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Jermaine Lamarr Cole (born January 28, 1985), better known by his stage name J. Cole, is an American hip hop recording artist and record producer. Raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Cole initially gained recognition as a rapper following the release of his debut mixtape, The Come Up, in early 2007. Intent on further pursuing a solo career as a rapper, he went on to release two additional mixtapes after signing to Jay Z's Roc Nation imprint in 2009.
Cole released his debut studio album, Cole World: The Sideline Story, in 2011. It debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200, and was soon certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). His next two releases, 2013's Born Sinner and 2014's 2014 Forest Hills Drive, received mostly positive reviews from critics, while being both certified platinum in the US. The latter earned him his first Grammy Award nomination for Best Rap Album. In December 2016 Cole released his fourth studio album 4 Your Eyez Only. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart and was certified platinum in April 2017.
Self-taught on piano, Cole also acts as a producer alongside his hip hop career, producing singles for artists such as Kendrick Lamar and Janet Jackson, as well as handling the majority of the production in his own projects. He has also developed other ventures, including Dreamville Records, as well as non-profit organization the Dreamville Foundation. The Dreamville Foundation is not the only non-profit gesture Cole has put forth; in January 2015, he decided to house single mothers rent-free in his childhood home at 2014 Forest Hills Drive, Fayetteville, North Carolina.Contents
Jermaine Lamarr Cole was born on January 28, 1985 at a United States Army base in Frankfurt, West Germany. His father is an African-American former soldier for the U.S. Army, and his mother is a white German who worked as a postal worker for the United States Postal Service. Cole's father later abandoned the family during his youth, prompting his mother to relocate Cole and his brother, Zach Cole to Fayetteville, North Carolina. Cole grew up in a multi-ethnic environment, and when asked about how closely his ethnicity impacts him, Cole commented, "I can identify with white people, because I know my mother, her side of the family, who I love. But at the end of the day, never felt white. I can identify but never have I felt like I'm one of them. I identify more with what I look like, because that's how I got treated not necessarily in a negative way". During his youth, Cole expressed an affinity for basketball and music, and served as a first-chair violinist for the Terry Sanford Orchestra until 2003.
Cole began rapping at 12, and saw it as an ideal profession in 2000, when his mother purchased an ASR-X musical sampler as a Christmas gift. During this period, Cole heightened emphasis on improving his production skills, later beginning initial production under the pseudonym Therapist. Cole later collaborated with local group Bomm Sheltuh, rapping and producing while a member of the group.
Upon graduating high school with a 4.2 GPA, Cole decided that his chances of securing a recording contract would be better in New York City. He relocated there and accepted a scholarship to St. John's University. Initially majoring in computer science, Cole later switched to communication and business after witnessing the life of a lonely computer science professor. While a student at the college, Cole was the president of Haraya, a pan-African student coalition. He graduated magna cum laude in 2007, with a 3.8 GPA. Despite graduating, Cole would officially receive his diploma during a homecoming concert in 2015, revealing that he had owed money for a library book, causing the university to hold back from granting him his degree.
Cole later worked in various part-time jobs in Fayetteville, including a working ad salesman for a newspaper, a bill collector, a file clerk, and a kangaroo mascot at a skate rink.Career 1999–2009: Early work and initial mixtapes
After becoming musically inspired by Canibus, Nas, Tupac and Eminem, Cole and his cousin worked on developing their basic understanding of rhyming and wordplay, as well as beginning to learn how to interpolate storytelling within their lyrics. By 14, Cole had various notebooks filled with song ideas, however, was unable to produce beats further than sampling. Cole's mother later purchased him the Roland TR-808 drum machine in order to further Cole's understanding of production. Over the next three years, he began posting songs on various internet forums under the moniker Blaza, but later switched to the name Therapist.
Cole later expanded his production to create an entire CD's worth of instrumentals, and traveled to Roc the Mic Studio, hoping to play it for Jay Z while he was in recording sessions for American Gangster. Cole waited for over three hours, before being dismissed by Jay Z. Cole later used the CD as the backdrop for his debut mixtape, The Come Up.2009–10: Mixtapes and Roc Nation signing Main articles: The Warm Up and Friday Night Lights (mixtape) Cole was the first artist signed to Jay Z's Roc Nation in 2009.
He released his second mixtape, The Warm Up, on June 15, 2009 to positive reviews. Cole appeared on Jay Z's album The Blueprint 3 (2009), on the track "A Star Is Born." He is featured on both Wale's debut album, Attention Deficit (2009) and mixtape Back to the Feature (2009), respectively. In January 2010, Cole, along with label mate Jay Electronica and Mos Def appeared on Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek's single, "Just Begun" for the follow-up of Reflection Eternal's album Train of Thought (2000), titled Revolutions Per Minute (2010). Cole also appeared on B.o.B's mixtape May 25th (2010), on the song "Gladiators", produced by The Alchemist.
In early 2010, Cole was chosen as one of Beyond Race magazine's "50 Great Breakthrough Artists," he ranked 49, resulting in the cover story of the publication's #11 issue, as well as a Q&A for the magazine's site. He was also featured in XXL Magazine's 2010 version of Top Ten Freshmen, a yearly publication focusing on new rappers. Cole began a college tour from March 19, 2010 to April 30, 2010 concluding in New Brunswick, NJ at Rutgers University's annual Rutgersfest. The tour also featured a stop at Syracuse University for a show with fellow rapper, Wiz Khalifa. On March 31, he performed a new song titled "Who Dat" and released the song as a single on April 30, 2010. Cole was also featured on Young Chris' song "Still The Hottest" as well as Miguel's debut single "All I Want Is You." Additionally, Cole was featured on a track titled "We On", a song that failed to make the final track list for DJ Khaled's Victory LP.Cole performing at South by Southwest in 2010
To celebrate the anniversary of the release of The Warm Up mixtape, J. Cole released a freestyle entitled "The Last Stretch" on June 15, 2010. On June 21 of that year, J. Cole premiered the music video to his first single "Who Dat" on the BET program 106 & Park. In August 2010, Cole was awarded the UMA Male Artist of the Year thanks to his heralded The Warm Up mixtape and a high-profile deal with Jay Z's label Roc Nation at the 2010 Underground Music Awards. In a July 2010 interview, J. Cole revealed three songs that would appear on his debut album: "Dreams", "Won't Be Long", and "Never Told", which was produced by No I.D. On October 30, 2010, a demo titled "I'm Coming Home" was leaked onto the internet. Cole recorded the song as a reference track for Diddy, which later became "Coming Home" off Last Train to Paris (2010). On November 12, 2010, J. Cole released his third official mixtape titled Friday Night Lights. The tape included features from Drake, Wale, and Omen with most of the production being handled by Cole himself.2010–11: Cole World: The Sideline Story Main article: Cole World: The Sideline Story Cole performing in London during Cole World... World Tour in 2011
Cole served as a supporting act for Drake on the Light Dreams and Nightmares UK Tour, from January 5–21, 2011. In April 2011, "HiiiPoWeR", a song Cole produced for Kendrick Lamar's Section.80 (2011) was released. The single was the first of many collaborations to come from the two. On May 22, 2011, Cole released a song entitled "Return of Simba," the third in the "Simba" series of songs, following "Simba" and "Grown Simba." Cole purposely avoided releasing his debut album’s title for fear of inconsistency, only announcing that Jay-Z would be featured on his debut album. Cole then released his follow-up single to "Who Dat", the album's lead single, "Work Out" on June 15, 2011, in honor of the second anniversary of his highly acclaimed mixtape The Warm Up. The song, produced by Cole himself, samples "The New Workout Plan" by Kanye West and interpolates "Straight Up" by Paula Abdul. The song later became a hit single, topping several music charts.
On July 31, Cole took to Twitter to announce Any Given Sunday, reminiscent of Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Fridays, a weekly free music giveaway. Cole wrote "Every Sunday til the album drops I’ll be back with something. Maybe just 1 song, maybe a video, depending on how I’m feeling." For the 3rd installment of the series, Cole took to Ustream to update fans about the album and play a select few tracks that didn't make the final track list. On August 15, the music video for "Work Out" premiered on YouTube, Vevo, and 106 & Park. On August 22, Cole released his debut album's cover art, designed by Alex Haldi for Bestest Asbestos, whom Cole recorded a song for, titled "Killers", for Haldi's mixtape The Glorification of Gangster. For the fourth installment on August 29, he released his debut album's track list, once again through Twitter.
On August 30, after an unfinished version had previously leaked, "Can't Get Enough" featuring R&B singer Trey Songz was released as the album's second single. While in Barbados for his last performance as the official opening act for Rihanna's Loud Tour, Cole shot the music video for "Can't Get Enough" with Songz and Rihanna, who provided a cameo appearance. The video, directed by Clifton Bell, was released on September 14, 2011. In addition, early on September 25, two days before his album's release, Cole released the music video for the iTunes bonus track "Daddy's Little Girl".
Cole World: The Sideline Story was released September 27, 2011 debuting at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart, with 218,000 copies in its first-week of sales. As of December 2, 2011, the album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipments and sales of 500,000 copies. On February 7, 2012, the third and final single from Cole's debut album was released. The song, titled "Nobody's Perfect", features renowned female rapper Missy Elliott, marking her return to music. As of December 2016, the album had sold 855,000 copies in the United States.2011–13: Born Sinner and Truly Yours series Main articles: Born Sinner and Truly Yours (EP)
On October 24, 2011, during an interview with Hot 106's Rise & Grind morning show, Cole revealed he had begun working on his second studio album, with hopes of releasing it in June 2012. He also stated that the album would consist of songs that failed to make his debut, saying "I don’t know how many, but I got songs that didn't make the last album that are automatically going to make this one," he said, revealing the release date: "June. End of June, maybe June."
On November 6, 7 and 8, Cole served as the supporting act for Tinie Tempah, appearing at Bournemouth International Centre; Liverpool Echo Arena, Motorpoint Arena Cardiff, Cardiff, Wales; LG Arena, Birmingham, England; SECC Arena, Glasgow, Scotland; and MEN Arena, Manchester.
Cole was nominated for Best New Artist at the 2012 Grammy Awards, but lost to Bon Iver.
Cole played for the Eastern Team in the 2012 NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game. On February 24, 2012, Cole reached two million followers on Twitter, and celebrated by releasing the song "Grew Up Fast." On March 1, 2012, Cole returned to his home town, Fayetteville, North Carolina. To celebrate his return, he released the song "Visionz of Home", and launched an event titled "Dreamville Weekend" to inspire the youth of his hometown to achieve great things. Cole performed for the first time in Africa during the Big Brother Africa 7 opening ceremony on May 6, 2012, alongside Camp Mulla, P-Square, Naeto C, Flavour N'abania, Davido, and Aemo E'Face.
On May 14, Cole announced that he was working on a collaborative album with Kendrick Lamar, saying in an interview with Bootleg Kev that "I just started working with Kendrick the other day. We got it in, finally, again. We got maybe four or five together", also saying that the project would be more focused on and eventually released once Born Sinner had been released. On July 26, he returned to Twitter after a 100-day absence and went on to reveal and release his new song, "The Cure", in which he hinted at a new album. On October 20, he announced at a live show that his second album was complete and that he was waiting until after Lamar released good kid, m.A.A.d city to reveal it.Cole performing during the What Dreams May Come Tour
On November 5, Cole revealed the title of his second album, Born Sinner, as well as a scheduled release date of January 28, 2013, via Ustream. On November 13, 2012, Cole released a promotional single for the album, titled "Miss America." Cole stated that he hoped "Miss America" would shift music in a different direction, adding that he knew it wouldn't be a big radio hit. He elaborated further, saying, "To me, 'Miss America' shifts things a little bit, it changes the conversation, it takes it in a more aggressive direction, more raw, more social commentary... Any type of commentary is good compared to what a normal single is these days. That's my aim, is to shift culture slightly, change the conversation. Nobody expects that for your first single."
On December 31, 2012, Cole revealed that Born Sinner would not be released on January 28, 2013, as previously expected. Cole said that he "needed a little more time than that to get things done." In promotion of Born Sinner, Cole released an EP titled Truly Yours on February 12, 2013, the project consisted of five tracks Cole knew would not appear on Born Sinner. On February 14, 2013, he released the artwork for the first single via Instagram. "Power Trip" was released on February 14, 2013, marking Cole's second collaboration with R&B recording artist Miguel. Following the originally planned release date of January 28, 2013, Cole had announced a set release date of June 25, 2013 for Born Sinner. However, when it was announced that Kanye West's Yeezus would be released just one week earlier on June 18, Cole moved the release date of Born Sinner up a week in order to compete with West. He later commented, "This is art, and I can't compete against the Kanye West celebrity and the status that he's earned just from being a genius... But I can put my name in the hat and tell you that I think my album is great and you be the judge and you decide." Cole released the second installment in the Truly Yours series on April 30, 2013, the EP featured guest appearances from Bas, Young Jeezy and 2 Chainz. Born Sinner sold 297,000 copies in the United States in its first week of release, debuting at number two on the Billboard 200 chart, finishing approximately 30,000 copies short of Kanye West's Yeezus. He released three more singles in support of the album, "Crooked Smile" featuring TLC, "Forbidden Fruit" featuring Kendrick Lamar, and "She Knows". As of December 2016, the album had sold 796,000 copies in the United States.2014–present: 2014 Forest Hills Drive and 4 Your Eyez Only Main articles: 2014 Forest Hills Drive and 4 Your Eyez Only
On August 15, 2014, Cole released "Be Free" in response to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Three days later, he visited the city in order to meet with protesters and activists who were gathered at the site of his shooting, discussing the civil unrest that was taking place within the city. He performed the track with an additional verse at the Late Show with David Letterman on December 10. On November 16, Cole released a video announcing that his third studio album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, would be released on December 9. The video featured footage regarding the album's composition, as well as revealed that the album's name was derived from the address of Cole's childhood home. He announced that the album would include no lead singles and have little promotion, but was supported by four promotional singles; "Apparently", "Wet Dreamz", "No Role Modelz", and "Love Yourz". The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 upon release, selling 353,000 copies in its first week.
Cole announced the "Forest Hills Drive Tour" on February 13, 2015. The tour served as the backdrop for his first live album, Forest Hills Drive: Live. The album recorded during the Fayetteville shows of the tour, and was released on Cole's 31st birthday. On March 31, 2014 Forest Hills Drive was certified platinum. As of December 2016, the album had sold 1.24 million copies in the United States. 2014 Forest Hills Drive won Top Rap Album at the 2015 Billboard Music Awards and Album of the Year at the 2015 BET Hip Hop Awards. The album was nominated at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards for Best Rap Album. The single "Apparently'" was also nominated for Best Rap Performance.
On December 15, 2015, Cole announced a documentary series titled J. Cole: Road to Homecoming, ahead of his HBO special Forest Hills Drive: Homecoming. The series included five episodes as well as featuring guest appearances from Kendrick Lamar, Wale, Rihanna, Pusha T, Big Sean, Jay Z, and Drake. All episodes were released weekly and were available for free on Vimeo until January 9. Forest Hills Drive: Homecoming aired on January 9, 2016.
On July 29, 2016, DJ Khaled released his ninth studio album, Major Key. Cole is featured on the track "Jermaine's Interlude". "Said all I could say, now I play with thoughts of retirement" is a direct quote from the track that caused some of Cole's fans to worry about him and his music career. In an interview with Genius, Doctur Dot of the Atlanta duo EarthGang explained that the song was originally a nine-minute posse cut, he said, “We were just trying to get Bas to fuck with the song, but Cole was like, ‘I can’t resist this beat,’ so he hit the weed for the first time in a long time." “He overthinks on weed but we were in the garage smoking a blunt, the beat was running in the background. We stacked the hook up, we all had verses on it, it was a posse record and was like, nine verses long.” On November 4, 2016, Cole performed at Jay Z and Beyoncé's Hillary Clinton Rally in Cleveland, Ohio, along with Big Sean and Chance the Rapper. On November 8, 2016, Spillage Village released the official version of "Jermaine's Interlude", called "Can't Call It". The song features Cole, EarthGang, Bas and J.I.D.
On December 1, 2016, the artwork and a track list for Cole's fourth album, titled 4 Your Eyez Only, were shown on iTunes available for pre-order, with a release date for December 9, 2016. On December 2, 2016, Cole released a 40-minute documentary titled Eyez, on Tidal. It features behind-the-scenes footage of Cole and collaborators working on the album, including two music videos for the tracks "False Prophets" and "Everybody Dies"; neither song was included on the album. On December 5, "False Prophets" and "Everybody Dies" were released as singles to iTunes store and other streaming services. 4 Your Eyez Only debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 with 492,000 album-equivalent units, of which 363,000 were pure album sales, becoming Cole's fourth number one album. The track "Deja Vu" entered the US Billboard Hot 100 at number 7 without being released as a single, becoming J. Cole's highest charting song. All 10 songs from 4 Your Eyez Only debuted in the top 40 of the Hot 100, after only having four top 40 hits as a solo artist. "False Prophets" and "Everybody Dies" both charted also. Cole achieved twelve simultaneous Hot 100 entries in a single week. "Deja Vu" was released as the albums first single on January 10, 2017. On January 12, 2017, 4 Your Eyez Only was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). On April 7, 2017 the album was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
On January 16, 2017, Cole surprisingly released a track titled, "High for Hours" via his SoundCloud. The song was produced by Elite and Cam O'Bi. The song was released on the iTunes store as a single on January 18. Cole announced the 4 Your Eyez Only World Tour on February 21, 2017. The tour will include 62 dates across North America, Europe and Australia. On March 24, 2017 HBO announced a documentary titled, J. Cole: 4 Your Eyez Only, the film aired April 15, 2017. The film was directed by Cole and Scott Lazer. It is now available on YouTube.Artistry Influences
Cole has cited several hip hop artists as influencing his rapping style, including Tupac Shakur, Nas, Jay Z, and Eminem. He described in an interview with Steve Lobel, "Jay was a mentor before I ever signed to him." "I studied his moves that much...I got to go on tour with him and steal a lot of gems. That's how you supposed to do it. You're supposed to learn and take pieces from the greatest. So, Jay was my mentor before I ever signed to him. And now that I signed to him it's just a blessing to be able to hit him for advice and get that real 20 years of experience or however long he been in the game. It's priceless.""My favorite rapper was Pac," he said. "He was my favorite rapper before I even started rapping. Before I even thought of-It went from Michael Jackson, Bobby Brown as a kid and artists like that. Even Kool Moe Dee. Just the cool dude that I looked up to. And then one day my stepfather came home from-I don't know if he was back from Desert Storm...I remember him coming home with that first Pac album. With "Brenda's Got A Baby". It was 2Pacalypse Now. And since then-When I was too young to know what he was talking about, but it connected. Cause that's the thing about art. It's just truth. It's straight-Whatever you feel. So, even as a seven-year-old kid, eight-year-old kid I could hear Pac's early albums and feel the truth." Cole drew comparisons to Nas following the release of Friday Night Lights, stating that Nas served as the primary inspiration behind the creation of the mixtape. Cole later addressed their musical similarities on "Let Nas Down", a song written and composed due to his disparaging comments towards "Work Out".
In 2014, in an interview with Angie Martinez, Cole listed 2Pac, The Notorious B.I.G., Nas and Jay Z as his top four rappers of all time, with André 3000 and Eminem being a toss-up for fifth, saying: "I wanna say so bad, but Eminem is like solo dolo,” he said. "Andre’s incredible, but he’ll tell you himself, he was in a duo so his workload was a little less, but creatively he's miles beyond."Business ventures Dreamville Records Main article: Dreamville Records
During the composition of The Come Up, Cole started his own record label in early 2007 with current label president Ibrahim Hamad. Cole sought for an avenue to release his own music, while Hamad yearned to start a record label, prompting the two to team up to form Dreamville Records. The label is currently distributed by Interscope Records.The logo of Cole's Dreamville Records imprint
Cole, Omen, and Bas were the label's inaugural artists. The label houses artists including Cole, Omen, Bas, Cozz, Lute, and Ari Lennox, and producers including Elite, Ron Gilmore, K-Quick, Cedric Brown, and Meez. Dreamville Records has released nine albums, with three certified platinum or higher by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).The Dreamville Foundation
In October 2011, Jermaine Cole established The Dreamville Foundation. The foundation's website describes its purpose in this way:
“The Dreamville Foundation is a non-profit organization 501(c)(3), created to 'bridge the gap' between the worlds of opportunity and the urban youth of Fayetteville, NC. The foundation’s goal for the urban youth is to have a dream, believe in their dream, and achieve their dream. The Dreamville Foundation is dedicated to creating programs and events that will allow our youth to be 'Set up for Success.'"
The mission of the foundation is to “To reveal to the urban youth, their limitless potential, through positive life- altering experiences.” The Dreamville foundation offers a variety of programs geared towards inspiring and empowering Fayetteville's youth. In 2015, with help from volunteers, the foundation’s annual “Back To School Supply Giveaway” provided more than 500 backpacks filled with school supplies to the community. The Dreamville Foundation also partnered with DTLR to launch their book club as an initiative established to improve the reading and comprehension among young men. Likewise, The Nobody's Perfect Writing Contest and Mother's Day Brunch allows students to express their gratitude for the role models they aspire to be someday, while celebrating their personal accomplishments. Every year J.Cole hosts a weekend of community events called the 'Dreamville Weekend' at his hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina. The events include a discussion with the Young Men's Book Club and Appreciation Dinner to recognize community leaders and organizations who've impacted the community alongside the foundation, as well as, students for their improvement academically and socially. During Dreamville Weekend, the foundation hosted a conference that consists of a Career Day panel of African-American professionals in a variety of fields.
In 2014, Jermaine Cole purchased his childhood home in Fayetteville, NC for $120,000 through the Dreamville Foundation. The home had been repossessed from his mother years earlier, while Jermaine was attending college in New York. His plan is to turn the house into a homestead for single mothers and their kids to live rent-free.Tidal Main article: Tidal (service)
In 2015, J. Cole's mentor, Jay Z, acquired music streaming service Tidal's parent owner, Aspiro, for a high revenue. During the launch party, J. Cole, along with Jay Z, Kanye West, Usher, Alicia Keys, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Madonna, Daft Punk, deadmau5, Nicki Minaj, among countless others were named "The owners of Tidal". J. Cole is a minor shareholder of the service.Personal life
In a January 2016 interview with director Ryan Coogler, Cole revealed that he was married. His wife, long-time girlfriend Melissa Heholt, went to St. John's University with Cole, and is the Executive Director of the Dreamville Foundation. From the lyrics of Cole's latest album, it's rumored he has a daughter. It was revealed days after that Cole's wife gave birth to a baby girl in the beginning of 2016Discography Main articles: J. Cole discography and J. Cole production discography Studio albums
The BET Hip Hop Awards are hosted annually by BET for hip hop performers, producers and music video directors. J. Cole has won 5 awards from 22 nominations.Year Nominee/work Award Result 2011 Friday Night Lights Best Mixtape Won 2012 Cole World: The Sideline Story CD of the Year Nominated Himself MVP of the Year Nominated Producer of the Year Nominated Lyricist of the Year Nominated Best Live Performer Nominated "Nobody's Perfect" (featuring Missy Elliott) Reese's Perfect Combo Award (Best Collabo) Nominated 2013 Born Sinner Album of the Year Nominated "Power Trip" (featuring Miguel) Best Collabo, Duo or Group Nominated Best Hip-Hop Video Nominated Track of the Year Nominated People's Champ Award Nominated Himself MVP of the Year Nominated Producer of the Year Nominated Lyricist of the Year Nominated Best Live Performer Nominated "Crooked Smile" (featuring TLC) Impact Track Won 2014 Best Hip Hop Video Nominated Himself Lyricist of the Year Nominated 2015 Nominated MVP of the Year Nominated Producer of the Year Nominated Best Live Performer Won Hustler of the Year Nominated 2014 Forest Hills Drive Album of the Year Won "Apparently" Impact Track Nominated "Be Free" Nominated 2016 "Love Yourz" Won Himself Lyricist of the Year Nominated Best Live Performer Nominated