Jermaine Cole has to be one of the hardest artists to critique. Unlike any rapper, his music comes with strong, polarizing biases, which tug at you from one side to the other.
Either Cole is nice or he’s boring. His lack of features is either creative or it’s hurting him. He’s a good songwriter or he’s too repetitive. It’d be impossible to get a read on him if you turned to social media.
Without fail, it’s either his loyal fanbase lecturing you on the complexity of his bars or it’s his haters telling you how mundane his raps are.
Before his music even has a chance to marinate, claims of it being both the best thing you’ll ever hear and the worst thing out floods our timelines and throws out all hopes of ingesting his material with a clean pallet in the process.
For the longest time, this infuriated me because I never understood how people could hate Cole so much, nor did I understand how people rode for him so hard (his last three albums have gone platinum with no features).
But after hearing J. Cole’s newest album, KOD, it confirmed that he is an anomaly in the hip-hop world and has indirectly created this reaction to his music by simply being him.
You see, ever since the 6’2, St. Johns graduate from Fayetteville North Carolina figured it out in 2014, he no longer needed you, I, or anyone’s approval. It was at that time Cole found himself as an artist, and he hasn’t looked back since.
When Cole stopped giving a fuck
J. Cole didn’t attain breakout stardom until his third studio album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive and you can clearly notice the artistic switch at that juncture in his career, both sonically and on the charts.
Cole World: The Sideline Story catapulted him to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with guest features from Trey Songz, Drake, Jay-Z, and Missy Elliott and “Work Out” remains his biggest hit to date, yet it only sold 218,000 its first week.
His second album, Born Sinner was assisted by Miguel, Jhené Aiko, Kendrick Lamar and 50 Cent, yet only sold 297,000 copies in its first week.
2014 Forest Hill Drive sold 353,000 copies its first week, had no features and went on to be nominated for Best Rap Album at the 58th Grammy Awards.
What changed? Cole stopped giving a fuck.
As he addressed on the record “Let Nas Down,” chasing radio hits were tearing him apart and his remedy since has been doubling down on himself.
FHD was the Cole he started off as — the mixtape Cole — and the results were obvious tells to a formula that he’d stick to. However, the process of not conforming alienated listeners in the process.
J. Cole stans vs J. Cole truthers
I once read that J. Cole’s music is reminiscent of the rap you listened to before losing your virginity. While funny and meant to slight, the statement is actually quite accurate and revealing in a way. J. Cole’s mixtapes and the songs that captured his initial fanbase were, indeed, those kinds of raps.
The Come Up, The Warm Up and even Friday Night Lights tackles everyday life that everyday people go through, not rapper talk. Issues like going off to college, paying off student loans, getting a job, hating where you are professionally and “School Daze” dominated the subject matter of his last three albums, topics that, depending on what you’re tuning in to, can be perceived as “boring”.
But it works regardless because it’s what his core fans want and need to hear.
J. Cole’s best songs are simple; not over-amplified by huge snares are trap beats — think “Dollar and a Dream” and “Losing your Balance.” So if his music is returning to those vibes, if anything, it’s him at his strengths and it’s what will sell.
That’s what separates the J. Cole stans from the J. Cole truthers. The stans — the diehard J. Cole supporters — are his fan base from the mixtape era. The truthers — the ones who don’t see the hype — are the ones who never connected or who no longer resonate with it.
J. Cole does well what J. Cole does well: being the guy next door with something to say. Either it’s for you or it’s not.
KOD dropped last Friday, on 4/20, and has already broken both Spotify and Apple Music streaming records for most streams in a day. And, in addition to being the No. 1 album in the country, it’s projected to be the best-selling record of the year so far, all while having no features and no promotion.
In an era where drug abuse is celebrated, Cole dropped an anti-addiction album, going not only against the trend but against some of the most popular upcoming artists.
Say what you want about J. Cole but he can speak from the heart at any given time, at any given point, and he’ll have a mass of fans waiting to hear the message.
There are going to be people who dislike Cole due to how obnoxious his base can get, but he is far beyond the opinions of others and too much in tune with himself to care.
J. Cole doesn’t need our support, per say. You can hate him, love him or not think twice about him. If he never sold another album or ticket sale he’d still stay true to what he believes is his truest message — this is why he will always win.