It was terrifically late, at least 10 pm, when J. Cole staged a listening party for his new album, Born Sinner.
“I bet nobody will like this,” he muttered, slipping into vintage Roc-A-Wear jammies and quaffing a virgin Thug Passion (one part fruit punch, one part sparkling Martinelli’s).
Upon hearing the album’s first words, “it’s way darker this time,” J. Cole fell into a sound sleep.
A white rabbit named Bleekus with a crooked hat and satchel of magical herbs in his waistcoat, emerged from a waterfall painting. “You must appear before my majesty, S. Dot of Wonderland,” he told J. Cole.
Young Cole had only seen the mythical S. Dot once at a planetarium listening party for The Blueprint III.
“You will meet many lost souls in Wonderland. Convince them to stop stripping to enroll in Sociology graduate programs,” said the rabbit. “Make sure they sleep with only students who wear letterman’s jackets.”
Then Bleekus disappeared into the waterfall. J. Cole chased after him.
After thousands of miles spent listening to the rabbit boast of having “next in line in the Roc,” J. Cole approached dry land.
On a beach, a walrus twirled a cane, wearing a newsboy cap and shiny suit. A muscular carpenter covered in Thug Life tattoos accompanied him. He wore a black leather apron, swung a semi-automatic hammer, and roared at J. Cole.
“Where you from!”
“Pac! I studied you at St. John’s!” J. Cole excitedly exclaimed. “I’m real, just like you!
“Me and the walrus heard your album,” 2Pac smirked. “Ain’t that right, walrus?”
“Yo, call me Big,” the walrus responded.
J. Cole dropped to the sand and began digging a hole.
“I knew I should’ve just paid Diddy to executive produce it,” he protested. “But he wanted to name my first and third born, Dreams of Ciroc!”
“You can’t start off your album claiming to brag like Hov and stealing my lines from ‘Juicy.’ The time has come to be original, son.”
“Sometimes I focus on the flow to show the skills I got,” J. Cole defended himself.
“You can rap well and some of your beats are hot, but you need to invent new flows and tell actual stories,” 2Pac said. “To be among the greatest, you need a ’Dear Mama’ or ’The Warning’.”
“I have this story about a girl who I never followed on Twitter, but still smashed,” J. Cole replied proudly. “I’m also thinking of writing a book called The Things Hoes Say.”
“I already wrote that,” Pac taunted. “It was called “’All About U’ and ‘I Get Around.’ You’re taking my advice to ‘rap for the bitches’ a little too far.”
“But I beat the odds like Vegas,” J. Cole huffed. “I even copped a Rah Digga CD once. I’m ready to be the greatest.”
2Pac and Biggie burst into laughter.
“If you’ll excuse me, I need to uh, collect some oysters,” Biggie said, diving into the water.
Then J. Cole made the most forlorn face anyone had seen and leaped into the bay after the walrus, but the walrus was already long gone.
J. Cole stumbled into a forest clearing and was greeted by two caterpillars smoking hookahs, sitting on Gillette mushrooms.
“Who … are … you?” one said. The caterpillar wore lime-green suspenders, polka-dot trousers and a Tam o’ shanter. The hookah matched the drapes.
“Big Boi and Andre? I’m J. Cole. Why didn’t you return my invitations to G-Chat?” J. Cole asked.
“You misheard ‘Aquemini,” said the Big Boi caterpillar. “It’s about using the past to go forward, not just pay tribute. Take the posters off your wall.”
“I sampled ‘Art of Storytelling’ as homage,” J. Cole blustered. “Do know what that means? I took a Brit lit survey once in college?”
“We were talking about a girl named Sasha Thumper found dead, pregnant, and with a needle in her arm,” Big Boi said. “You talked about some girl who called you misogynist when you ‘boned her in your dorm room’ and didn’t call back.”
“I got my dick wet and never let it soak there,” J. Cole shrugged. “Rap game Jane Austen shit.”
Then the 3000-caterpillar handed J. Cole a coupon for discount razors and a vegan brownie with the words “recycle me” written on it. J. Cole ate it and became the size of an ant.
“Please give me the antidote,” J. Cole panicked. “If I’m not at least Lil Wayne’s height, I’ll never get a XXL cover.”
“On one condition,” the caterpillar spoke in double-time. “You leave Tribe Called Quest alone too. If you’re going to sample ’Electric Relaxation,’ at least chop the sample differently or write lyrics better than ‘just copped the Maroon 5, no Adam Levine.”
“I’ll do anything you say!” J. Cole begged.
“That’s the problem,” the 3000-caterpillar said and handed him a Kombucha with the word, “Erykah” written on it.
“You might not wanna’ drink th…..” Big attempted to warn J. Cole. Too late.
J. Cole happened upon a message table set up for a French afternoon tea. There were chocolate croissants and a modernist magic lamp that doubled as a teapot. He rubbed it three times.
An angry genie wearing a blood diamond-free Papal tiara and a leather kilt emerged as though he had been awakened from a hundred years of hiding from Mr. Hudson’s phone calls.
“Are you the true Yeezus or merely a projection?” J. Cole gasped.
“HOW DARE YOU AWAKEN ME! I HAVE AN ALBUM TO NOT PROMOTE PROMOTE AND A NEWBORN BABY AND A MINIMALIST BUT FUNCTIONAL HOTEL TO DESIGN THAT LOOKS LIKE A CRIB!!!” Genie Kanye said. “HAVE SOME LIME-BLOSSOM TEA!”
“I just want to tell you how much your music has meant to me,” J. Cole said, sipping the tea with pinky out, in the manner of the genie. “We have so much in common being guys who love letterman’s jackets and struggle with monogamy due to total awesomeness.”
“LEMME ASK YOU A SERIOUS QUESTION. YOU EVER SEE THE SUN RISE WHILE YOU’RE FISTING AN ODALISQUE IN A MENAGE A OCHO IN A HAREM IN DUBAI?”
“Is that how you make timeless art?” J. Cole twirled his goatee.
“ASK THAT MAN OVER THERE WHY IS A RAVEN LIKE A CORBUSIER WRITING DESK,” Genie Kanye said, pointing to a dreadlocked door mouse wearing a denim jacket at the tea table.
“Is that Basquiat?” Cole queried.
“THAT’S CHIEF KEEF. AND STOP MENTIONING BASQUIAT IN YOUR RHYMES. I’M THE RAP BASQUIAT AND THE RAP MICHAEL JACKSON AND I WOULD HAVE BEEN LEBRON JAMES EXCEPT WITH A MORE MINIMALIST GAME IF NOT FOR MY YMCA BASKETBALL COACH.”
“Do you want to play 1-on-1 up to 11, win by two? I can beat you.”
“BONNY BEAR IS ABOUT TO SHOW UP AND YOU’RE IN HIS SEAT. WOULD YOU LIKE A LITTLE MORE LIME-BLOSSOM TEA??!!!!”
J. Cole arrived upon Befuddle Hall, where everything was distorted and bigger than it seemed. He paused to inspect his eyebrows in a funhouse mirror, which briefly made them appear smaller. Delight.
His melancholy returned when a Cheshire cat in a Mets hat and velour sweat suit materialized.
“I’m not worthy, Nas. I’m not worthy,” Cole prostrated to the cat.
“Get up, you’re worthy, you’re worthy,” the cat rolled his eyes.
“You know what question I’m going to ask you, right?”
“I already told you, MFA programs can’t teach you how to write like me.”
“Did I let you down again?”
The Cheshire Cat sighed and took a weary exhale from his blunt.
“Stop being so sensitive. The interludes are good. ‘Power Trip’ is a quality radio single. You obviously have talent,” the cat said. “But ‘Let Nas Down’ is everything wrong with your attitude.’
“I went to hell to resurrect hip hop.”
“I said hip hop was dead when ‘Chicken Noodle Soup’ and Papoose were the only things people talked about from New York,” the cat replied. “Don’t come at me with that passive aggressive slander again. You think I wrote MC Shan an apology after Nastradamus?
“Maybe an E-Card?”
“Nothing’s original, nothing’s new under the sun. But you need to get outside more.”
Then the cat dissolved in a cloud of teeth and smoke.
In his place, the white rabbit, Bleekus, waved at J. Cole. So J. Cole climbed upon his satchel of magic herbs to be led, at last, to the ruler, the mighty S.Dot of Wonderland.
After walking past a grove filled with workers painting Samsung signs on rose bushes, J. Cole and Bleekus happened upon S. Dot or Jay-Z as the commoners called him.
Jay-Z wore a King of Hearts costume with a Budweiser logo where the heart would be.
“And who is this?” roared Beyoncé, who was dressed in a Pepsi-made, Queen of Hearts costume.
“Let me see, my dear,” Jay-Z said, riffling through a stack of investment papers that had been handed to him by Bleekus. “It’s certainly not a heart. Do you suppose it has a club song?”
“I’m J. Cole. We met once at that planetarium party. I was the guy who Warren Buffet thought was the waiter and it got really awkward because Kanye called him a racist …”
Jay-Z still seemed confused. The rabbit whispered something in the King of Wonderland’s ear.
“I was nominated for a Grammy?” J. Cole kicked his heels and mumbled to himself. “I knew I should have never believed you when you told me that I was the one.”
“Ah yes, very good, old sport. I hear your latest album is projected to sell 150,000 copies,” Jay-Z said. “Now tell me do you have a second single ready for radio?”
J. Cole shook his head.
“You told me it was about the art. Is everything a lie? Is the music business but a cliff?” J. Cole wondered. “If I die tonight, who will tell women that they don’t need to wear make-up to be beautiful?”
“OFF WITH HIS HEAD!” yelled Beyoncé.
A horde of Roc Nation playing cards charged J. Cole and attempted to imprison him.
Then he woke up in a cold sweat, back in his bedroom, cup of Thug Passion still in his hand — except now it was filled with lime-blossom tea.