Does fame in this game have to change who you are? J. Cole?s rise started with the success of 2009?s The Warm Up and transcended to the Nice Kicks realm through Celebrity Sneaker Stalker. It appeared a star was born. Like many though, Young Simba had some growing pains on the way. The come up was difficult as album push backs, crossover questions, even sneakerhead status, led many to doubt whether or not Cole would in fact ?blow up?. Despite the uncertainty of others, even his boss-to-be at one point, he never stopped believing in himself. ?Desire?, he says. “That?s the key word. When you really want something you don?t give up. You never really fail; everything is a stepping-stone and that?s what kept me going.? With the release of Cole World: The Sideline Story comes another stepping-stone and a chance to step out. We caught up with Cole on the Texas leg of his tour days before his debut.
J. Cole?s had the attention of the sneaker community from the start. A Penny 1 sighting on his Warm Up track list paired with a hoops pedigree made him an instant favorite among readers. All seem cemented until one slip caused a stir. After an infamous interview with Funk Flex, some in the sneaker community called out Cole for not knowing what was on his own feet. Rather than get spiteful he addressed the matter with wit on the MMG anthem ?Fitted Cap?. Brash on record but humble in person, he reiterates his appreciation for the culture and that he?s still coming up. ?Every time I do a video or photo shoot I get nervous about the shoes so I bring a couple. I don?t really have the connections yet where they send me everything. You know Wale got the stupid connects! I don?t really got that yet so I?m buying all my kicks.? He lists Flight Club as a favorite shop and seems to be catching on quick with Black/Metallic Silver Air Jordan 5s on his feet and the 2002 ?Raptor? Air Jordan 7s on his album cover. ?I got to the (cover) shoot and there wasn?t much clothes or kicks to deal with, luckily I brought a few pairs and I felt best in those.? The other pair on deck? ?The DMP 11s?.
Mr. Nice Watch may not have the sneaker connections yet, but he?s certainly clocking in his industry. Over the past year he?s ghostwritten a commercial hit (Diddy?s ?Coming Home?), produced on a critical smash (Kendrick Lamar?s Section.80), and played opener to Rihanna on her Loud Tour. Sure, the spotlight hasn?t shined directly on him, but he hasn?t been far from it. On ?HiiiPoWeR?, a song that appeared on Lamar?s Section.80 but could?ve easily been a hit on Cole?s album (or anyone else?s for that matter), Cole doesn?t come off as a poor editor but rather someone with a greater appreciation for the art. ?He killed that! He really made the beat what it was.? When asked if Kendrick owes him any favors for that assist he laughs it off as if he has crates of classics that he?s sitting on. He probably does too, as he?s spent the past two hours on his tour bus playing beats for Trae Tha Truth.
While his narratives may play better as reflection music than riding music, you?d never know it at his live shows. His stories come to life with an energy upgraded from record. Fans from every walk of life recite the tales as if they?re their own. And maybe they are. ?Some (stories) are personal, some are the people?, Cole says. ?I think it?s cool to not disclose everything, like ?oh that?s mine that?s somebody else?s.? He?s quick to recognize the importance of this aspect. ?What other new artist is telling these stories, talking about these things, on a major scale?? Few indeed, and far fewer on a major scale.
Some fans wondered just how major that scale could be. After DJ Semtex dubbed Sideline Story a mix between College Dropout and Illmatic, day one fans and newbies alike salivated over a release date. They?d have to wait. And wait. Pushbacks and unexpected (though acclaimed) mixtapes raised questions as to whether or not he was sitting on a classic and if the intended records would ever see the light of day. Would he be another example of a talented young artist pressured by a label to find a single? Would he have to give up his best records for free to build buzz all while deconstructing his own album? Yes and no. While some records have been getting polished for years, other standouts are brand new even by web standards. ?I?ve got a couple that are four years old, I?ve got a couple that are four weeks old. The Missy Elliot song is like four or five weeks old, the Jay-Z record is four or five weeks old, ?Lost Ones? is four years old?it?s a mixture.?
So after all this waiting time and hard work, what is it that J. Cole wants from his album? ?I want (fans) to feel like it?s something special. Six weeks after the album?s out, six months, and six years, I want them to be playing it. I just want it to be a timeless piece of work.? Success doesn?t end with him though. ?If I?m successful it can make it easier for a guy like Kendrick Lamar when it?s his time or younger rappers that are really saying something. That?s why I really wanna win, just for the game.? Humble beginnings to unselfish success, it turns out fame doesn?t have to change who you are.