It’s Cole’s world and we are all just living in it. Fayetteville, North Carolina’s hometown hero has quietly become a household name. Well, maybe not quite but he’s getting damn close. What hasn’t he done since bursting on the scene with his major-label debut, Cole World: The Sideline Story, in 2011? Let’s see… Drop a platinum album at a time when nobody buys them anymore? Three of them, in fact. Massive, globe-spanning headlining tours? A few, including a couple “Dollar and a Dream” tours which boasted $1 ticket prices. Release a concert film/documentary? You bet, check out 2015’s Forest Hills Drive: Homecoming on HBO. Headline a music festival? Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza in the last year alone, in addition to top-billing at up-and-coming Meadows Festival in NYC. His resume hits all the check marks. And today Jermaine Cole dropped his fourth studio album, which is sure to be the start of yet another innovative installment in an already illustrious career.
His unique background has been well-documented, but is worth noting nonetheless. Cole had a rough and tumble southern upbringing, but was active musically at a young age His passions lead him to NYC, as he enrolled at Saint John’s University in Queens. Cole graduated top of the class (shocker) as he honed his rap and production skills in the Big Apple. After a few successful mixtapes and collaborations put him on the hip-hop map, Cole landed a record deal at rap mega-mogul and idol Jay-Z’s Roc Nation. Cole quickly became Hova’s protégé, and cemented himself as one of rap’s rising stars in the early 2010s. Unlike some of his contemporaries of that time (looking at you Wale), J. Cole was able to remain relevant and increase his star power, with each tour and album being better than the last.
Cole lists Tupac as one of his favorite rappers of all time and, stylistically, his influence definitely shows. I’m no rap expert, but in my opinion Cole has the best “flow” in the genre right now. He approaches music as an art form, carefully crafting witty lyrics and patterns that remind me of ‘Pac and vintage Eminem. Gimmicks? He has no need for them. Cole tells stories. Check out “Lost Ones”, “Let Nas Down” and “Wet Dreamz” if you don’t believe me. The dude takes serious pride with his approach to creating music, producing the majority of his last two, more experimental albums by himself. In fact, 2014 Forest Hills Drive has exactly 0 guest features from other rappers, an impressive feat not often found in today’s hip-hop culture. But it’s not just story telling- Radio hits, stadium-sized anthems, party starters? Cole’s got them all. Oh and his live shows? Electric. I was at his headlining slot at last year’s Bonnaroo, and saw him put on a true show. He pulled the crowd thru highs and lows while jamming out like a true, for lack of a better term, rock star.
His newest output, 4 Your Eyez Only, holds nothing back. Shorter than usual (10 tracks in total), Cole still manages to bring his A game. Likely his most soulful endeavor yet, Cole mixes his usual wordy raps with poignant crooning to make some of his most touching songs. While you won’t be hearing these songs at any clubs any time soon, “Déjà Vu” and “Change” quickly stand out as highlights. He channels his inner storyteller on the title track and “Neighbors” has a chorus sure to stick in listener’s heads. It should be noted that this album, like the last, has 0 guest features.
There is not much left to knock off of Cole’s proverbial checklist, but I imagine if there was it will be done soon. The Rap world can rest easy – the king is back to restore order.
Suggested Tracks: “Work Out” “Forbidden Fruit” “Can’t Get Enough” “No Role Models”
Photo Credits – PopGlitz.com, UpRoxx, Billboard