Jermaine Lamarr Cole (born January 28, 1985), better known by his stage name J. Cole, is an American hip hop recording artist, songwriter and record producer from Fayetteville, North Carolina. Cole first received recognition in 2007, following the release of his debut mixtape The Come Up. Shortly after the release of The Come Up, Cole was contacted by American rapper Jay-Z and subsequently signed to his record label Roc Nation, in 2009. In that same year, Cole released his second mixtape, The Warm Up, which was itself followed by Cole's third mixtape, Friday Night Lights, in 2010.
His debut album, Cole World: The Sideline Story, was released on September 27, 2011. The album debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200, Top R&B Albums and Top Rap Albums chart, selling more than 218,000 in its first week. He received a nomination for Best New Artist at the 54th Grammy Awards. Cole's second album, Born Sinner, was released on June 18, 2013. The album debuted at number two on the Billboard 200, however, Born Sinner later rose to number one, giving Cole his second number one on the chart. His third album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, was released on December 9, 2014 and also debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, giving Cole his third number one album.
Cole was born in the 97th General Hospital at a United States Army base in Frankfurt, West Germany. His father is African-American and served in the United States Army, and his mother is German. At the age of 8 months, Cole relocated to Fayetteville, North Carolina, where he was raised by his mother, aunt and cousin. His father left the family when Cole was still young. He has an older brother named Zach Cole.
Cole started rapping at the age of 12, becoming serious about it at the age of 15. He hooked up with a local group called Bomm Sheltuh, which included rappers Nervous Reck and FilthE Ritch. Around this time he added record production to his repertoire and his stage name was Therapist.
Cole grew up in a multi-ethnic environment. His childhood revolved around a love for both basketball and rap music. He attended Terry Sanford High School and decided to study guitar under the well-known artist Mark Ebert. Cole graduated from high school in 2003. He concluded that he had a better chance of getting a record deal in New York City, so he chose to attend St. John's University on an academic scholarship. There, he majored in communication and minored in business, graduating magna cum laude.
On his mixed-race background, Cole indicated in an October 2011 issue of the hip-hop magazine XXL:
I can identify with White people, because I know my mother, her side of the family, who I love. I've had White friends. I know people from high school that I might not have hung out with outside of high school, but I think I got to know them pretty well, so I know they sense of humor. But at the end of the day, I never felt White. I don't know what that feels like. I can identify. But never have I felt like I'm one of them. Not that I wanted to, or tried to, but it just was what it was. I identify more with what I look like, because that's how I got treated. Not necessarily in a negative way. But when you get pulled over by the police, I can't pull out my half-White card. Or if I just meet you on the street you're not gonna be like, "This guy seems half-White."
2005-08: Career beginnings:
Cole started rapping at the age of 12, after receiving guidance from his cousin on the basics of rhyming and word play. Inspired mostly by rappers Canibus, Tupac and Eminem, Cole developed a love for telling stories in his lyrics. By age 14, Cole had notebooks filled with rhymes, but no beats of his own to record them with. His mother bought him an 808 beat machine so he could produce music himself. By the age of 17, he was posting songs on various internet forums under the moniker "Therapist" Cole stood outside of Jay-Z's Roc the Mic Studio for three hours in order to give him a beat called "On Top of the World" in which he sampled Idris Muhammad, so that his mentor-to-be could use it. However, when Jay-Z came out of his building he shunned the up-and-coming rapper. Soon after graduating, Cole released his first mixtape, The Come Up (2007). The mixtape was well received but wasn't followed by significant recognition.
2009-10: Mixtapes and Roc Nation signing:
He released his second mixtape, The Warm Up, on June 15, 2009 to positive reviews. Cole appeared on Jay-Z's album The Blueprint 3 (2009), on the track "A Star Is Born." He is featured on both Wale's debut album, Attention Deficit (2009) and mixtape Back to the Feature (2009) respectively. In January 2010, Cole, along with label mate Jay Electronica and Mos Def appeared on Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek's single, "Just Begun" for the follow-up of Reflection Eternal's album Train of Thought (2000), titled Revolutions Per Minute (2010). Cole also appeared on B.o.B's mixtape May 25th (2010) on the song "Gladiators".
In early 2010, Cole was chosen as one of Beyond Race Magazine's "50 Great Breakthrough Artists," he ranked 49, resulting in the cover story of the publication's #11 issue, as well as a Q&A for the magazine's site. He was also featured in XXL magazine 2010 version of Top Ten Freshmen. J. Cole began a college tour from March 19, 2010 to April 30, 2010 concluding in New Brunswick, NJ at Rutgers University's annual Rutgersfest. The tour also featured a stop at Syracuse University for a show with fellow rapper, Wiz Khalifa. On March 31, he performed a new song titled "Who Dat" and released the song as a single on April 30, 2010. Cole was also featured on Young Chris' song "Still the Hottest" as well as Miguel's debut single "All I Want Is You." Additionally, Cole was featured on titled "We On", a song that failed to make final tracklist for DJ Khaled's Victory LP.
To celebrate the anniversary of the release of The Warm Up mixtape, J. Cole released a freestyle entitled "The Last Stretch" on June 15, 2010. On June 21 of that year, J. Cole premiered the music video to his first single "Who Dat" on the BET program 106 & Park. In August 2010 J. Cole, was awarded the UMA Male Artist of the Year thanks to his heralded The Warm Up mixtape and a high profile deal with Jay-Z's label Roc Nation at the 2010 Underground Music Awards. In a July 2010 interview, J. Cole revealed three songs that would appear on his debut album: "Dreams", "Won't Be Long", and "Never Told"; which was produced by No I.D. On October 30, 2010, a demo titled "I'm Coming Home" was leaked onto the internet. Cole recorded the song as a reference track for Diddy, which later became "Coming Home" off Last Train to Paris (2010). On November 12, 2010, J. Cole released his third official mixtape titled Friday Night Lights. The tape included features from Drake, Wale and Omen with most of the production being handled by Cole himself.
2010-11: Cole World: The Sideline Story:
Cole served as a supporting act for Drake on the Light Dreams and Nightmares UK Tour, January 5-21, 2011. In April 2011, "HiiiPoWeR", a song Cole produced for Kendrick Lamar's Section.80 (2011) was released. The single was the first of many collaborations to come from the two. On May 22, 2011, J. Cole released a song entitled "Return of Simba," the third in the "Simba series" following "Simba" and "Grown Simba." Cole purposely avoided releasing his debut album's title for fear of inconsistency, only announcing that Jay-Z would be featured on his debut album. Cole then released his follow-up single to "Who Dat", the album's lead single, "Work Out" on June 15, 2011, in honor of the second anniversary of his highly acclaimed mixtape The Warm Up. The song, produced by Cole himself, samples "The New Workout Plan" by Kanye West and interpolates "Straight Up" by Paula Abdul. The song later became a hit single, topping several music charts.
On July 31, J. Cole took to Twitter to announce Any Given Sunday, reminiscent of Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Fridays, a weekly free music giveaway. J. Cole wrote "Every Sunday til the album drops I'll be back with something. Maybe just 1 song, maybe a video, depending on how I'm feeling." For the 3rd installment of his Sunday series, "Any Given Sunday", J. Cole hopped on Ustream to update fans about the album and play some tracks that didn't make the cut. On August 15, the music video for "Work Out" premiered on YouTube, Vevo and 106 & Park. On August 22, Cole released his debut album's cover art, designed by Alex Haldi for Bestest Asbestos, whom J. Cole recorded a song for titled "Killers", for Haldi's mixtape The Glorification of Gangster. For the fourth installment, on August 29, he released his debut album's track list, once again through Twitter.
On August 30, after an unfinished version had previously leaked, "Can't Get Enough" featuring R&B singer Trey Songz was released as the album's second single. While in Barbados for his last performance as the official opening act for Rihanna's Loud Tour, Cole shot the music video for "Can't Get Enough", with Songz and Rihanna, who provided a cameo while in her homeland. The video, directed by Clifton Bell, was released on September 14, 2011. In addition early on September 25, two days before his album's release, Cole released a music video for the iTunes bonus track "Daddy's Little Girl".
Cole World: The Sideline Story was released September 27, 2011 debuting at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart, with 218,000 copies in its first-week of sales. As of December 2, 2011, the album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipments and sales of 500,000 copies. On February 7, 2012 the third and final single from Cole's debut album was released. The song, titled Nobody's Perfect", features renowned female rapper Missy Elliott, marking her return to music.
2011-13: Born Sinner:
On October 24, 2011, during an interview with Hot 106's Rise & Grind morning show, Cole revealed he had begun working on his second studio album, with hopes of releasing it in June 2012. He had also stated that the album would consist of songs that failed to make his debut: "I don't know how many, but I got songs that didn't make the last album that are automatically going to make this one," he said, revealing the release date. "June. End of June, maybe June." On November 6, 7 and 8, Cole was the supporting act for Tinie Tempah, appearing at Bournemouth International Centre; Liverpool Echo Arena, Motorpoint Arena Cardiff, Cardiff, Wales; LG Arena, Birmingham, England; SECC Arena, Glasgow, Scotland; and MEN Arena, Manchester. J. Cole was nominated for Best New Artist at the 2012 Grammys but lost to Bon Iver.
J. Cole played for the Eastern Team in the 2012 NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game. On February 24, 2012 J. Cole reached two million followers on Twitter, he celebrated by releasing the song "Grew Up Fast." On March 1, 2012, J. Cole returned to his home town, Fayetteville, North Carolina. To celebrate his return he released the song "Visionz of Home" and launched an event titled "Dreamville Weekend" to inspire the youth of his hometown to achieve great things. J. Cole performed for the first time in Africa during the Big Brother Africa 7 opening ceremony on 6 May 2012, alongside Camp Mulla, P-Square, Naeto C, Flavour N'abania, Davido and Aemo E'Face.
On May 14, J.Cole announced that he is working on a collaborative album with Kendrick Lamar saying in an interview with Bootleg Kev that "I just started working with Kendrick the other day. We got it in, finally, again. We got maybe four or five songs together." The project will be more focused on and released once Born Sinner is released. On July 26, he returned to Twitter after a 100-day absence and went on to reveal and release his new song "The Cure" in where he hints at a new album. On October 20, he announced at a live show that his second album is complete and he's waiting until after Lamar releases good kid, m.A.A.d city to reveal it.
On November 5, Cole revealed the title of his second album, Born Sinner, as well as a scheduled release date of January 28, 2013, via ustream. On November 13, 2012, Cole released a promotional single for the album entitled "Miss America." Cole stated he hoped "Miss America" would shift music in a different direction, adding that he knew it wouldn't be a big radio hit. He elaborated further, saying, "To me, 'Miss America' shifts things a little bit, it changes the conversation it takes it in a more aggressive direction, more raw, more social commentary... Any type of commentary is good compared to what a normal single is these days. That's my aim, is to shift culture slightly, change the conversation. Nobody expects that for your first single." The song would not go on to make the cut for the standard edition of Born Sinner. However, it would be featured on the deluxe edition of the album, alongside five other tracks which collectively created Truly Yours 3, the third member of the Truly Yours trilogy.
On December 31, 2012, Cole revealed that Born Sinner would not be released on January 28, 2013, as previously expected. Cole said that he, "needed a little more time than that to get things done." On February 14, 2013, he released the artwork for the first single via Instagram. "Power Trip" was released on February 14, 2013, marking Cole's second collaboration with R&B recording artist, Miguel. Following the originally planned release date of January 28, 2013, Cole had announced a set release date of June 25, 2013 for Born Sinner. However, when it was announced that Kanye West's Yeezus would be released just one week earlier on June 18, Cole moved the release date of Born Sinner up a week in order to compete with West, later commenting, "This is art, and I can't compete against the Kanye West celebrity and the status that he's earned just from being a genius," Cole added. "But I can put my name in the hat and tell you that I think my album is great and you be the judge and you decide."
Born Sinner sold 297,000 copies in the United States in its first week of release, debuting at number two on the Billboard 200 chart, finishing approximately 30,000 copies short of Kanye West's Yeezus. As of September 19, 2013, the album has sold 599,000 copies in the United States. He released three more singles in support of the album, "Crooked Smile" featuring TLC, "Forbidden Fruit" featuring Kendrick Lamar and "She Knows".
2014-present: 2014 Forest Hills Drive:
On January 28, 2014, J. Cole announced that his record label Dreamville Records had signed a distribution deal with Interscope Records, and released a label compilation mixtape titled Revenge of the Dreamers. At the time of the deal, the label included Bas, Omen and KQuick.
On November 16, 2014, Cole released a video where he announced he would be releasing his third album, titled 2014 Forest Hills Drive, on December 9, 2014. The video also featured footage regarding the making-of the album. Additionally, the album's name sake was revealed to be the address of Cole's childhood home in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Cole also revealed he would be releasing this album with no lead singles and little promotion. The 13-track album was available for pre-order on iTunes before its general release.
On March 31, 2015, 2014 Forest Hills Drive was certified platinum, making it the first hip-hop album with no features to achieve platinum status since 1989.
In 2011, Cole has cited Tupac Shakur, Nas, Canibus, and Eminem as his influences and calls Tupac his favorite rapper. Since his success, Cole has been compared to Nas on numerous occasions. J. Cole has addressed this comparison in his song Let Nas Down, where he states that Nas is his idol and that the comparison came from his third mixtape Friday Night Lights.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license