Jermaine Lamarr Cole enters FYE record store very casually for a meet-and-greet, with fans anxiously lined around and up Broad Street by the hundreds. The rap star, known as J. Cole, is unassuming in his posture and dress: a plain black T-shirt, a thin silver chain around his neck. He’s hot on the arrival of his second studio album Born Sinner (see review here) and his calm demeanor may be due to its positive reception.
“The numbers are good, I’m getting a lot of good feedback,” he tells PW. “I’m in a real happy place because of that right now.” On this day, sales of Born Sinner are not far from Kanye West’s latest (and monumental) album release, Yeezus. Although Cole changed the day of his album release to coincide with West’s, he insists it was merely friendly competition. “I’m a huge Kanye fan—like, if I wasn’t rappin’, I would probably be a Stan-type fan,” he admits.
Despite the satisfying sales, Cole’s quick to assert that first-week numbers and “one-listen-reviews” are bad for hip-hop in general. “Everyone wants to rush to be first to release their review online. My music, and the music that I love, has layers.” He vividly recalls begging his mother to buy him a Michael Jackson album when he was younger, and, as a teenager, being equally charged to drive to the record store and buy Jay-Z’s Blueprint. “These are albums that got even better after hours and hours of listening,” he says, “so how are you gonna judge my album on one quick sit-down?”
The fact that the Grammy nominee is outspoken about these qualms may be linked to him bearing responsibility for a majority of his own production. He plans to continue this practice, although he’s excited about working with beatmakers he admires. “Timbaland is one of them,” he says. “I got a few things in the works.”
Even though he’s overwhelmingly content at the moment, the Roc Nation stalwart’s next project may not be far off. “I was getting into territory on the end of my first album where I was like ‘I don’t even know if I should be sharing this.’ I feel like I have so much left at the end of one thing that it just rolls over into the next.”
Being emotionally honest and vulnerable has never been as huge a trend in hip-hop as it is now, and Cole not only embraces this; he takes pride in it. “This is gonna make me sound bigheaded, but I think I’m an important part of that,” he says. “And I’m glad I am. It’s like when you go to the movies. You got summer blockbuster hits, and those are fun. But you gotta have that deep shit too, like Oscar winners. That real shit.”
PW's Music Issue 2014