We'll still be hitting iTunes when the album drops on December 9, but on first listen it's apparent that Cole has been paying close attention to pop culture this year, despite being relatively quiet on the music front.
He was paying attention when Macklemore won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album over Kendrick Lamar's critically acclaimed LP good kid, m.A.A.d city. He was paying attention as Iggy Azalea raked in nominations and was championed for "running hip-hop" with pop-rap hits like "Fancy."
He also probably noticed that Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke and Macklemore all enjoyed #1 hits last year with hip-hop and R&B tracks, while no black artist topped Billboard's Hot 100 chart last for the first time since 1958.
You can hear his frustration with all of this on "Fire Squad," where he addresses the appropriation of black culture that dates back far beyond rap.
"History repeats itself and that's just how it goes/ Same way that these rappers always bite each other's flows/ Same thing that my n---a Elvis did with rock and roll/ Justin Timberlake, Eminem and then Macklemore," Cole spits over the menacing beat.
"While silly n----s argue over who gon' snatch the crown/ Look around my n---a white people have snatched the sound/ This year I probably go to the awards dapper down/ Watch Iggy win a Grammy as I try to crack a smile/ I'm just playin/ But all good jokes contain true sh--/ Same rope you climb up on they hang you with."
Elvis is one of the most successful and revered artists in American culture, but he's also been accused of lifting musical inspiration from pioneering black artists (you can hear Chuck D address it on Public Enemy's "Fight the Power"). And although this isn't new information, not many young rappers like Cole have been willing to speak so boldly about the issue, which resurfaced as a big conversation in hip-hop this year.
Maybe the North Carolina rapper's bi-racial background gave him more confidence to address the topic head-on, because we saw the discussion take various forms over the past few months.
Macklemore's Grammy wins were followed by fiery discussions about a biased voting system that continues to overlook innovative and well-loved hip-hop artists like Kendrick and Cole. The Seattle rapper felt the flames coming from a mile away, and after the ceremony he even apologized to Kendrick, which only seemed to make things worse.
Eminem has openly addressed the struggles of being a white rapper in the past -- not to mention his work with artists like Dr. Dre and 50 Cent -- so it's interesting that Cole decided to drop him in now.
It's Iggy Azalea who really became a target this year. Forbes penned an article that celebrated Iggy's success, and marginalized Nicki Minaj's massive year, by declaring that "Hip Hop Is Run By A White, Blonde, Australian Woman." The backlash was instant and even T.I. was a bit taken aback.
Things have since cooled down (and Forbes quickly changed the story's title) but it'll be interesting to see if this Cole verse sparks any new conversations.