J. Cole at James L. Knight Center September 10
How many rappers are there with multiple number-ones and college degrees? How many rappers ignore the media circus, refusing to change who they are physically or morally? How many rappers are immediately embraced by the biggest names in the industry while spitting cold hard truth?
On second thought, maybe we should call it Cole hard truth, because J. Cole must be the only man who fits this lofty description. Here are five reasons he's the real deal.
Dude's actually mad smart. Most rappers like to talk about how they never had a backup plan, and even Cole's mentor, Kanye West, made a career off dropping out of school, but this dude isn't 'bout that ignorant life. It's true that he moved from his home in North Carolina to New York City, chasing a hip-hop dream. But instead of just hustling, selling drugs, or pushing mixtapes, Cole applied himself and earned a college degree from St. John's University. He majored in communication and minored in business, graduating magna cum laude.
He is Jay Z's protégé. Jay Z is a busy man. Because, y'know, he's "a business, man." And it takes a lot to make an impression on Hova. So when Cole was coming up, he stood outside Jay's Roc the Mic Studios for three hours to try to give the boss a beat, and though he was brushed aside, he didn't give up. It worked out in the end, because as soon as Jay heard the young stunner rhyme, he put him on his track "A Star Is Born" on The Blueprint 3.
He keeps it real. Cole hasn't let the limelight change him, and so far, that's been a good thing. He often raps about how surprising his success has been, especially because he hasn't given in and started playing the pop game. He rhymes about learning to love oneself, making a huge hit out of a song about not following advice that he should fix his "Crooked Smile" just because he can. In a world of Photoshopped fakes, a real face is something to be proud of.
He knows how to handle a scandal. Rap is all about pushing the boundaries, and it's an art form that comes straight from the streets. That being said, sometimes rappers can use language that, while seemingly innocuous to them, comes off as extremely offensive to the rest of the world. That's what happened to the usually positive Cole on his track "Jodeci Freestyle," a collaboration with Drake. Cole compared other, lesser rappers to people with autism, and once the song received some airplay, autism groups got real angry. But instead of letting the situation fester and denying the problem (looking at you, Rick Ross), he quickly penned a personal apology, writing "to all those overcoming Autism. You deserve medals, not disrespect. I hope you accept my sincere apology."
He has a real lyrical message and a tight flow. Cole doesn't rap about bitches, money, drug dealing, and pimping. Well, maybe he does, but only to point out that glorifying such a desperate lifestyle is both irresponsible of his peers and destructive to young hip-hop fans around the globe. Cole is the real deal because he takes the time to question rap's clichés and remind the world's youth that each one of them is special and capable. He accepts his position as a role model, and he accepts that not everyone is perfect, but that doesn't mean we can't all strive to be better every day.
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