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When J. Cole dropped his debut project “The Come Up” on this day exactly 10 years ago, much of the music industry slept on the then-twenty-two-year-old producer and emcee from Fayetteville, North Carolina. Cole, who would go on to graduate magna cum laude later that year from St. John’s University in Queens, New York, had always been a diamond in the rough since the days of his “Therapist” moniker. After receiving a co-sign from New York mixtape king DJ OnPoint (who also hosted The Come Up) Cole would go on to release his classic song “Lights Please” which helped him secure a meeting with Jay Z and eventually led him to sign with Hov’s Roc Nation label. In honor of J. Cole’s ten years in the music business, we’ll take a look at ten gems from the last ten years that really defined Cole’s come up from the mixtape circuit to his current status as one of the leaders of the new school.
“Talk to Joey, Earl, Kendrick, and Cole, gatekeepers of flow.
They are extensions of instinctual soul
It’s the highest in commodity grade
And you could get it today.”
I Get Up
“Granted nine to five is how you survive
I ain’t tryna survive, I’m tryna throw my Momma in rides
I’m a provide for my seed I’m the soil
I teach ’em bout’ loyalty
I teach ’em that his skin black like oil that’s for royalty
I show ’em all the things that my pops was neva showin’ me
Treat ’em like a growin’ tree with this poetry
I get up…”
One of J. Cole’s most underrated tracks from his second official mixtape “The Warm Up”, Cole pours his heart and soul into this song which registers just under five minutes in length. Hip-hop has always been about uplifting your people and when you put out music that make hip hop legends like Hov, Q-Tip and Nas give you the nod of approval, you know you’re doing something right.
Let Nas Down
“And, dog, you know how come
Labels are archaic, formulaic with they outcome
They don’t know, they just study the charts
Me, I studied the shows, the fans, study they hearts”
When J. Cole released “Work Out” as the first single off of his debut studio album “Cole World: The Sideline Story”, many hip hop heads and long time J. Cole fans (myself included) were slightly disappointed. However, it all worked out in the long term, as Nas officially passed Cole the torch on the remix of the song.
“Take a ride through the city man and tell me what you witness
Poverty, richness, crooked cops and misfits
Violence, hatred, real devastation
Neighborhoods looking like there’s still segregation.”
J. Cole uses a sample from Millie Jackson’s version of Luther Ingram’s classic “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right” to set a feeling of melancholy while painting a vivid picture of despair. A heartfelt song that might have you holding back tears if you’re the type that chooses to listen closely to hip hop lyrics.
Return of Simba
“Maybe over your head, I’m ahead of my time
Niggas scared of my future, I know they dreadin’ my prime
Cause I only made classics, now what that take? Timing.
Cole under pressure, what that make? Diamonds.”
The third and final installation of Cole’s Simba Trilogy, J. Cole starts spazzing in the opening bars and finishes the track with a legendary conclusion: ‘Cause I only made classics, now what that take? Timing. Coal under pressure, what that make? Diamonds.’
“At times I wonder ’bout my father
Would it change for me if he was around?
Would I still be running ’round with the lowlife’s
Bum ass niggas no jobs, no life
Seen them niggas killed for no price
I watched his life flash before his eyes like a strobe light
I pulled the trigger, momma
Tryna be hard, I ain’t mean to kill the nigga momma…”
On this track, which features snippets of Richard Pryor’s stand up, J. Cole displays his storytelling ability in the form of a first person narrative. Cole, who in this story commits a murder, does a great job describing the thought process of a cold-blooded killer.
Losing My Balance
“And so I write this for my niggas on the corner
Love you cause you my brother so I feel I got to warn ya
This shit ain’t set up for a young brother to advance
On that note, you niggas playing right into their hands”
J. Cole samples Sara Tavares’ “Balance” in this bonus track off of The Warm Up.
It Won’t Be Long
“Dear mama, your son hurting
Living in this cold World where niggas shun virgins
And praise hoes
As days go by shawty 19 years old
No clothes for her baby yet she stay so fly”
Definitely another one of Cole’s more underrated works.
“Yeah, I wake up in the morning and I ask myself
Is life worth living, should I blast myself?
Don’t even wanna get out the bed
I got the Glock to my head, feel I rather be dead”
Cole pays homage to the legendary Tupac Shakur in this high tempo, upbeat song that tells the listener to ‘cheer up.’ A great song to listen to on days you’re feeling down.
An outlier on this list since it’s the only song that J. Cole doesn’t rap on, this single served as the debut single for Compton based rapper Kendrick Lamar.
“If I should die Lord this here is my will:
Reincarnate a nigga send me right back to the Ville
Let me re-live my younger days just once again
Reenact my memories from every friend to every sin.”