J. Cole 101

As J. Cole drops his latest single, “Blow Up,” ERA decided to give a thorough primer on the rapper.

For thinking fans of hip-hop, J. Cole might be the perfect MC on the horizon.  Like many rappers, he grew up in poverty (Fayetteville, NC.)  Unlike many, he graduated Magna Cum Laude from St. John’s University on an academic scholarship.  But Cole isn’t an academic with his head stuck in an ivory tower, “My momma told me to speak like you got a college degree/ see I can, but I won’t, cause I’m sayin’ what I want.” (“Can I Live”)  Cole values communication over intelligence.  For example, on the clever track “College Boy,” he doesn’t try to preach to young rap fans the academic importance of college; he talks about the fun he has there.  But Cole isn’t a party animal, he’s a scholar who can relax: [I’m an] “eligible bachelor, finna get my bachelors/ and if this rap sh*t don’t work, I’m finna get my master’s/ still scoutin’ h*’s on the first day of classes” (College Boy)  Many rappers have conflicting pasts (Rick Ross, Drake, Kanye West) and Cole balances his gritty past and typical rap traits with his education, politics, and intellect like a pro.

Cole’s ascent has been close to storybook, but not unbelievable.  He has released two mixtapes: “The Come Up”(’07) and “The Warm Up,” (’09) with a third “The Blow Up” eminent.  The story is that Jay-Z signed Cole to his newly formed label “Roc Nation”  after one listen of the incredible “Lights Please.” “Grown Simba” was another amazing track that garnered plenty attention.  Following, Cole did a verse on Hov’s BP3 the track “A Star is Born”  The verse is reminiscent of Eminem on “Renegade” on the first Blueprint, stealing the show.

Now, J. Cole lives in the 9 month period all of hip-hop’s rising stars experience, between when they are tapped for success (XXL 2010 Freshmen Class, Cover of Vibe Magazine,) and when they are forgotten.  Cole released a first single, the romping “Who Dat” in his trademark style: straightforward, determined, and brilliantly clever.  Every J. Cole song has the same tone, he arrives on the track with a sense of earned entitlement, his statements political, and his profanity percussive.

Most recently he’s released a song titled “Blow Up.” It’s everything it should be for a J. Cole track.  The politics, academics, and wit are still present.  He raps “Momma said I should reconsider law school/ that means I wear a suit and bend the truth and feel awfull/ hell naw, got a degree, but what that cost you?/ you make a good salary just to pay Sallie Mae” and “This is for n*ggas not satisfied with secondary/ and for my sisters who ain’t satisfied with secretary” and finally “funny how this money, chains, and whips make me feel free.”

What Cole has is the rare ability to speak to two cross sections of hip-hop fans without alienating either (Easily seen in Drake, as well.)  To the common man, (e.g. his neighbors in NC) he seems sharp, strong, and clever, like a young Tupac.  He has troubles with authority, and emphasizes his upbringing.  “And how am I supposed to feel what the president spoke/ when he ain’t ever had to struggle, ain’t never been broke.”  To his university classmates, Cole still values his education and uses it in conjunction with rap to change life for the urban youth.

Contemptuous but calculated, educated but down to earth, J. Cole is set to explode, and he’s the perfect MC for any thoughtful rap fan.

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