J. Cole can admit he had some jitters about opening for Rihanna on her Loud Tour. "At first, I just thought I was in over my head," he told MTV News when we caught up with him backstage, minutes before he hit the stage at New Jersey's IZOD Center last week.
J. Cole had an especially large role to play when Cee Lo Green dropped out of the tour in June due to scheduling issues. Rihanna then made the 26-year-old rapper/producer her "official" opening act.
J. Cole has put out several mixtapes and was the first artist signed to Jay-Z's Roc Nation label. His first studio album, Cole World: The Sideline Story, will be released in September. But the road to opening for Rihanna, one of the world's biggest pop acts, was bumpy.
"I was sending out MySpace messages everyday to people I knew that were A&R," he recalled of his years at St. John's University in New York. "Calling up their offices, rapping on their voicemails, standing outside of studios ... anything I could do to get my foot in the game."
Two and a half years ago, the (surprisingly tall) rapper was called into Jay-Z's office after the megastar heard a couple of tracks by the struggling artist. The rest is history. "Ever since then, I've been touring, touring, putting out mixtapes, touring, touring," J. Cole explained about his whirlwind rise. "Building my name, building my fanbase."
And being paired with Rihanna on tour has been a "great fit," the rapper said. "I come out, [fans] cheer for me, [like], 'Ah, this guy's onstage,' " he explained of how he's greeted when he takes the arena stage. "But by the end of my show, I get the real cheers, like, 'Oh, man! This guy's pretty good!' "
The Loud tour continues this summer with stops across North America, and surprise performers so far have included Jay-Z, Kanye West and Drake.
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