‘Yo, Muhammad I do this for real.’ This is New York City….he was a blessing to me because the fact the he believed in me, he’ll be like, ‘I believe in you, you’re my guy,’ and he let me stack up my rent too high. If I wouldn’t have gotten this record deal I would still owe him like college loan style, that’s how much money I owed him on rent.
You paid him back?
Oh, yeah I paid him back as soon as I got that advance I wrote him a nice check plus some extra. That’s my man right there, shout out to Muhammad.
You have a record, ‘Lost Ones‘, dealing with a man and woman’s perspective on an unplanned pregnancy and abortion. What inspired that record?
That was a real life situation, not to get too personal because I feel like it can take away the effect that the record has on people. That wasn’t something I went through, that was something somebody next to me had went through and it made me just think about like, ‘Dang, I wonder what he’s thinking about right now. I wonder how she’s feeling right now.’ That’s why I approached that song like that because I feel like if it was happening to me I don’t think I could did it as well. I probably would’ve just spilled out all my feelings out but because I was just third person and just seeing what he was going through and wondering what she was going through it allowed me to take the approach I took, which was the first verse I’m telling his, the second verse I’m imagining like how I would feel if I was a female and that was happening to me and I rapped it like that and the third verse is more third person perspective like, ‘Look, this is what happened and he only liked it cause of this but she fell in love.’
You are kind of adamant about not selling out. What is selling out to you?
I really don’t know the definition of that word all the way but to me selling out would be doing something that’s not in my heart. Like, if I was going to put out an album- if this album was full of me trying to go for it – if every song on the album or 50%-60% of the album was what I thought would be ‘hits’ because I want to make it to radio like, ‘if this don’t work maybe this would work for me’ that would be equivalent. Maybe one day I’ll make an album six years, four years, or three years from now I’m make an album with a bunch of hits. But right now it didn’t feel right; it felt like I needed to tell stories or whatever. To me selling out is going against what you believe for commercial gain. But I don’t mean anybody that makes hits. Some people are born to make hits; you’re not a sell out because you make hits but just for me that’s probably what I saying when I said that.
What do you want you’re legacy to be?
I use to be like, ‘I want to be the greatest,’ but then I realized everybody’s perspective is subjective. Nobody can really be the greatest. I say Tupac and somebody could say Jay-Z and we’re both right. Right now, I just want to be on everybody’s list whether it’s 10 years from now or whatever. You know everybody got that top five…put me on your list and I’m good. I would love to be number one but if I’m on your list I’ll be happy ten years from now.