I don’t like J. Cole, I Don’t Go Outside. You can’t make me review this I don’t care if he disproves everything I say in this piece on it I just don’t care. Free Robert Shmurda.
0/I really don’t care until Earl/Astroworld Comes out tbh
I obviously didn’t listen to K.O.D. and I don’t plan on it. I don’t gotta listen to shit cuz y’all say so. But I am writing an ACTUAL review of Cardi B’s stunning debut, the best debut rap LP I’ve heard since good kid, m.A.A.d city. That shit is fantastic, tight, and focused. I’ll start this with a similar compliment for Cole. He’s focused. If you focus on something too long, your eyes will get tired. Now that I think of it, I’m pretty sleepy. Oh wow, I’m at LAX. Thank’s J. Cole! Also, benzodiazepines. They work together like Three Stacks and Big Boi.
J. Cole is somehow, against all odds, the most divisive character in hip-hop culture. He is either revered or reviled, with an uncrossable chasm between his stans and haters. He personifies the generational divide plaguing hip-hop, threatening the core principles of the genre. His music fluctuates between impressive moments of competent rapping over palatable production to verses on verses of the cringiest bars imaginable over some ashy-ass, fake deep beats: strange, because of his prolific history in both mediums. However, in each of his major label releases, Cole World No Blanket has proved time and time again that he is either incapable or uninterested in making a complete, satisfying LP. Despite the stagnation in his artistic progression, Cole has embarked on a career trajectory of ever increasing influence. J. Cole is the exact same J. Cole as the one I encountered on Friday Night Lights (2010), an undeniably talented rapper with a solid ear for beats and a Jay-Z cosign. The future was bright, and the only real knock I had against him was that he put me to sleep like sonic Xanax.
Except things didn’t change. His sound evolved slowly but surely, never really taking the risks one expects of an artist with Cole’s prominence. He remains thematically consistent: woke, but not woke enough to sidestep the prevalent character tropes and cliches of the genre. Still, he delivered an extremely palatable, militant-lite persona that ascended him to the top tier of rap influencers. The “Platinum No features” meme is a perfect example of J.Cole’s weakly developed reputation.
2014 Forest Hills Drive, the rapper’s third major release, was adored by fans and “ehh’d” by critics. Despite lukewarm critical reception, the album was inescapable: selling records unimaginable in the streaming age, producing four singles. Forrest Hills was a catalytic career moment in Young Simba’s career, but to anyone who had ever encountered The Needle Drop, it was a slog fest of J. Dilla-Type-Beats, and anecdotes about nutting yourself in math class, guest starring Uncle Phil.
No. No, I say to a featured artist. I AM the art (how I imagine Jermaine’s internal monologue)! A feature would’ve been fucking thrilling, as the hour of Cole talking to himself about the same things over the same sound is exhausting. There are no idiosyncrasies in Cole’s latest work; each project feels like a ctrl + c, ctrl + v of the one before, just in a different but still worse font, the notes just a tad out of order (jazz! skiddid bob didily bop bow!). He had legitimate hooks and radio-ready songs, his style was cool, hip and smart enough to move a few million records, but far from compelling enough to move the culture. In other words: That greasy nigga is as boring as the album version of Runaway is long.
He is a gifted rapper that, to this point, has failed to alter the sound of hip-hop at all. Compare him to his biggest peers (rivals) in the game: Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Drake, and (arguably) Travis Scott and ASAP Rocky. Each of these artists have challenged the direction and preeminent style of hip-hop, reimagining established subgenres and creating entirely new ones. Cole presented easily digestible moments of pseudo politics and well put-together songs. I guess that reads like Cole is undeserving of his status in rap hierarchy.
That was harsh. J. Cole is a gifted rapper, and certainly deserves the fame and status he has attained. He maintains the Yin and Yang of hip-hop, bearing the long burning torch of the “lyricist”, an important apparatus of the hip-hop movement. Yet, his consistent and static sonic palette is what will be remembered. J. Cole is not adventurous. What he would call his “essential sound” is an exploitation of our common weakness: nostalgia. Cole brings the boom-bap, the 90s references, the Protest™ aesthetic that so masterfully blurs the lines of pop and rap. But don’t be fooled: Cole is a pop-rapper, and a very well marketed one at that. You think he hasn’t figured out that features help albums yet? His publicist definitely knows that, as does his manager and A&R, and they are in no rush to change their star’s image. Hip-hop is a genre of personality as much as it is of music, and I have yet to find a single compelling, unique facet of J. Cole’s personality. He’s a nice guy that respects bars and knows how to make a song for the youth. What label exec wouldn’t salivate over that. His positionality in hip-hop royalty makes total sense when you think of the archetype of hip-hop stars. For every JPEGMAFIA, there’s a BROCKHAMPTON: The gritty and the polished. For every Young Thug there is a J. Cole: An innovator unacceptable to radio airwaves and Nielsen ratings, and a political-enough, counter cultural figure to challenge rap’s overarching issues. I challenge each and every reader to find me a J. Cole verse that matches Thug on Travis Scott’s (str88888 UPPPP) Mamacita. Thugga’s cadence, delivery, word play and use of the beat are absolutely extraordinary, utilizing his presence as a saxophone solo, improvisations and blaring sounds that just find a way to work together. Cole, conversely, is tried and true. He’ll talk about black folk (superficially). He’ll talk about bitches ~not~ misogynistically. And his voice will make sense over the easy jazzy hi-hat he’s riding on. But if you want Jazz rap, try Earl Sweatshirt, known to dig through crates of Ethiopian Jazz ten-inches until he finds the one, only to deliver a verse as dense as Coles while as dynamic and enthralling as Thug’s. So what’s J. Cole’s problem? Absolutely nothing. It’s no secret that I think he’s boring; most people with the hubris to write about music publicly think he’s boring. We also get why he’s popping. Q-Tip told his daddy: “Things move in cycles.”J. Cole is occupying the Kendrick-lite role, a far less talented Kevin Durant to Kenny’s LeBron. He’s kind of the Barack Obama of rap. Nah. Hillary Clinton. At his worst, Nancy Pelosi. He is the establishment’s latest version of the Rap-Bot, a weak compromise from rap’s conservative wing, the neoliberal suit we are well accustomed to.
But J. Cole’s continued popularity deserves more than my disdain. It speaks to the deepening divide in hip-hop culture, and the living definition of America’s newest cash crop. Cole is a complicated character, despite the thousand or so preceding words I said otherwise. He makes music because he truly loves it. He is a scholar, a historian, and deeply reverent to his influences and forebareres. These homages range from the corny (Let Nas Down-Born Sinner) to eye lighting:
This is a prime example of what makes J. Cole such a frustrating star. He pretends to shy away from press while testing the tensions of hip-hop’s identity crises in slick, I-can-only-get-away-with-this-because-I-don’t-make-Trap kinda way. His last album which I got a solid three fifths through was notable for incendiary comments about rap’s mumbly new guard, ‘nem Soundcloud boys, Kanye West jabs, and that song about folding clothes. Nigga nobody likes folding clothes and if you here March Madness at any event, you will hit that shit. These are facts.
And that’s why J. Cole, no matter how I or anyone else feels about it, matters. He’s the official spokesman of REAL hip-hop (not named Kendrick Lamar, but even his instrumentals have a little too much melody…), and is young superstar that those like my father, people who came of age with hip-hop, can still cling to. My dad really liked the Forest Hills Drive track Apparently. Admittedly, I did too, but that’s only because 808’s and Heartbreak taught me and my entire generation that you don’t have to be “good” at singing to be a good singer. But my dad liked it for different reasons. In fact, he hated that singing shit. Rappers don’t sing damn it! That’s not one of the five pillars!
“Except Love Lockdown. I could dig that. Reminded me of summer ‘84, Bumpy Knucks, Ben Wilson… a simpler time…” -Patriarch Rone
J. Cole’s adequate rapping ability and genuinely inoffensive character (unless you literally don’t listen to rap music) give him the rare opportunity to transcend the generational gap he embodies, and I’m sure that it’s through J.Cole that Gen Z’ers will be introduced to Ice Cube, 2Pac, and ‘02 Lil Wayne. It’s a got-damn shame he is nowhere near as daring, let alone talented as any of his predecessors. But he maintains their spirit, and in the ever changing era we live in now that is vitally important. Love him, hate him, wish his fuck ass fans would just shut up, I understand it all. But dare I say it.
Hip-hop kind of needs J. Cole.