J. Cole just dropped his fourth LP, 4 Your Eyez Only. Cole only recently announced that the album was forthcoming, and whet fans' collective appetites with the controversy-baiting single "False Prophets," and and videos for it and another track "Everybody Dies." Neither song was officially going to be on ...Eyez... but it showed that Cole still knew how to get people talking.
Back in 2014, the campaign for his previous album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, was also as innovative as anything we've ever seen from an artist on the scale of Cole, with the rapper going as far as inviting fans to his North Carolina childhood home for a private listening of the project prior to release. Well, his endearing tactics must've rubbed the buying public the right way because when the first-week sales results were verified, Forest Hills Drive had managed to move an impressive 361,120 copies. The results earned the 29-year-old his third consecutive No. 1 debut on the Billboard charts.
More than just a skilled rapper, Cole has the distinction of being an MC -- an artist that can truly move the crowd and speak to and for the people. He can also be entertaining while not sacrificing anything in the lyrical department, putting him in the company of other stars as Drake and Kendrick Lamar as the leading voices of the current generation.
In celebration of J. Cole's successful transition from promising newcomer to bona fide star, we've compiled the best songs from his catalog that define him as an artist and display the best of what Carolina's posterboy has to offer. These selections are taken from material he's crafted before his third album. Did your favorite track make the cut? Check out 20 J. Cole Songs That Made You a Fan below.
In celebration of reaching two million followers on Twitter in 2012, J. Cole decided to toss the fans some fresh meat in the form of this stream-of-conscious track 'Grew Up Fast.' From dissing Diggy Simmons to offering to take him under his wing in the same breath to blasting suckers MC's, Cole managed to leave fans in awe yet again with this buzz-worthy loosie.
'In the Morning' Feat. Drake'Friday Night Lights' Mixtape
Around the same time that 'The Warm Up' made Cole one of the most mentioned whenever it came to talks of the hottest new MC's in the game, OVO head honcho Drake was also making waves with his highly acclaimed 'So Far Gone' mixtape. Before long, whispers of who was actually the more promising of the two started to emerge. Instead of the two engaging in the lyrical brawl we all wanted, they opted to play nice and record a track together instead, resulting in the Cole and Drizzy collaboration 'In the Morning.'
Previously released as a solo track featuring three Cole verses, both upstarts tacked on a brand new verse in addition to the original first verse on the record. While it's unclear as to who was the actual victor, what we do know is that this remained a pretty dope song after the hype died down -- and that Drake's aunt rides equestrian, of course.
'Rise and Shine''Cole World: The Sideline Story'
"It's a n---- right now, somewhere. He at the table witta bowl of Apple Jacks and he's reading the back of the cereal, and in between eating the Apple Jacks, he writing some s--- and he wants my spot. I'ma find him though, I'ma sign him. I don't want no problems," Jay Z says on the intro to this track.
Hov must've been a prophet of sorts because those words that were spoken on the flick 'Backstage' came to fruition a little over a decade later, with J. Cole turning out to be that kid in question. With that being said, on 'Rise and Shine,' Cole decided to go for broke with bars galore without much regard for song-making, sticking strictly to the punchlines, metaphors and barrage of witty couplets. Everyone from Cole Brown and Shane Battier catch a stiff-arm on this one while the Dreamville boss runs roughshod over the self-produced track. Job well done, if we must say.
'I Get Up''The Warm Up' Mixtape
'I Get Up' is the most socially conscious number on 'The Warm Up,' but sounds far from contrived. Speaking on the plights of the hood from an optimistic view, he raps, "A Fresh Prince, but my yo city ain't no Bel-Air / F--- if you excel, I'm worried' bout my welfare / So farewell to them broke days, and bonjour to the most paid / Soon as my dough straight, I'll throw the wifey in some Dolce, and put some chains on my n----s like I own slaves." He takes a stab at crooked politicians and gives motivational words to those stuck in the struggle as well. 'I Get Up' serves as evidence that Cole actually has something to say aside from musings of chicks, whips and excess, and actually makes it appealing at that.
'Dreams' Feat. Brandon Hines'The Warm Up' Mixtape
J. Cole crafts an impressive tale of lust and envy with the potent 'Dreams.' Assisted by crooner Brandon Hines, Cole raps about the apple of his eye -- who happens to already be in a relationship -- and his twisted plans to win her over and get her significant other out of the picture in the process. Diabolic lines like, "So, I find out the n---- name, know exactly where he stayin' / Find out when he leave for work, hold up, n----, is you sane? / I'ma follow in my car, I'ma cut in front of his / Run him right into the wall, maybe even off the bridge." Kinda sounds like a treatment from a certain hit music video, huh?
'Cost Me a Lot''Friday Night Lights' Mixtape
"What can I do, it's cost me a lot." With that opening Nina Simone sample, J. Cole begins the aptly-titled 'Friday Night Lights' standout, 'Cost Me a Lot,' and more than impresses. "Just one of them days, a n---- feel like flossin', a stone-cold stunner, bitch, I'm Steve Austin / Cool as Drew Brees, I'm blowing a few G's, just to hear them hoes say that he's awesome, he's awful," he raps before going on a stuntastic rampage. Moments of inferiority -- from getting fronted on by the doormen at the club to his jewelry game lacking in comparison to industry peers such as Waka Flocka -- are shared with brutal honesty amid bars of vengeful opulence. Not to mention this is one of the most sonically infectious tracks on arguably Jermaine's most beloved tape. Score.
'Lights Please''The Warm Up' Mixtape
After being discovered by Mark Pitts, President of Urban Music at RCA Records and CEO of Bystorm Entertainment, and inking a deal with Jay Z's Roc Nation, J. Cole released his second mixtape, 'The Warm Up,' in 2009. Although a free release, the de facto single from the project was the self-produced 'Lights Please.' Centered around Cole's notorious struggle with misogynistic tendencies and knowledge of self, the song is noted as the one track that piqued the interest of Hov. We all know the rest of the story by now.
'Throw It Up''The Come Up' Mixtape
Before J. Cole would surface on a national level, he released a mixtape with New York City DJ OnPoint for his debut mixtape, 'The Come Up.' Consisting of a slew of raps over classic beats with a few of his own original tunes sprinkled in, the tape was a glimpse of what Cole would eventually become. While the project lacks any complete fails, one selection that stood out in particular was the enticing 'Throw It Up.'
J. Cole sounds hungry for the next level on this outing, spitting aggressive lines like, "I never sleep, n---- / I gotta get them mills, I never cheat, n---- / My heart is with the Ville / Where n----s greet n----s with hollow tips, but chill / You'll never reach, n----, I gotta itch to kill." Although many casual fans may be unfamiliar with this track, die-hard Cole supporters are more than familiar with this banger and gets our nod of approval.
'Crunch Time''Truly Yours' EP
With nearly a year-and-a-half having passed since the release of a proper J. Cole project, the MC returned in February of 2013 with a new batch of songs packaged as an EP, 'Truly Yours.' Out of the five songs featured, the one that truly resonated with listeners was the soulful 'Crunchtime.' J. Cole spins a tale of himself as a young hustler on his own, resorting to stick-ups to pay the bills. He also takes on the role of a blue-collar worker with aspirations of being a rap artist, all while coping with the stress of a nagging girlfriend and slow progress. Powered by bluesy guitar strums and steady kicks and snares, 'Crunch Time' serves as an audio reprieve from life, if only for the 3 minutes and 34 seconds it takes to listen.
'How High''Any Given Sunday' EP
In an effort to satisfy fans' hunger for his major label debut, Cole decided to start a series called 'Any Given Sunday,' under which he would drop unreleased songs and other surprises for his supporters. In all, there were five editions of the series, with three (No. 1, No. 2 and No. 5) consisting of music and the remaining two featured as a uStream with the rapper sharing exclusive songs and the latest updates on his project and career.
Well, while the songs from all editions were definitely treats, the one out of the bunch that has stuck with listeners the most is the sublime song, 'How High,' which is featured on the series' first edition.
Produced by Cole, the track has a laid-back, smoked-out feel to it, which is appropriate being that it's a song about, well, getting high. Three air-tight verses and a catchy hook mixed with a positive message thinly veiled with references to the mary jane make for a certified banger and helped keep Cole's buzz alive while cultivating his LP.
'Cole Summer''Truly Yours 2' EP
"Now this right here is not a preview / Of what the album gon' bring you or nothing like that / Sharing things I think quietly with those that admire me / 'Member 'MTV Diary,' this something like that," J. Cole rhymes at the start of 'Cole Summer.'
Those lines signaled that J. Cole's long-awaited sophomore effort would not arrive for at least a few more months, but it also meant that he had another batch of tracks to quiet groans about the delay. 'Cole Summer' takes bits of Lauryn Hill's 'Nothing Even Matters' and mixes them up in a pot, resulting in this fan-favorite of a track. From begging L-Boogie not to sue him to name-tagging the tig-ol-bitties of Tia and Tamera of 'Sister Sister' fame and other humorous commentary, Hollywood Cole gets the job done yet again and helped set the cries for 'Born Sinner' at a fever pitch.
'See World''Friday Night Lights' Mixtape
'See World' is the kind of heart-wrenching recording that J. Cole fans champion him for. Touching on the brutal death and sexual abuse of a young Fayetteville, N.C. child, the Dreamville artist with a heart went in the booth to lay this scathing open letter to the perpetrators of the hideous crime. Sharing his thoughts over a beat inspired by Tupac's 'Pain,' the rapper spits poignant lines. "That girl was 5 years old that they just murdered / And did some wicked s--- to her that was unheard of / You f---ing coward / Ain't gotta tell 'em go to hell, 'cause that's the s--- that makes them other n----s sick in jail / So you gon' feel it," he rhymes, in addition to speaking on detractors and struggles while navigating the game.
'Kenny Lofton' Feat. Jeezy'Truly Yours 2' Mixtape
After giving us a well-deserved treat with 'Truly Yours,' Cole threw out another EP for good measure. 'Truly Yours 2,' a six-track project, dropped at the end of April 2013. The world felt like a better place, with Cole supporters in a frenzy and his notorious detractors supposedly lulled to sleep. 'Cole Summer' was a solid appetizer, but the following track on the tape, 'Kenny Lofton' is simply elite to be frank. The Canei Finch-produced beat is easily one of the best in his catalog -- at least that we know about so far. Utilizing a sample of the Manhattans' 'Hurt' and with more than enough soul to spare, Kenny Lofton finally gets his just due, not to mention being mentioned in the same breath as Jeezy, who swoops in for an unexpected, albeit fuego third verse. From start to finish, this number is nearly flawless and still leaves us scratching our head as to why a song like this didn't make the album as a single.
'Dollar and a Dream II''The Warm Up' Mixtape
The most introspective moment on 'The Warm Up' mixtape comes courtesy of the endearing 'Dollar and a Dream II.' "I got a dollar and a dream, real n----s on my team / Everything ain't what it seems / N----s hating but I love 'em even though they trying to scheme / But I'm past that, a n----'s stock is rising like the Nasdaq / They say I'm the future, but yet, I'm giving n----s flashbacks," he raps. Cole is in his zone on this one, continuing to lament and share his frustration. "I'm speaking through these bars like a n---- in the jail / Tired of sifting through my mail, I feel like Cartwright, bills."
Other solid bars like, "They shooting n----s 'fore they even tell 'em put they hands up / Crooked cops got a n---- scared to drive / Probably thinking that I'm slanging, man, I see it in their eyes," are relevant in this current climate of civil unrest. 'Dollar and a Dream II' is thoughtful, reflective and most importantly, incredibly dope.
'Sideline Story''Cole World: The Sideline Story'
His debut album, 'Cole World: The Sideline Story,' arrived on Sept. 27, 2011, to much fanfare. The project debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, selling 218,000 units in its first week of release and was evidence that Cole was more than just a blog favorite, but an artist that could actually move the needle.
While the album was considered a bit underwhelming in comparison to his previous work, it did contain a few highlights, one being the title track, 'Sideline Story.' Cole reflects on his road to the top and feels the urgency to capitalize on his golden moment. Speaking on his distant relationship with label boss Jay Z, he dismissively spits "Some n---- ask me why Jay never shout me out / Like I'm 'sposed to give a f--- / Don't you know that I be out in France / Where the fans throw they hands like Pacquiao / Not 'cause my looks, 'cause my hooks could knock Rocky out," during his close-out verse.
Powered by keys, organs and live drums, the track is indelible, making 'Sideline Story' a home-run of a selection.
Outside of 'Power Trip,' one of the more highly regarded cuts from 'Born Sinner' is 'Runaway.' On this outing, Cole breaks down the dichotomy in men and how they act when around their significant others and when faced with temptation. He speaks on the faithful women that tolerate their two-timing lovers in hopes of keeping a happy home. The track is another showcase for Cole's knack for depth and detailed, observational storytelling. And that Justin Bieber line ("Imagine if my confidence was halfway decent, yo / This just in, f---ed more bitches than Bieber though") is a standout.
'Enchanted' Feat. Omen'Friday Night Lights' Mixtape
When it comes to the songs featured on 'Friday Night Lights,' 'Too Deep for the Intro' is a hell of a tough cut, but if any selection of the tape is worthy, it is definitely 'Enchanted.' Speaking on the ills of his Fayettville stomping grounds, Cole raps, "This is where the fathers ain't livin', at least not with us / Might see 'em 'round the city and won't even say 'What's up?' / When n----s play tough, won't even smile in mirrors, and we learn to f--- hoes off trial and error" with full conviction and paints a vivid picture of nihilism and despair.
Dreamville affiliate Omen drops an enthralling guest verse, spitting, "My dreams ain't got no obituaries / My city hurtin' and none of us well-equipped here / You heard me say I was ballin', I probably meant tears," before finishing with "I'm tired of seeing dope fiends wiping they nose clean / Is my neighborhood just a smoke screen / I think I'm in the Dungeon Fam, I see low green / Sons raised by both queens, but there's no kings."
Cole closes out the affair with another impassioned verse of his own and further proves he's intent on raising the stakes this go-round.
'Lost Ones''Cole World: The Sideline Story'
With 'The Warm Up' in the can, J. Cole began gushing about material he had saved in the stash for his debut album. The one he was most exuberant about was a song called 'Lost Ones,' which the MC felt was much needed and would impact the rap world in a positive way. Unfortunately, an unfinished version of the track made its way to the blogosphere, seemingly spoiling Cole's big surprise. Looking to present the track as intended, he decided to tack the final version of the record onto 'Cole World,' and with good reason, being that it is absolutely a gem of a record.
Centered around a young couple contemplating whether to get an abortion or keep their love child, the rapper tackles the topic from both a male and female's perspective with vivid details and realistic thoughts from each. And while the track never truly got the shot it deserved, it still stands as a highlight in the rappers growing list of elite recordings.
'Power Trip' Feat. Miguel'Born Sinner'
"Got me up all night, all I'm singing is love songs," J. Cole croons on 'Power Trip,' the refrain dominating radio and other platforms in 2013. The track was the lead single to Cole's second LP, 'Born Sinner.' First off, how can you not like this song? It's virtually flawless and perfect for singing in the shower or drunk at the bar after a hit or miss with the apple of your eye. Miguel's lush vocals matched with J. Cole's radio-friendly bars and delivery forms the artist's best single to date. And the accompanying music video, with it's plot actually being inspired by a song that previously appeared on this list, 'The Warm Up' cut 'Dreams,' was also one of the year's most entertaining and original as well.
'Too Deep for the Intro''Friday Night Lights' Mixtape
Coming off the widespread success that J. Cole saw as a result of his much acclaimed 'The Warm Up,' his next project, 'Friday Night Lights' in 2010, was one of the most anticipated projects of the year -- major release or not. But the MC more than rose to the occasion, delivering what many consider is his best body of work to date.
The short intro aside, the first tune you are blessed with on the tape is the heavenly 'Too Deep for the Intro.' "Yea, man, is this too deep for the intro? If so I’ll find another use / But just in case its perfect let me introduce," Cole delivers at the start, in what is easily a top 10 selection out of his catalog. He flows effortlessly over an Erykah Badu-inspired heater and sets the table for a classic mixtape.