Jay-Z Protege J. Cole Takes Unusual Path to Stardom
Up-and-Coming Rapper Attended College to Get Closer to Jay-Z
By STEPHANIE WASH
Sept. 19, 2009
Whether it was by fate, or simply through calculated decisions, the cards were dealt in J. Cole's favor.
The 24-year-old rapper, the first artist signed to Jay-Z's fledging new label Roc Nation, now faces the task of making hit music under the wing of his boss, who brought to the world superstars Kanye West and Rihanna.
"I studied the game and I studied the greats and I studied people's movements and the mistakes they made and the pitfalls. And he just did everything so close to perfect," Cole said about Jay-Z, during an interview with ABC News. "If I wanted to do it like anybody or better than anybody, it would be him," Cole said.
But just two years ago, he feared that chance would never come. In September 2007, after reading about Jay-Z's upcoming album "American Gangster" on a rap Web site, Cole thought he could get his break by making beats for a record that would ultimately top the Billboard charts.
"This was my chance. It was like a sign," Cole recalled. "God is telling me to get on this album. So I was praying on it," Cole said.
Cole went home that day and began making beats for the album. Hours later, with his work in hand, Cole and a friend waited outside Roc the Mic studio in the rain, on a hunch that Jay-Z would be there to finish work on the album.
Cole had the scenario figured out in his mind.
"Maybe we could just slide him the CD and if we slide him the CD, he'll go upstairs and listen to it, and if he listens to it, he's gonna love it and he's gonna send down, you know, for me to come upstairs and he's probably going to sign me -- or whatever was in my head," Cole said with laughter.
Two-and-half hours passed before Jay-Z emerged from a black Rolls Royce Phantom.
Cole mustered up the courage to mumble a few words and hand Jay-Z the CD.
"Man, I don't want that," Jay-Z responded as Cole recounted, delivering a crushing blow to his spirit.
"I thought he was evil at that point -- cause it caught me off guard, I had such high hopes, that just one little phrase like that from him," Cole recalled.
But Cole caught a break last November when he got another chance to meet Jay-Z after the music executive heard his mix tape single "Lights Please."
"No. Never. Not one time," Cole told ABC News when asked if there was ever a moment where he thought of quitting. "For some reason I just always thought it was close, like I'll just be discovered soon," Cole said.
Born Jermaine Cole in Frankfurt, Germany, to Army parents, and later raised in Fayetteville, N.C., Cole took an atypical path to a successful rap career. He went to college, graduating from St. John's University Magna Cum Laude.
Today, Cole has two successful mix tapes circulating the Internet. His latest, "The Warm Up," was released this summer.
Cole's first major album appearance came with the release of Jay-Z's "Blueprint 3." Cole recorded the track, "A Star Is Born" in April 2009 and found out in late August that he made the album.
"I don't think I understand. I don't think I have a good grasp on how big it actually is, you know, how big the title is and how big the song is and what it really means," Cole revealed. "I'm not going to think about it because if I do, that's when I'll probably start feeling some kind of pressure. So I just take it for what it is, like it's a blessing to be on there," Cole said.
For Jay-Z, having the newcomer on the album taught him about his excitement for the game.
"You know, when you first come in the music business ... you come with really wide eyes," Jay-Z told The Associated Press. "That's why, on every single album, I have a new producer or new rapper because I love that new energy. Whatever they do from there is on them, but that new energy and what they had right there is raw and untapped, and pretty much cool."
Cole's debut album for Roc Nation is slated for a spring 2010 release.
Cole is versatile -- his music covers a gamut of topics from abortion to the economy. His music echoes the stories his favorite rapper, Tupac Shakur, once told. Cole, who described his music as a cross between Nas and Andre 3000 of Outkast, is part of a new breed of conscious rappers, who rap about more than the customary cars, clothes and money, which had come to dominate the genre.
In the meantime, Cole is paving his way as the self-described Lebron James of rap.
"Lebron does everything. He can shoot, he can pass, he can handle the ball, he gets rebounds ... That's how I feel, whether its lyrics, or flow or beats. I just feel like I'm a renaissance man, like I'm revolutionizing the game. There's been people who've rapped and produced -- like Kanye -- but I don't feel like on the rapping side there's ever been a producer who can rap as good as I think I can rap," Cole explained.
At Cole's Sept. 12 show hosted by New York University's organization, Gentlemen of Quality, the enabler of Cole's confidence and root of his support system sat in the front row. It is the woman who raised him, his mother Kay Cole.
"She was the one who was always supporting even when she was probably like, deep down inside, 'you know, I'd rather him be a lawyer,' you know, something like that. 'Why don't you go to law school?' She still would always reinforce like, 'well, if this is what you want, then I believe in you.' She's always been like that, ever since I was young. You know, one of those 'you could do whatever you want to do' type moms," Cole said.
Cole is ready to share his music with the world.
"I'm here to spread a message of hope," Cole said. "Follow your heart. Don't follow what you've been told you're supposed to do."
You can read more about J. Cole on his official Web site: http://www.jcolemusic.com/