By Lindsey Reynolds | Reporter
1985 he arrived. In light of North Carolina-based rapper Jermaine Lamarr Cole’s (J. Cole) 34th birthday on Tuesday, many have taken time to reflect on his influence upon the music industry and on the rap genre specifically.
J. Cole is a Grammy nominated rapper, songwriter and producer out of Fayetteville, N.C. His mixtape “The Come Up” gained him initial recognition when he released it in 2007. After signing to New York rapper Jay-Z’s Roc Nation imprint in 2009, Cole released back-to-back mixtapes “The Warm Up” and “Friday Night Lights.” The two tapes attracted the attention of the music industry and foreshadowed a career that would demand the respect of his peers and predecessors alike.
During the arrangement of “The Come Up,” Cole decided to branch out from Roc Nation in order to start his own record label, Dreamville Records. His succeeding albums over the years have been certified platinum and have topped the charts of Billboard’s 200. He has also had numerous Grammy nominations for his classic sound, convicting lyrics and timeless compositions.
Themes of social injustice are woven throughout his ballads. His most recent album “K.O.D.” (Kill Our Demons), released in the spring of 2018, speaks about the manifestations of addiction and substance abuse. Despite the heaviness of the album, Cole’s words uplifted his audiences by encouraging them to forsake the mindset that perpetuates the glamorization of drugs and addiction. In a genre that predominantly glorifies drug use, Cole’s album deviated from the norm and spoke against what other musicians have chosen to idolize through their music.
Fort Worth senior Kennedy Franklin, grew up in the music industry due to the success of her father, the legendary gospel singer, songwriter and producer Kirk Franklin.
In a conversation Kennedy Franklin had with her dad, he noted that J. Cole consistently sells out his tours and concerts, which is a feat only accomplished by the greats in the music industry. Kirk Franklin said most of the time J. Cole’s shows only include him, a stool and a microphone—no antics, fancy lights or background dancers.
“He (Cole) doesn’t rap about nonsense, not about going to the club and spending money, and he doesn’t talk about women in a demeaning way,” Kennedy Franklin said. “He talks about real stuff. He is an influential person, and he knows that. That’s why I think he talks about real things in his songs.”
Cole’s lyrics and stage presence aren’t the only things that separate him from his fellow artists. His ambition extended beyond his music into his academic endeavors.
Pocahontas, Ark. senior Kenneth Hanson, a fellow rapper and audio engineer, said he admires J. Cole’s low-key temperament and incredibly refined word play.
“What makes J. Cole different is that he pushed himself educationally,” Hanson said. “He attended and graduated from St. John’s University magna cum laude. He is a very smart man and I think that shows in his wordplay and in his lyricism.”
Cole is a persistent advocate of bringing better education to at-risk youth. He has rapped many times about his taxes funding bills and initiatives that do not align with his own beliefs, and how he would rather his tax money provide for better schools in urban cities with high crime rates.
In 2011, as an extension of his record label, Cole founded a nonprofit called The Dreamville Foundation. Through this organization, the community of Fayetteville is able to help the youth of Cole’s hometown through book clubs, workshops, fundraisers and other events. The foundation’s mission is to motivate kids to “dream, believe, and achieve.”
“I want to start the process of showing them there are other options besides what’s on the screen,” Cole says in his mission statement. “They don’t have to be a rapper or an athlete; there are people who manage the rappers, who book the shows. There are so many jobs you can do; this is about expanding their minds to those possibilities.
With one foot in a toxic industry and another grounded by the roots of his community, Cole’s ability to relate to a diversified audience is what stretches his influence beyond the hip hop genre and validates the longevity of that very influence.
“He makes a lot of quotes about how it’s not about money and it’s not about the fame,” Hanson said. “It’s about the people you surround yourself with. Hearing that from someone who’s so successful, I think it’s really respectable. It gives people a positive role model in the rap game to look up to.”