With his appearance on “Jermaine's Interlude” on DJ Khaled’s Major Key, J. Cole delivered his first solo song of 2016. And it’s one we better savor not just for its rarity but because, according to Cole himself, he may be stepping away from music before long.
On the track, he raps: “N***as is out here dying / From police that flash the siren and pull up and just start firing / N***as murkin’ each other, in murky water I try and swim / How the fuck do I look when I brag to you about some diamond? / Said all I could say, now I play with thoughts of retirement.”
Of course, playing with thoughts of retirement and actually retiring are two different things — but it’s a revealing rhyme nonetheless.
For Cole fans, it’s probably not what you want to hear — but it also shouldn’t come entirely as a surprise. He’s clearly not someone who enjoys basking in the spotlight that comes with his rap superstardom, nor is he one of those artists whose musical output is a continuous flow. Plus, in 2014, just weeks before the release of his most recent album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, he broached the subject of retirement with Complex.
When asked if he ever considered the idea of retirement, he stressed that he wouldn’t use it as a promotional tool, but did sound comfortable with his legacy as it stood at the time:
I don’t know. I love doing it, so I’m not going to use that as [a sales pitch], like, “Last album — make sure you go out and buy.” But I’m content if this is my last one, going out like this. Listen to all my music and you’ll hear this n***a who went to New York City and started with a dream; he gained his confidence and his step with The Warm Up and was here to show y’all n***as “I’m the best” — and Friday Night Lights put a stamp on that. Sideline Story was like, “I have to figure this shit out and sell records.” Born Sinner was, “Fuck, that wasn’t how I wanted to do it. I gotta make up for that one, I got to get back to myself.” And then fighting through all of that to realize on 2014 Forest Hills Drive, “No, this is where it was always at.”
Listen, Cole: Do what you gotta do. If you really feel like it’s time to step away, that’s probably a decision that’s come with hours and hours of contemplation. But I’m just hoping you’re merely playing with the thoughts — and not following through with them — because we still need you out here. Maybe now more than ever.