Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1084

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Feature

J. Cole: Hot Cole

J. Cole @bluesandsoul.com
J. Cole @bluesandsoul.com J. Cole @bluesandsoul.com J. Cole @bluesandsoul.com J. Cole @bluesandsoul.com

The first signing to megastar rapper Jay-Zâs Roc Nation label, 28-year-old North Carolina-raised MC J. Cole this month delivers his eagerly-anticipated sophomore album âBorn Sinnerâ Which - currently pioneered by its Miguel-featuring, US R&B Top Five single âPower Tripâ - marks the follow-up to his US-chart-topping 2011 debut set âCole World: The Sideline Storyâ.

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 heâd 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 âTherapistâ.

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 (2007âs âThe Come Upâ; 2009âs âThe Warm Upâ; 2010âs âFriday Night Lightsâ), in addition to guesting on both âAll I Want Is Youâ - the American Top 10 debut single from aforementioned R&B vocalist Miguel - plus Jay-Zâs US Number One/internationally-successful 2009 album âThe Blueprint 3â. 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 âCole World: The Sideline Storyâ.

⦠Which in turn neatly brings us back today, and the release of âBorn Sinnerâ. As a highly-personable and instantly-receptive Mr. Cole (whoâs interestingly also a graduate of St. Johns University, New York) reacquaints himself with âBlues & Soulâ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis at Sony Musicâs buzzing Kensington HQ to discuss said new album. Whose moods range from the tough, head-nodding beats of the storytelling âLAnd Of The Snakesâ and darkly-powerful âRun Awayâ to the more melodic R&B-flavours of the TLC-featuring âCrooked Smileâ and sax-accompanied, lyrically-outstanding âLet Nas Downâ.

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

âWell, 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 peopleâs 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 youâre like âOh shit, did I REALLY just escape?â!â

J. Coleâs views on how âBorn Sinnerâ has turned out musically and lyrically

âWell, now that itâs 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) âPower Tripâ 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!â

The albumâs eye-catching artwork - which has been described as âstark yet stunningâ

âYeah, 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 itâs turned out is that you canât really tell whether itâs 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 âDeluxe Editionâ, 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 couldnât clear it - his parents didnât want him to be on the cover of an album called âBorn Sinnerâ - the artists we were working with, Hugo & Marie, came up with this weird-looking figure that looks devilish but at the same time doesnât look EVIL. You know, although heâs 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!â

The albumâs forthcoming single - the TLC-featuring, self-empowering âCrooked Smileâ

âCrooked Smileâ is a song where Iâm basically talking about what society would consider my flaws, physically and appearance-wise. Because, you know, thereâs always somebody out there whoâs 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 âMan, you know what Iâll do? Iâll take these things that society is saying are wrong with me and Iâll embrace it and own it and flip it and use it to EMPOWER people!â! You know, I basically wanted to tell them âYo, if I can get to where IâM at with these things they say are important - but that really arenât - then you can do the SAME!â!... So yeah, Iâm really just trying to prove that these things donât MATTER.â

TO READ MORE FROM THIS INTERVIEW WITH J. COLE CHECK OUT OUR PRINT ISSUE - CLICK BELOW OR VISIT YOUR LOCAL MAG OUTLET (inc: WH SMITH AND JOHN MENZIES)
Words PETE LEWIS

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