The first time I ever heard him was in 2009 in his feature on The Blueprint 3’s “A Star Is Born.” Having randomly found the album on the internet it came with no track listing. For months I was under the impression that the person rapping so eloquently was Lupe Fiasco. At some point or another I eventually found out this was not true and that the entire time I was listening to a future pillar of Hip-Hop, J.Cole. His sound brings the nostalgic feeling of a time where rap was influenced by emotion and thoughtful lyrics. More than that though, he spoke directly to me. The kid from the hood who was smart and never was in the streets, but seen it all. Say what you want about Cole being boring and his sometimes lackluster beat selection, it is impossible to deny just how great he really is. Now here is The Essentials: J.Cole.
5. Dead Presidents 2
I’ll come straight out with it, J.Cole’s version of “Dead Presidents” is better than Jay-Z’s. After giving a lukewarm performance he decided he owed it to this beat to go harder and did not disappoint. While it doesn’t have the same historical impact as the original it clearly is lyrically superior. This is the first song where I listened and thought “Wow J.Cole is really really good at rapping.” Not only did Cole flow out of this world this may be the best bars he has ever spit. He literally was coming with punch lines back to back to back. Not only did he come with the lyrics but he still managed to show who he was and bought both personalization and introspectiveness to the table. This is one of those deep cuts that is a staple in his career.
Best Line: Overcame a lowlife status to blow like Gladys / Ahead of my time like I lived my whole life backwards
The sounds of the piano , the pain in his voice, the honest love ballad to his mom and girl. When I think of J.Cole this song has the all the elements that make him great. The honesty of admitting his mistakes and shortcomings is what makes him so relatable. Him apologizing to his mother for leaving her to deal with tough times alone and wishing she can live forever just hits you right in the feels. Add that with the second verse which is him just kicking rhymes with a liquid flow– this is an undeniable, overall tremendous song.
Best Line: Until they snatched it from my momma and foreclosed her on her loan/ I’m so sorry that I left you there to deal with that alone
3. Premeditated Murder
Anytime that a rapper is able to combine metaphors with real life situations they get an A+ from me. Here, J.Cole not only did it but perfected it. In a song with so many bars he was still able to put words together that made you actually feel. The story of coming from nothing to his insecurity now that he has it is such a beautiful and stark contrast. Yeah,he might have made it but at what cost? The mellowness of the beat just adds to the emotion that’s already being felt. Then the pain in his voice during the hook and talking about his girlfriend just does it for me. It’s safe to say that he killed the game, Premeditated Murder.
Best Line: So if it comes down to may the best man win / No sweat like a headband
2. Too Deep For The Intro
Never has a song perfectly described my life in a way this song has. It’s almost like Cole watched a documentary on my life then made this song. The tale of growing up poor in the hood and trying to make a way out. The imagery in this record is so vivid and clear. J.Cole poured out his soul and told his life story. If you want to know who he is as a rapper this is the song that reflects him to the core. I could keep rambling on about how perfect “Too Deep For The Intro” is but I couldn’t do it justice. Just listen with your ears and your heart and it will all make sense.
Best Line: If they don’t know your dreams then they can’t shoot them down.
1. Work Out
In my “The Essentials” series I pick songs that best describe the essence of who an artist truly is. Choosing “Work Out” may seem like a reach or may have you completely confused but let me explain. This song is literally everything J.Cole is not. It’s a cheap attempt at a pop record that was created solely for radio play. After being thought of as the savior of rap this single was an utter disappointment. But, from this Cole was able to hone his craft and not sell out to make a radio hit. This anti-thesis of him best shows who he really is. J.Cole is everything that this song is not.
Best Line: Take a chance roll a dice/ Money can’t buy you love cause it’s over priced