J. Cole speaks on his early days with Roc Nation, his production style, whether or not he likes Lil B and if he smokes weed.
J. Cole has a come a long way since his debut mixtape projects and signing with Roc Nation. Like with many rappers trying to come up, Cole learned to rap by imitating his idols. However, as he's gotten more mature and progressed in the rap game, Cole developed his own distinct sound, both in his bars and his beats. His sound is one that merges pop and rap so that Cole has mainstream appeal, but is able to remain true hip-hop at the same time.
The Dreamville rapper recently spoke on his production style, Lil B, his early days at Roc Nation, whether or not he smokes weed, and more during an interview with Noisey. As fans await Cole's upcoming album, Born Sinner, read some excerpts from the interview below.
Tell me about your early days when you had just signed with Roc Nation.
That shit was mad fun. It was so fresh and new. I had just got signed. I don’t think I even had my advance yet, and they were talking about going on tour with Wale, ‘cause Wale was doing a promo tour and had just put his first single. And we would drive down and meet him—we weren’t really on the tour, you know what I mean? So if he was doing the University of Virginia, we would drive to Norfolk, or if he was doing Baltimore, we’d drive down there. So we was following the tour certain places but we weren’t technically on tour. It felt cool, because me and my homeboys would just ride in the car, it would be like four of us in either my little Honda. It was just mad innocent, you know?
We did Norfolk, and after the show, just me and my homeboys went right around the corner to the Karaoke bar, we just went around the corner to the Karaoke bar, doing Michael Jackson and shit, and then Wale walks in. I guess he was walking by and heard us in there. I had more opportunities to do regular shit cause nobody knew who the fuck I was. So it was the best of both worlds, I got to be on stage doing what the fuck I do, then I got the anonymous part, which I love, you know what I mean? That shit is gone forever now.
For some reason I could just see you liking him. I don’t really know why.
I think a lot of people rode his wave and took it further than he did. You know? I feel like he introduced this counterculture shit, and just being mad weird and different, and I feel like other people came and did that and actually took it further. You know what I mean? So he’s almost the originator for some of these guys.
Describe where your production’s at now.
I hit a zone this past year. It started about a year ago. I remember in my crib, in January. I could hear a clear difference of where I progressed sonically, especially the past four, five months. It’s effortless now, and I’m just following my heart and doing the things I like to do. It’s turning into some of the wildest shit I’ve ever done, and it’s turning into some shit that I can’t point at anything that’s close to it. Back in the days when I made my beats I could be like, “Oh that sounds like a Dre beat,” or, “That sounds like a Kanye beat,” or, “That sounds like a Timbaland beat.” Now I can’t. It’s just a mesh of all this shit.
Now they sound like Cole beats.
Exactly. Which is exactly how I started rapping. The first shit I recorded sounded like Eminem married Nas and had a baby and he made a song and that’s how I sounded. And then my next song sounded like a Canibus clone, and then my next song sounded like this, and before I knew it, in two, three years I had my own sound. And before I knew it, in six years I really had my own style, and that’s how I feel that finally happened with production.
Do you smoke weed?
In the studio. Socially, can’t do it. Fucks me up. I’m too paranoid. I don’t really do it much at all, period. But if I’m feeling extra good, or if I need a different perspective, I smoke maybe a few times a year, just to give me a new outlook. I wish I could smoke. All my homeboys do—I wish I could smoke and just relax like them. I can’t. My mind is already on one thousand and that shit takes it to a million.