J. Cole is not your everyday rapper—or at least the J. Cole of the past couple years isn’t. The Fayetteville native has moved away from traditional values of hip-hop—things he previously pursued like fame, money, and besting your rivals—in search of love and wisdom. On his quest to evolve as a person, he’s shied away from most press exposure.
The New York Times landed a rare interview with Jermaine, in advance of the rapper’s second HBO special premiering on Saturday. The article attempted to dissect his evolution. It’s an interesting piece with a number of quotable moments.
Cole addressed his early-career desires to get rich and famous, and how he's grown out of that frame of mind.
“The other side, it’s what we grow up believing that we need and want. It’s everybody’s dream,” he said. “Who doesn’t want the pick of the litter on this, that and the third? Money, women, cars. And beyond all of that—which I really wasn’t into—praise.”
And yet, though he “made it” (did you know he went platinum with no features?) Cole was unsatisfied.
“Any reasonable person would be ecstatic,” he said. “I didn’t have that feeling.”
Since he realized that truth, Cole has shunned the norm and become more socially conscious. He’s also shunned putting other rappers down in his music.
“That speaks to the state of us as a people,” he said. “For so long my mind state was, I have to show how much better than the next man I am through these bars. Who’s the best? Let me prove it. And it’s just like, damn, I’m really feeding into a cycle of keeping black people down, I’m really feeding into that.”
Cole released 4 Your Eyez Only, his fourth studio album, in December. The hour-long HBO special will be similarly titled: “J. Cole: 4 Your Eyez Only.” The special includes documentary footage of Cole traveling around the Midwest and Southern United States and participating in conversations about race, politics, white supremacy, black resilience, and more. According to the Times, Cole is usually listening.
“I felt like it would be mad powerful for black people to see black people talking to each other,” Cole said. “And you see a rapper who’s considered one of the biggest in the game, just listening.”
He hopes the film, which he co-directed, encourages others to listen. "J. Cole: 4 Your Eyez Only" will debut at 10 p.m. EST Saturday and will also be available on HBO streaming services.