J Cole Tells His Story
On Saturday, October 3rd, Roc Nation artist J Cole was in Atlanta for the final day of the A3C Hip Hop Festival. He entered the venue with the confidence of an artist who had been signed but remained approachable as fans and other artists greeted and congratulated him. HHB was lucky enough to pull him away from the crowd and the many obligations of a Jay-Z approved artist, to do a quick interview outside of Vinnie Styles ATL.
09:00PM ET October 5, 2009
Contributor: Nadine Graham
A Rocky Williform Company
The evening had been a strange one where, as opposed to his publicist having ultimate control of Cole's movements that night, he'd taken the reins himself to promise this writer an interview. As he walked with me outside of the in-store meet and greet, I asked if he ever thinks about the first time he met Jay-Z.
The story reads: a young Jermaine Cole, who telemarketed at the time, saw a press release for Jay-Z saying that he was working on American Gangster. He quickly made a beat CD for Jay and ran up to the studio that he read Jay usually worked from. Clothed in a tee shirt that read "Produce For Jay Z or Die Trying", he rode the train into Manhattan and staked out the studio with a bottle of liquor in hand. Once Jay's black Phantom turned the corner, J Cole jumped from where he sat at the front of the building and stammered "I got this", as he handed Jay-Z his CD. Cole said that Jay gave him a look that read, "I don't grab demos..." The event would've been a disheartening blow for a young rapper/ producer that was hoping to be recognized. But when asked about it on Saturday, Cole said with an easy smile, "No, I really don't think about it anymore. It wasn't a disappointment. It was really motivation first. I mean, there are setbacks in everything."
American Gangster was released less than two years ago. J Cole was signed just earlier this year, and now he has a featured verse on Jay-Z's newest album Blueprint 3. It seems that his memory of being blown off by the megastar would've been a bit more fresh in his mind but Cole has more to think about. He will be touring colleges with his label head in the coming months, and doing his own individual shows as well as working on his major label debut. He says that his debut album is actually "only 30 percent done." With eyes shining, Cole continues, "I mean, I have really high standards for myself. So as soon as I lay a track down, a lot of times, I go back and decide to re-do it. I just want things to be right."
The fact that a brand new rapper has a verse (not a hook) on an official Jay-Z album, speaks to his talent. Cole was granted the last verse on "A Star is Born" which he says, he doesn't even care to hear- by his own doing anyway. "Nah man, I don't listen to it", he says, grinning self consciously, "I mean, if I'm riding with my niggas and it's on, then... but just me putting it on? Nah..." The way Cole brushes the question off, one can't help but think perhaps he's oblivious to the buzz surrounding him.
J Cole has a larger fanbase than he thinks he does. At the in-store, he remained confident but seemed tentative in accepting the fact that people wanted to take pictures with him. He enters rooms with cool ease, quietly watching. But at his soundcheck, for one full verse, J Cole broke out of his shell. He has fantastic word play, a powerful flow and a strong vocabulary. A lot of hip hop fans that claim him to be the one of the best new artists, fell in love with his flow on his single, "Lights Please". It's one of the tracks on his latest mixtape, The Warm Up. The popular cut features J talking about the mystifying effect that sexual relations have on heavier subjects such as socioeconomics and racism in the hood. He raps, "I tried to show her where we from and how we still have to go really far... And all the deep shit I was previously down for/ Replaced by freak shit I am currently down for... Lights please, Lights please/ Turn off the lights/ For now everything just seems alright/ How you make the darkness seem so bright/ Feeling like things gon' be alright..."
Let him tell it, he's excited that people are happy with the song, but he wrinkled his brows when asked about his personal best: "My best? I don't think my best has come yet. I'm still working. I just want to make great albums that are timeless, so I can go get a shorty, like [I got put on], and bring him on." J Cole nodded, and for a moment, seemed to realize that he is a star: a young man from Fayetteville, NC, performing for the first time in Atlanta and headlining the last concert of the A3C Hip Hop Festival in front of a packed house.