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#1 J Cole


Lyrics 9

“They thought it was words, but it was pictures i saw, and since i wanted to draw…” … he became one of the last few lyricists to make it. Cut from the cloth of the golden era of Hip Hop, Cole is a student of the game who puts his pen to work. He puts tremendous thought into his lyrics, yet he’s not bar-heavy, instead at this point of his career he’s more of a songmaker who uses a style that’s extremely relatable. In that regard Cole is the epitome of less is more, trading in a barrage of lyrics for all the right notes, making sure you feel the impact of every word. While his critics focus on his misfires that’s ultimately the highest compliment, as nobody’s pen is under more of a microscope then Cole, and his detractors (even more than his fans) hang on to on every syllable of every word. Here’s the bottom line, if 99% is hot and 1% is lukewarm, you aren’t being objective if the outliers are what you judge him by.

Delivery 10

“The game is to get, a bunch of paper just to change your fucking neighbors and shit, i swear if ***** put half of what they put in chasing ass, into a craft, by now you’d be famous and rich” I’ve said it before if you don’t like Cole’s delivery Hip Hop may not be your thing. That of course being the same Hip Hop where Big, Jay, Andre 300, etc. are cemented as some of the game’s best spitters, you know the same legends who established the prototype of how to rap and make their words flow? Cole is a student of the craft when it comes to delivery, an effortless spitter who can flow with the legends, regardless of whether newer talent has popularized faster/discombobulated rhythms that serves him no purpose. No matter how many night clubs or fly whips would rather play mumble rap until they hypebeast us to oblivion, Cole can articulate his point in ways that is fluid, clear, and melodic, with range and flexibility as well no matter if his critics don't like to admit it (Who Dat doesn’t sound like Love Yourz, just like She Knows doesn’t sound like Too Deep For The Intro - let’s put that baseless narrative to rest.) At the end of the day real spitters respect Cole because that’s the cloth that he’s cut from, and disregarding the Twittersphere he has one of the most coveted flows in the game.

Structure/Songwriting 10

“I love it when she give me head… I hate it when she give me headaches” Cole can write a song, a hit song, in fact many hit songs which is evident once you see him selling out tours and headlining festivals around the globe. Unlike some wordsmiths who bar your life away but have no familiarity with a hook or a bridge, Cole’s song making ability (amongst anything else) is what’s catapulted him from the underground contrary to so many great MC’s before him. Work Out, Power Trip, Lights Please, Can’t Get Enough, Nobody’s Perfect, Wet Dreamz, No Role Modelz, and Crooked Smile to name only a few charted songs, that is if you don’t count others like Apparently, Love Yourz, In The Morning, Fire Squad, Blow Up, Let Nas Down, A Tale of Two Citiez, and Night Job, along with so many more. The idea that Jay held back his first album in search of finding hit records looks ill-advised now, as Cole’s entire framework for music revolves around cohesion and stability, demonstrated by how his fans are incredibly diverse (all colors/all ages) and they can sing along to every word.

Content/Meaning 10

“I was such a cunning child, the one your girl’s mama wish she brought back home instead of you, the one your mama glad you hung around…” … if you read that and didn’t contort your face to say… damn... that’s real… again the embodiment of Hip Hop as we know it may not be for you. Essentially there’s so many lyrics from so many of his songs that inevitably have more meaning than most rapper’s entire identity. While fashion raps and swag surfing dominates the landscape of social media, Cole taps into the hearts and minds of those who put the music first; a formula of dope beats, dope rhymes, and smooth delivery all confined within a balance of despair and inspiration. While his critics recklessly categorize him as superficial in comparison to his contemporary Kendrick Lamar, they apparently disregard the significance of an underdog story, a talented artist from the middle of nowhere who made it with a dollar and a dream and unparalleled work ethic. Do they listen when he says ain’t no such thing as a life that’s better than yours? Do they hear him when he asks the lord to get his demons out? Do they pay attention when he goes at the President of the United States and the system as a whole on live television, performed on a national stage with controversial music that’s not even for sale? The critics apparently don’t, but the people certainly do, thus Cole is undeniably one of the most meaningful artists of our generation.

Self Made 10

“Who made the beats hot, cl or pete rock, or was it a perfect marriage? Me i’m both in one, my beats got me this chain, my raps got me this range, my diamond chain the clearest” this category was created for J Cole, and honestly was founded by Kanye West. It’s an unfathomable attribute considering how so few acquire it, as from 2pac to Big to Jay to Nas not one person on Hip Hop’s Mt. Rushmore could rap and produce. Dr. Dre of course didn’t write so he doesn’t count, and while Kanye’s rise through the ranks was groundbreaking to say the least, there’s like 8 or 9 kardashians/reasons to make you question the entire creative process at this point - more on that later. Eminem did put in some classic work for a few years although that reign was short-lived, still taking into account its worldwide impact has probably still been unsurpassed to this day. Yet in any event while it’s not at all a detriment to any MC who stays away from production, it’s an inevitable testament to the overall talent of the MC who does, thus leading to the status of J Cole. Just like his lyrics and delivery, Cost Me A Lot doesn’t sound like Lost Ones, while Miss America doesn’t sound like Farewell, therefore his range in production is evident disregarding any conventional wisdom.

Image/Branding 10

“Born sinner was never born to be perfect” and as a man of the people, not above but equal, he unquestionably has one of the best brands in the game. While his capital and revenue can’t compete with the close-to-billionaire mogul he’s signed to, he operates in a completely different lane, finding an unforeseen balance in Hip Hop where as a multimillionaire he’s still seen by many as the undisputed people’s champion. Cole once described that balance in an early interview when he said “people can relate to me, but at the same time they feel like they also want to be like me,” the best qualities to have with so many in need of inspiration. The people have also told him he makes “the struggle seem beautiful,” an ode to how he speaks for the disenfranchised or anyone wanting to better their life, therefore speaking for anyone with dreams or more or less anyone with a pulse.

Sales 9

“Is this bout skills, or is this bout sales, cause, either fucking way…” they’re pretty much all less than him at the moment, disregarding the primes of Jay, Nas, Outkast, etc., in the recent era of Hip Hop J Cole is dominating across the board. Outselling far more popular artists in today’s climate by a landslide (Future, Fabolous, Chance The Rapper, etc), he even annihilated Rick Ross with one release in Forest Hills Drive - 360 first week to Ross’s two releases that same year in Mastermind - 180 & Hood Billionaire - 75, a decisive win with 100,000 to spare. Yet all the same Cole is in the same bracket as Kendrick, Nicki, and Kanye, and doesn’t at all outsell the likes of Drake, Jay, or Eminem, thus that’s one more ladder to climb if he’s to one day be the irrefutable King.

Ability to Rock an Instrumental at a Radio Station 10

“Just saw Mac Miller that ****** got mad millers, the rap Brad Miller and even a tad iller, you see me salute me, it’s crazy the way they do me, you would feel me if you ****** knew me” Check the stats, Cole can ride any instrumental they throw him. Unlike the bevy of new artists who run from this challenge and apparently can’t even spit their writtens, Cole as a student of the game understands the importance of such a moment, and to date he’s taken advantage of every opportunity. As far as I can tell he’s also the only elite MC who has spit a capella on the Breakfast Club as well, a request he wasn’t ready for yet he bodied it all the same. It should be noted that in this freestyle he even references content said earlier in the interview, a show of genius that makes you consider his ability to improvise, another rare attribute in itself.

Ability to Fuck Up a Rewind Button 10

“Felt naked cause the boy rock about a thousand chains, guess we rock a lot of ice cause we got a lot of pain, that’s 500 years of swellin i’m tryin tell em…” Cole is the original fuck up your rewind button, as of course that's his lyric and a motto he lives by. Cole says some shit whether some want to admit it or not. All real rappers respect this type of pen, and they acknowledge an effortless flow when they hear one, thus when he spits there’s nothing else to say other than that man’s the truth. How this compares to his main contemporary is interesting, as talented as Kendrick is he doesn’t rap as precise, not to say his sword isn’t as sharp it’s just far more abstract and therefore less direct. Take their Black Friday records for example, when you think of Cole’s contribution you immediately think of “Sold out the Garden I should play for the Knicks,” and the outro that alludes to a project we’re all patiently waiting for. In contrast I struggle to think of any specific lyrics from Kendrick, yet I can describe how his record makes me feel, a testament to his own skill set that’s far different from making you say “wait take that last part back!!!…”

Longevity 10

“When you make a list of the greatest am i on it? Maybe not yet but bitch I got the clock set, It goes tick tock, game on lock…” and that’s where he stands today. If he died today he’d be a legend without question, and honestly he’s solidified himself among rap’s elite to the point where he doesn’t have much left to prove. To date he has three albums, three official mixtapes, and maybe 50 miscellaneous records or features which in some cases is what he’s most acclaimed for. Which begs the question if he has a classic album that will be played long past his career. By name and by theme I believe the Born Sinner album is a triumph that will gain more traction over time, as even the imagery of the album cover is iconic in itself, a tribute to the halo and set of horns that will forever define him as an artist. Most recently his Forest Hills Drive album has only taken his career to new heights, most notably on behalf of his HBO miniseries and documentary that will forever be in their catalogue. Ultimately he’s already done enough to be remembered, yet there’s no reason to think he won’t continue to grow in the many years to come.

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