“WHO DAT? WHO DAT” I hear some of you asking? I’m equally excited as I am proud to introduce the man on the Polaroid here above as Jermaine Lamarr Cole also known as J.COLE
If you are not familiar with Mr Cole here, with no further ado, let me try and give this young Simba a proper introduction.
Coming from the small town Fayetteville, North Carolina, J. Cole always dreamed of being a rapper since he was a teenager. Because of the lack of beats, he then started to make his own. The minute this college boy graduated Magna Cum Laude from St-John’s University in New York, he started to focus on what was really important to him all along and released his first mixtape: ‘The Come Up‘. When he drew the attention of hip hop mogul Jay-Z with the ‘Lights Please’ song on his second mixtape, ‘The Warm Up‘, J.Cole hustled himself towards being the first artist signed on to Roc Nation, ready for the world and ready for a very highly anticipated first album. The first track I ever heard by J Cole was this one with Omen & Fashawn.
I really, like REALLY loved this track and I played it numerous times. Then I heard him on this other collab track with Talib Kweli, Jay Electronica & Mos Def.
Although I saw his name flying by on numerous blogs, I still wasn’t drawn enough to him, to actually go and search for his work for some reason. When this one take video shot by director BBGUN was released together with the message that Mr Cole was officially the first artist on Jay-Z’s Roc Nation to come out with a debut album, there was no doubt about the fact that there was sòmething about J Cole.
The video felt like a statement to me, it was simple, yet very strong. A modest yet powerful video and introduction. But it wasn’t until I decided to download his latest mixtape called Friday Night Lights, that I finally jumped on that Cole train. The mixtape consists of straightforward no BS kinda songs, with a major focus on lyrics, genuine story telling, content and message powered by a classic production. There was something about the honesty in his lyrics… His rhymes about the hunger for moving on up, his daily struggle to strive for his ambitions, the desire for fame, wealth and material things, his inner battle between real love and real lust, parties and daily life in Fayetteville, the frustration of being broke, his job as a bill collector, to the new-found luxury that seems to tempt like a devil in disguise. But with that whole “yes we can”- vibe over it, without sounding too cliché or preachy, or to put all the above in how J.Cole describes it: ” … real lyrical, but not like the boring lyrical.” I really started to like this artist because of the things he said, not so much for how he was styled or looked like or sexy flashy beats or overpowering mega production. There are no marketing distractions with this artist, at least not that I can see. It’s just. J.Cole.
Standing out songs on the Friday Night Lights mixtape (for me personally) are 2 FACE , BLOW UP, COST ME A LOT, IN THE MORNING and HIGHER. Definitely check out his second mixtape to check up on my personal favorites GROWN SIMBA & the song that caught Jay-Z’s attention called LIGHTS PLEASE. Of course with all the premature love and anticipation, there is equal criticism: numerous comparisons with other artists, smart puns about him being a college boy talking bout the hood, not enough image, intelligent lyrics but why is he complaining so much, okay he is good, but will he be gréat… and so on. The same day J.Cole’s Friday Night Lights got released was the same day Roc Nation announced JAY ELECTRONICA as the second member to the Roc Nation family. Both called J, both lyricist and conscious storytellers, both with very highly anticipated albums for 2011… Seems to me the stakes are high and the pressure is up…?
Now. This is how the story goes.
I was listening to J.COLE’s Friday Night Lights mixtape for a lil’ while when I heard the news that J.COLE was coming to Belgium to open for DRAKE. Great news! I didn’t expect to see Mr Cole in Belgium so soon! The only down side was: the venue. I’ve been to this venue called VORST NATIONAAL in Brussels a few times before, and let me tell you, If Noxx is Fort Knoxx than this venue is like Alcatraz to me. I described the difficulty of that venue in my first story on Snoop with the embarrassing ‘pillow talk‘ message, and let’s not forget that other very unsuccessful attempt with Kanye West, a story I didn’t even care to write down because there was not much more to tell then: “I went to the concert. It didn’t work out.” Things are very simple over there: YOU.JUST.CAN’T. GET.IN. The stage is too far from the audience to make any proper contact with entourage, there is a whole team of security the size of an important football game, and the minute the concert is done, they make sure the venue is empty like pronto! They even have a backstage sticker system with different colours that – so I’ve heard – even changes by the hour. Now isn’t that professional? I réally was aiming for a J.COLE Polaroid story, no matter what. Since Plan A (hunting for Polaroid on the spot) was probably going to fail in advance, in order to have my story I had to put plan B into practice. Meaning, try to contact management via mail. After a quick online research I found two names. I couldn’t find any valuable email address, so I decided to take a shot and mail both of them at their Facebook account to see what was possible. Plan B, rarely works, so sometimes I don’t even bother trying, but in this case I was erasing all possibilities of my list. I didn’t want to look back and regret I didn’t do this, or didn’t try that. After a week of silence and no reply to my Facebook mails, I realised Plan B was ready to be aborted.
Without any hope I pulled out Plan C, which is contacting the promoter, and asked them = the huge organisation that booked Prince not so long ago in Belgium, if they couldn’t help me with a valuable email address to contact. Very quickly I received the reply, that they would not be able to help me with my request, because I was a bit too late with any type of request in the first place, which is true, because I only use Plan C when the failure percentage of Plan A is most likely 95% to fail due to the enormous venue, and I only put Plan C into motion which is like… the day before. I didn’t really have any hopes regarding to Plan C turning out in a success, but at least I tried everything I could and I could go out hunting for a Polaroid the traditional way, knowing that I looked at every other possible angle, so I won’t get frustrated if the traditional way turned out in a failure. So big was my surprise when I received a mail on Friday night from somebody who was willing to help me. apparently my email had been traveling like a homeless child from shelter to shelter and finally landed on the right desk. I was asked to write my pitch in English asap and that my email would be transferred to the management. No promises were made and all was in the hands of The Almighty. I quickly translated my pitch from Dutch to English and sent the mail to my contact.
On sunday, the day of the concert, I received a mail around noon, telling me I need to keep on eye on my cellphone during the Drake concert and be available whenever I got the text. This random Sunday suddenly turned out very interesting… So together with my P.I.C. Jules and my other loyal trooper for this blog, Rose who celebrated the last hours of her birthday that Sunday, I hopped on the train to Brussels, armed with my Polaroid camera and an interview in the back, just in case… I was very curious to see J.COLE’s performance. I really didn’t look forward to seeing him in that venue, because I’d much rather see him in a venue like the Ancienne Belgique, due to the fact he is still an emerging and upcoming artist with no album out, it’s always better to be introduced to an artist in a more intimate setting. But hey, you can’t expect opening for a multi selling artist like Drake in a tiny little venue. Besides, when I watched this recent J.Cole footage from his performance in London, it looks like the boy can already handle a big crowd….
I hear some of you wondering why I would go for a J.Cole Polaroid rather than a Drake one, right…? Well, the thing is, although I like Drake, and I dig his music and lyrics from time to time, the difference between the two is that I can put J.Cole’s music on for several hours. While with Drake, I just have the need to hear singled out tracks from time to time, the complete opposite of my 17-year old sister Soumaya, who is a massive Drake fan. So I made a choice and decided to keep my focus on J.Cole for that night, ’cause you know, they say you can’t have your cake and eat it too. At 8h30 PM sharp, J.Cole opened up for Drake, with a bursting energy that immediately put the flame into his performance.
It was a short yet powerful performance. J.Cole has great energy on stage, even showed some piano skills, and the execution of his rhymes were perfect for the crowd to join him on his lyrical outburst. I was happily surprised to see that J.Cole was already a household name for this Belgian audience who came first and foremost for Drake. Five minutes after the performance I got a phone call from my contact with the request if I could immediately come to the entrance of the venue, where we would be escorted to the backstage area. Well … I guess it was officially on.
When Jules and I arrived at the meeting point, we immediately got the message that it would not be possible for Jules to tag along with me. I tried to convince my contact, but since I failed to communicate that she was coming with me, she couldn’t come. Period. My heart was racing. I hate doing this stuff alone and especially if I have to do an interview, besides, who was going to snap my exhibits now? I immediately asked my contact to replace for Jules and help me with the exhibits if we were allowed to snap some. My contact agreed. When I entered the backstage doors of Vorst Nationaal I quickly understood that even if we tried a hundred times, we would néver get in there without a connection. Long hallway after long hallway followed, and numerous doors. Even if we dìd manage to slip through security, we would’ve been caught in the hallways around it because it’s sooo big and we would be walking around like chickens with no head ready to be kicked out by an attentive security member. Together with 2 other male parties who were representing for radio we were asked to wait in an empty cold room guarded by Vorst Nationaal’s security.
You see? Even empty rooms where people just walk back and forth are secured over there! I was so nervous I asked to be the last one on the list, so I could look at my questions for the last time. I’m not going to lie, that shit still makes me very nervous. While I was waiting I could hear the roaring and screaming of the crowd who was obviously ready and psyched for Drake to make his first appearance for a Belgian audience. While checking my questions on a little sofa in the corner of the room, all of sudden I see a whole bunch of people coming out and standing in the hallway you can see right in front of you in this picture above. Seconds later I see Drake right in front of me, getting prepped for the last show of this European tour. In the meantime the screaming becomes even more insane when the DJ starts to hype up the crowd while playing music and teasing the audience that Drake is on his way. The whole Drake team joined forces and came together holding hands while praying for this concert and focussing on giving the last performance for their European tour.
Funny. Here I was on a sofa witnessing this ceremony with one of the biggest stars of the world while a complete venue was screaming their lungs out for him. My sister included. She would have probably fainted and smacked her head on the floor if she was their with me. Although the whole Drake crew noticed me sitting there, Drake included, it didn’t bother them at all that I was there with them. I mean, their security could have easily asked me to step out of the room, but they were fine with it, which in way makes perfect sense, I wàs trying véry hard to become a plant in the room. I watched Drake and his crew leaving the room, ready for the stage, and I must admit…I wondered how it would feel like to step up on a stage and see a thousand fans, screaming and yelling for you in a massive concert venue. I really loved that last moment when they all left together ready to perform. It had something magical. I know it sounds cliché, but I’m just telling the truth. Five minutes later, it was my turn to go and do what I always do for this blog… The best I can.
When I walked into the room I was introduced to one of J.Cole’s management representation called Julius. We shook hands and he smiled and said: “Well, well, I heard a lot about you miss, Diddy and all that hu…?” I went straight for the sofa to grab my questions and I saw J.Cole in the corner of the room stuck behind a computer with a couple of his Dreamville buddies – I think streaming a super bowl game? He looked up, left the computer and came up walking up to me and we shook hands while I introduced myself. He looked very… sharp. I don’t really know what I mean with that, but very sharp, very… alert in a way. I pitched my blog, told him what it was all about and who I already managed to feature while I was quickly showing some snaps on my iPhone. Besides Mos Def, he was the second artist who actually took the time and looked at àll the pictures I took. He even took my Iphone out of my hands and slided through the images himself. He said to the other fellas in the room: “Seriously, she got real nice pictures of all these people”, mumbling a “waw” when he saw the Gil Scott Heron snap and told me he had seen the Pharrell Polaroid picture somewhere before. Well… so far so good! I then told him that I don’t usually do interviews, but whenever I have the chance I prepare something. He was completely down for an interview and I gave him my non-professional eenie meenie recorder, prayed for the best and asked him the following questions. Just for you guys.
A POLAROID STORY x J.COLE INTERVIEW
You have been touring Europe, opening for Drake the last couple of weeks, how has the response been so far for you?
Ah man. It has been beautiful. It’s been way better than I even expected. I’ve been well received, every city was good and some stages were even a bit overwhelming though… Looks like I’m well received, and everywhere I’ve been, I’ve been able to put on a good show. But like I said, certain places were even uhm… out of control.
I’ve seen some footage from a show in London, where people obviously know your music and you even have the whole audience with you, which is pretty big considering you have no official album out, no?
Absolutely. To be all the way in London and like you said, an artist with no album, no hit single… Just music put out online for free… It’s just… incredible.
After putting out three mixtapes where your day one fans could sort of grow and evolve with you, you will release your first album in March 2011. Looking back at this musical journey before the album, what has been the biggest evolution for you as artist? Where did you grow in the most?
Just overall songwriting, skills and mostly production. My production is, you know, way better. I think that’s the beautiful thing about me as an artist. I think the only time we got to see that before was with Kanye. Like where you have the producer, the rapper, and you get to grow with them, step by step. If you go back and listen to Kanye West beats from around 2003, they are wày different from what he does right now and they are still good. But you see the growth. Like watching Michael Jordan in 1985 is not as good as Michael Jordan in 1996. And that’s a cool thing.
Can you explain to my readers what the song “Lights Please” means to you?
The importance… What it means to me as in ‘my life’? Well, it opened the door to the industry. That was the song that everybody was hearing in the industry before people even knew who I was, anywhere, even on the internet. Industry people were hearing about me, because in a meeting that was the first song that was played and that was ‘Lights Please’. I think it represents me so well. The battle between…not good and evil perse, but, that’s what the whole J.Cole persona is about, that kid that is battling between good and bad. This dude wants to do the right thing and be socially and consciously aware, and be about something in his life and then there is that other man who is more like well, you know… I got this bad bitch in my bed, so… (starts laughing)
You’re the first artist signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, recently joined by Jay Electronica. COMPLEX Magazine put you on their number 11 spot for their most anticipated albums for 2011, ànd you already made it to Nardwuar and you don’t even have an album out! Tell me, do you feel the pressure at night?
Number ELEVEN??? Whut? You kidding me?! Nah, nah, I’m joking…! (about the Complex ranking) No. I don’t. I feel pressure, but not from the blogs or anything like that. When I read about things, I don’t think to myself: Ow man this album better be good. Nah, I don’t feel extra pressure from the anticipation for some reason. People keep asking me that question, but I don’t.
You are ready for it?
Yes, I’m ready. Besides, I already have so much pressure for mysèlf. I want the album to be good, just for mé and for my own standards. I don’t think that there is anything else that anybody else can add to that. It’s like a separate pressure. I don’t get anxious or I don’t get nervous.
You mean that the standards that you set for yourself are already pretty high?
Exactly, and I know that if I reach those, I’m good.
You are labeled a conscious rapper, a lyricist, ‘the next best rapper’, and comparisons are never far away: “He’s like this rapper, or like that rapper.” If you could explain YOU to the Belgian audience and my readers, what would you tell them?
I would tell: Belgium, believe everything you hear. If they say that I’m ‘like’ somebody. But do notice that they say I’m like a lòt of people. That’s a good sign. I think I’ve heard so many ‘likes': “He’s like Nas, he’s like Tupac, he is like Jay-Z, he’s like Drake…” I used to think, man… why do people do that? But then I realised they compare me to a lòt of people and I guess that is a good thing. But if I had to describe it myself, I can only say that I càre about the music. I càre about the quality. I think people should know how much time and passion I put into the music and the songs.
You produced the album yourself, together with other producer NO-ID, you don’t speak about the album much even the official album name is not communicated. So instead of trying to ask the same questions you probably won’t reply on anyway, maybe there is something about the album that you càn share that hasn’t been said before?
Well. No.. I don’t think so. (smiles) Look, I told somebody the other day that I don’t like to talk about the album. I have never been good at talking about… something that is not there. I’m not good at that. I’d like to put it out there and then let yòu here about it and talk about it. I just feel like that’s the way to go. The title of the album will be shared the same day the album is released. The album is mostly me. The first producer I got in with was No.ID and he has about three songs on the album. I probably have about nine songs on it.
Name a possible future collaboration on your wish list that people would most likely nòt expect from J.Cole. A collaboration (a producer, an artist) that would be ‘unconventional’ sort of speak.
Let me think. There àre people like that. Then again, I don’t want to give people any ideas, you know. I don’t want to tell all my secrets, but, I would do a whole project with John Mayer. I could say that. I think he is really dope.
In a previous interview you mentioned that you are working hard on making your music mainstream, but still be you, without selling out. Some say that your verse on the recent Rihanna S&M remix song isn’t really necessary for you as an artist. What is your perception on that?
(raises brow) “Wasn’t necessary?”
You know what I think that is? It’s just my fans. I’ve seen it before, ’cause I’ve been a fan of many artists from the beginning myself. I know all the personalities of the fans. You have fans that just… get it. They have a broader perspective and are more like: “Why would you nòt have your favorite rapper on a song with Rihanna, that’s gonna open him up to more listeners!” Then you have other fans, who are like, more… selfish. Wether they know it or not, what really bothers them, is not the fact that I’m on a Rihanna song, but the fact that I’m reaching more fans, and they are like: “Man he was mine, he was my secret.”
My goal is to bring àll my fans with me. I know how it feels to like somebody and once they blow up, you are like: “Aaaw man, he is not the same anymore.” Really, he still ìs the same, is just not the secret anymore. I want to grow with àll my fans, but I know it’s impossible. I used to be that guy. I used to be like: “Man I don’t need to be on a Rihanna S&M pop song…!” But as I learn and I am going I know that it ìs necessary. Even when I first heard the song I was like: “Man… how on earth am I going to rap on this? But Ì know what good that does for me. So hopefully I can bring as many fans along with me and that I don’t hàve to leave’m you know… There are always going to be people who’ll say: “His mixtapes are the best work he did.” But come on man… really? I hope somewhere down the line, people will have a better understanding on how the game works and what is really best for your favorite rapper. You don’t want your favorite rapper to just be…broke and underground his whole life. That is not really what you want, if you really cared as a fan.
‘Who Dat’ is the first single released from your upcoming album, and in that video you are walking. And then in another video of yours, called SIMBA you are…walking aswell. So my next question is…will you be walking in your next video?
(looks at me like I’m completely crazy for asking such a dumb ass question but answers polite)
“Yup… I’m walking again…”
It’s a joke… What I really wanted to ask is, if you can tell me already something about the look from your next video that will be released.
(the whole room starts to chuckle, J.Cole including)
Ow yeah. Well, we just shot the ‘In The Morning’ video, while me and Drake are in Europe. It’s more natural, I don’t think I’m walking in that video… Nah I’m joking, I probably am. (starts laughing again) But uhm. It’s a way more natural video. I just wanted to show the tour on the video, the fact that we came to Europe. It’s both me and Drake’s first time being here on tour and I wanted to show that to the people. It’s just a glimpse into all that.
What young talent that you are coming up with would you like everybody to know about?
Definitely OMEN from Chicago. WALE from DC, my man KENDRICK LAMAR from Compton California. Those are definitely a new generation of artists, that people should know about and should look up to. They won’t be disappointed.
Uhm. You would probably not expect it, but we actually have something in common. Early in your career you once tried to reach Jay-Z while you were waiting outside in the rain, waiting for his car to show up by some entrance, and you were wearing a t-shirt with “PRODUCE FOR JAY-Z OR DIE TRYING” on it.
I’m not saying that I would do exactly the same in a Jay-Z situation, I obviously don’t produce, but I have had a couple of comparable experiences of my own, so I have to ask you… Is there àny advice you could give me, if I want to get Jay-Z on Polaroid one day? I mean. He’s your boss now…
Well hey… Lemme think.. What should be the best way for you…
An old-fashioned one liner maybe…?
Yeah! That works, but it depends on what day you catch him though… you know what I mean? What mood he is in. It depends. That’s really how it is. You could try one thing, like a nice one liner, a quick joke, just to get him to look your way. Ìf he is having a good day, and his sense of humor is wide open, that’ll do it. It depends… (réally thinks about it)
(I’m starting to look slightly worried about his answer)
…I don’t know. I mean, it’s not like you get a chance every day with Jay-Z, so you gotta make it work…! Find something personal that you could say but… without offending him. You know (starts laughing) maybe thìs is a recommandation! If mine is great then I just gonna have to…you know what I’m saying? These Polaroid pictures better be stunning man…I mean.. You gotta make me look incredible. (starts to laugh again)
The final all time classic blog question: If I say Belgium what 3 words immediately pop out?
Waffles. Chocolate. Brussels.
Tadaaaaaa. Another interview. I hope you guys liked it… He returned me the recorder and suddenly said: “Aw man….fuck…I just noticed I didn’t push record.” My face became completely pale, and for a split second I believed him, although I was sure, Ì pushed the record button before I gave him the recorder, but he looked dead serious and you could hear a needle drop in the room. Then he said; “Naaaaaaaaah, I’m playing with ya!” and the whole room bursts out laughing. Well, well, there’s a little punk in Cole. Who would have known. I told him: “Man, you made my heart skip a beat, but do realise I would not hesitate to ask you to redo the interview.” He replied; “If it really would be the case, I would définitely redo the interview.”
About that time J.Cole was asked to join Drake back on stage to perform ‘In The Morning’ so he asked me if we could do the Polaroid àfter his performance, than we would have more time to take the shots and he’d prefer to do the snaps in a simple t-shirt rather than his stage outfit. I told him that I would stay right where I was and that it was actually perfect for me, because I’d rather do the Polaroid pictures focused than a quick, hurried snap shot. So he left the backstage room together with his Dreamville entourage to deliver his verse on the ‘In The Morning’ track together with Drake.
While I am waiting, again I could hear the screaming of the audience and I thought by myself that again this story turned out more unconventional than I thought it would be, considering I had to work my way in from another more ‘official’ angle. So when he came back after 5 minutes, it was finally time for that much wanted Polaroid picture. I explained him what I needed and he was réally listening to what I said, and slightly enthusiastic and I’m not going to lie, it was actually really fun to shoot him, because you féél his hunger, his confidence and the fact that he wanted to give me some nice shots. Whenever I feel at ease shooting an artist, I’m always tempted to do more than the two obligatory shots, and with J.Cole that was exactly the case.
We took a few snaps, and decided together that, because we had three very nice shots, we should use àll three of them. He told me that he really liked my pictures in general and told me that I was a good photographer #score. He asked: “Did somebody got three pictures already?” I replied that besides Q-Tip he was the only one. He nodded satisfied. And that was it. We shook hands and I thanked him for his time, because he gave me more than the obligatory boring 10 to 15 minutes tops. I left the backstage and joined forces again with Jules and Rose. Drake was wrapping up his last concert in Europe, and the screams of the girls were deafening.
When then finally J.Cole and his Dreamville entourage came back on stage to great their audience, I was looking at Mr Cole from afar and thought by myself “It might not be clear what or who J.Cole is for now, but the boy got skills, stage presence and last but not least, he got something to say.” No matter it’s about pain or love or drugs or work or money, or life in general. I think he will genuinely touch the mainstream, with the right cords and the right words. True there is a lot you can say about Mr Cole, but I’d like to keep it a bit vague ’cause like he said, it’s always tricky to do predictions about something that is not there yet.
So I’ll just state that he might be… the future?