Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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J. Cole: Hot Cole

J. Cole
J. Cole J. Cole J. Cole J. Cole

The first signing to megastar rapper Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label, 28-year-old North Carolina-raised MC J. Cole this month delivers his eagerly-anticipated sophomore album “Born Sinner” Which - currently pioneered by its Miguel-featuring, US R&B Top Five single “Power Trip” - marks the follow-up to his US-chart-topping 2011 debut set “Cole World: The Sideline Story”.

Born Jermaine Lamarr Cole to a black US-Army-serving father and a white mother in Frankfurt, Germany in January 1985, Cole nevertheless spent most of his upbringing in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Where, while attending the local Terry Sanford High School, he first started developing his lyrical skills at the tender age of 12. After which, by the time he’d reached 15, a teenage Jermaine - by now taking from his favourite artists like Eminem and Nas a love for powerful storytelling with an intense inner-strength - was already writing his own lyrics and amassing stacks of notebooks filled with rhymes and observations. Meanwhile, following his mother then buying him a beat machine, the next step was to begin producing the actual music himself. To where, by the age of 17, he was diligently posting songs on various internet forums under the moniker “Therapist”.

After which - determined to follow in the footsteps of the rap greats - he would go on to release three critically-acclaimed and well-received mixtapes (2007’s “The Come Up”; 2009’s “The Warm Up”; 2010’s “Friday Night Lights”), in addition to guesting on both “All I Want Is You” - the American Top 10 debut single from aforementioned R&B vocalist Miguel - plus Jay-Z’s US Number One/internationally-successful 2009 album “The Blueprint 3”. All of which (with him by now having signed as a solo artist to Roc Nation) would in turn precede the September 2011 release of his own aforementioned debut LP, the Grammy-nominated “Cole World: The Sideline Story”.

… Which in turn neatly brings us back today, and the release of “Born Sinner”. As a highly-personable and instantly-receptive Mr. Cole (who’s interestingly also a graduate of St. Johns University, New York) reacquaints himself with “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor Pete Lewis at Sony Music’s buzzing Kensington HQ to discuss said new album. Whose moods range from the tough, head-nodding beats of the storytelling “LAnd Of The Snakes” and darkly-powerful “Run Away” to the more melodic R&B-flavours of the TLC-featuring “Crooked Smile” and sax-accompanied, lyrically-outstanding “Let Nas Down”.

How and why his new album divides thematically into two distinct halves

“Well, the way the album flows it starts off on this darker note where the content is a little unapologetic with me basically saying whatever comes into my mind, no matter how hard shit is. But then maybe six or seven songs in you hit this point where the content is brighter in feel and like a little smarter, a little more conscious, a little more reflective… And the fact it all becomes a little clearer on the second half of the album is to me like a kind of metaphor for how I felt when I was creatively trying to get back to a better place in my MUSIC... So in that way it kinda speaks to people’s lives, PERIOD - in terms of anybody going through a depression and trying to get HAPPINESS. I mean to me I basically looked at it as a metaphor for trying to escape from Hell and making it to HEAVEN. Which is a tough thing, but at the same time when you DO finally get out you’re like ‘Oh shit, did I REALLY just escape?’!”

J. Cole’s views on how “Born Sinner” has turned out musically and lyrically

“Well, now that it’s done, I realise how important it was that I produced the whole thing MYSELF - because it does have such a cohesive SOUND. For example, musically I definitely hit this place as a producer where I found this rhythm, this nice double-time tempo that you can hear clearly, say, on (the current single) “Power Trip” and on several of the OTHER songs... And the fact that production-wise I was trying out these new things - mainly because I was becoming better and more comfortable as a producer as I went along - did in turn mean I was able to give the record a new, fresh SOUND… Then lyrically I think I do cover a lotta GROUND. Like you hear a lotta commentary on society, a lotta commentary on black culture... Plus I have my own personal little stories about my career, about stuff like temptation... You know, just a wide mixture of things that I wanted to get off my CHEST basically!”

The album’s eye-catching artwork - which has been described as “stark yet stunning”

“Yeah, we played with a lotta different concepts for the cover - and in the end I decided I definitely wanted to go with some typea GATES. Because, with the first half of the album representing like Hell and wanting to escape, I really wanted to convey this idea of leaving somewhere or ENTERING somewhere. And what I love about the way it’s turned out is that you can’t really tell whether it’s the gates of Hell or the gates of HEAVEN! Plus I also love the fact the gate has like seven stripes, which I guess can be interpreted as the seven deadly SINS!... Then in terms of the “Deluxe Edition”, what you see there was actually a last-minute addition. Because what happened was, we originally had this baby sitting in Heaven - naked and looking back, and surrounded by fluffy clouds. But because we couldn’t clear it - his parents didn’t want him to be on the cover of an album called “Born Sinner” - the artists we were working with, Hugo & Marie, came up with this weird-looking figure that looks devilish but at the same time doesn’t look EVIL. You know, although he’s black with the horns on him, at the same time we put a halo ABOVE him. And then the fact the background is all-white does kinda suggest he could actually be in HEAVEN!… So yeah, I guess I love the kinda MYSTERY of it all!”

The album’s forthcoming single - the TLC-featuring, self-empowering “Crooked Smile”

”Crooked Smile” is a song where I’m basically talking about what society would consider my flaws, physically and appearance-wise. Because, you know, there’s always somebody out there who’s gonna remind you - whether it be on Twitter, or on some blog, or at some barber-shop, whatever - of what they think is WRONG with you! Which with me happens to be my smile and my thick EYEBROWS! Which is why I had this idea of like ‘Man, you know what I’ll do? I’ll take these things that society is saying are wrong with me and I’ll embrace it and own it and flip it and use it to EMPOWER people!’! You know, I basically wanted to tell them ‘Yo, if I can get to where I’M at with these things they say are important - but that really aren’t - then you can do the SAME!’!... So yeah, I’m really just trying to prove that these things don’t MATTER.”


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