The Journey of J. Cole's Career
4 min read
Yes that one.
Fayetteville, North Carolina's Jermaine Cole, depending on who you ask, is often considered a GOAT of the industry in terms of his lyricism, production, and ability to "go platinum with no features." From his first mixtape in 2007, The Come Up, to his most recent album in 2021, The Off-Season, Cole has gone from a young rapper trying to make it to a peer among the greats.
1999-2008: Early work and The Come Up
Growing up, J. Cole wasn't really interested in pursuing a career in music as he was more focused on Basketball, his education, and supporting his family.
Not until the early 2000s when his mother bought him an ASR-X music sampler did he actually start to pursue a career in rapping/music production. And in 2002 when he bought the Roland TR-808 drum machine, he started to post his music on various internet forums under the monikers of Blaza and Therapist.
And in 2007 Cole dropped his first mixtape, The Come Up with samples from Ye West, Nas, Jay-Z, and Ghostface Killah while also starting Dreamville Records.
2009 - 2015: Roc Nation signing and going Platinum
In 2009 when Cole released The Warm Up he had already appeared on Jay Z's The Blueprint 3 and Wale's album Attention Deficit. He also became the first artist signed by Roc Nation after previously standing out in the rain just to meet Jay Z. And in the following year he was featured in Beyond Race's 50 Great Breakthrough Artists and XXL 2010 Freshman Class a yearly publication that focuses and promotes new and rising artists.
In 2011, Cole began to network with other growing artists as much as possible. He toured with Drake in the UK and produced for Kendrick Lamar, while also working with Rihanna and Trey Songz in their music video for Can't Get Enough. By the end of 2011 Cole released his first studio album Cole World: The Sideline Story which became his first Platinum album practically showcasing his breakthrough into the rap scene and wish to be among the greats. And in 2012 Cole was nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammys.
2013 and 2014 was 2 big years for J Cole's career as he released 2 studio albums. His second album Born Sinner went double platinum off its release and carried through with his promise of solidifying himself among the greats. Cole stated that the album's intention was to "reinvigorate himself both mentally and creatively." And in 2014 Cole released one of the greatest albums, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, as it was one of the first albums to go platinum without any features. With this album Cole wished to recount his unique but relatable upbringing. He speaks about the transition from leaving North Carolina to New York to what it took in order to find his success and fame.
Cole's own recording company released Revenge of the Dreamers with all the artists within the record label as well in 2014. and also released Revenge of the Dreamers II in 2015
2016-2020: Music with Interscope
Exactly 2 years after 2014 Forest Hills Drive, J Cole released 4 Your Eyez Only which again went platinum with no features. In this album Cole takes inspiration from an old friend's tragic life story of selling crack to falling in love and starting a family.
From 2016-2018 Cole led a relatively quiet life after going on tour, but in 2018 Cole released KOD in which he gives commentary on the twisted nature of capitalism, unfaithfulness, and addiction. Rather than his usual themes of talking about his or someone else's life, Cole decided to use his platform in the rap scene to try to have an open discussion with the world. And after touring for the album, Cole became more and more active in being apart of the social scene of the NBA.
In 2019 Cole released the third Dreamville album Revenge of the Dreamers III, and in 2020 he collaborated with Puma to release his own shoe teasing his future album
Present: His Latest Albums and what his plan is for the future
At the start of 2021, Cole released The Off-Season where he talks about the pandemic and trying to live modestly even though he is rich and famous. He also uses the album to reflect on his previous successes. Although not much is known on his plans for the future Cole has said that he plans on releasing 2 more albums before retiring from music. But this will likely be after he makes another Revenge of the Dreamers.