There have been a lot of fun things that have come with looking back at J. Cole’s early career, ahead of “RapFix Presents: J. Cole’s The Warm Up – 5 Years Later,” airing later tonight on MTV Jams. Of course, there’s that hilarious clip of Cole (in his “Produce For Jay Z or Die Tryin'” shirt) at Aaron Reid’s party on an episode of “My Super Sweet 16,” and the equally hilarious footage of him talking trash to Hov shortly after signing his deal.
But we haven’t forgotten why we’re here: to celebrate the fifth anniversary of The Warm Up. For many, that mixtape was an introduction to J. Cole. The 22-track project provided a picture of both Jermaine Cole — a recent college graduate struggling to pay loans, raised in North Carolina but living in New York City — and J. Cole — a hungry rapper eager to prove himself.
Cole’s honesty, world view and sharp wit are just some of the elements that made The Warm Up such a standout. Here are nine of our favorite lines on its fifth anniversary.
“Sometimes play the villain, sometimes play the hero/ Sometimes I be Dilla, sometimes I be Preemo/ Sometimes I be feeling, I got a big ego/ Other times a n—a swim around like Nemo” — “Knock Knock”
If Cole’s music is nothing else, it’s a tale of a man with many sides. This line artfully paints that reality.
“Half black other half white like Kid Rock/ Try to tell it to a cizz-op/ Thought it would work, it did not/ He told me, ’N—a stizz-op, you know you is not’/ Wrote the ticket and rizz-ocked” — “Water Break (Interlude)”
Cole’s examination of race is often nuanced and picks apart the fact that he was born to a white mother and black father — but looks black — and all the different layers that come with that, which is what he does here.
“And ain’t it shameful, how n—as blame hoes for giving birth/ To a baby that took two to make/ Coward n—a, you a fake” — “Lights Please”
During a time when it wasn’t the norm, the Roc Nation MC wasn’t afraid to to let listeners know what it meant to be a man in his eyes.
“My momma told me to speak like you got a college degree/ You see I can, but I won’t/ ’Cause I’m saying what I want/ Plus this slang that I speak don’t change that I’m deep as the throat on a certified freak” — “Can I Live”
Essentially, Cole is saying here, ’Don’t let them put you in a box.’ It’s a valuable lesson regardless of whether you’re a rap star who happens to have a college degree or not.
“I practiced till that sh– made perfect and served it to the people on a silver platter/ Now where’s the ladder?/ ’Cause either you gonna whine or climb, I chose the latter/ Know you haters is pissed, hold your bladder, though” — “Just to Get By”
That boy’s got a way with words.
“Clever with it, my flow like a devil spit it and heaven sent it/ So high if I dropped I would fall for 11 minutes/ So yeah, I operate on a higher plane, my thoughts take a higher train/ It’s dope, and you should know the supplier’s name/ It’s J. Cole, set of horns and a halo/ And all these Jose Cansecos wanna text-us like Waco/ It’s hard to remain faithful, n—as be throwing hate/ Yo, I’m in a league of my own, so what the f–k would I play fo’?” — “Dead Presidents II”
This one’s a bit longer than the rest, but it was just too hard to cut off. Did we mention that boy’s got a way with words? And the horns and halo juxtaposition again speaks to his mission to paint himself as a full human being.
“Politicians hollerin’ ’bout problems but I ain’t gon’ vote/ He talkin’ ’bout change, still we floatin’ in the same ol’ boat/ So tell me how I’m supposed to feel when the President spoke?/ When he ain’t never had to struggle, ain’t never been broke” — “I Get Up”
Despite his college degree, at the time of recording The Warm Up, Cole was struggling to pay bills — as he had seen his mother do when he was younger. The anger in these lines comes across as genuine and deep-rooted.
“It’s Cole, won’t lie, won’t stop till the race is won/ N—as rappin’ how real they are usually turn out to the fakest ones/ Carolina where I made it from/ Cold world no blanket son” — “World Is Empty”
With his revealing personal tales, Cole clearly places a premium on keeping it real. Plus, the “cold world no blanket” part soon became a frequent call for Jermaine and fans.
“Try not to call them ladies Bs but them hoes swarmin’/ Now honey, aye, is it destiny or is it money? You’re feelin’/ Heard rumors of a deal and now you thinkin’, a million/ Pardon my paranoid mind but I’m starin’ in the mirror livin’ in fear that things’ll never be the same” — “Dead Presidents II”
Not only do we love this couplet because of Cole’s witty wordplay, but also his thoughts about what the future holds. So, five years later, how does he feel? Tune in tonight to find out.
“RapFix Presents: J. Cole’s The Warm Up – 5 Years Later” airs on MTV Jams at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, June 15. The special will re-air at 11:30 p.m. ET.