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J. Cole

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This article is about the American musician. For the cricketer, see J. Cole (Hampshire cricketer). For the English footballer, see Joe Cole.
J. Cole
Cole Born Sinner.jpg
Cole performing during What Dreams May Come Tour in January 2014
Born Jermaine Lamarr Cole[1]
(1985-01-28) January 28, 1985 (age 31)
Frankfurt, West Germany
  • Rapper
  • record producer
  • singer
  • songwriter
Years active 2007–present
Home town Fayetteville, North Carolina, U.S.
Spouse(s) Melissa Heholt (m. 2015)
Musical career
Genres Hip hop
  • Vocals
  • keyboards
  • guitar
  • sampler
  • piano
Associated acts

Jermaine Lamarr Cole (born January 28, 1985), better known by his stage name J. Cole, is an American hip hop recording artist and record producer. Raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Cole initially gained recognition as a rapper following the release of his debut mixtape, The Come Up, in early 2007. Intent on further pursuing a solo career as a rapper, he would go on to release two additional mixtapes after signing to Jay Z's Roc Nation imprint in 2009.

Cole would release his debut studio album, Cole World: The Sideline Story, in 2011 to critical success.[2] Cole World: The Sideline Story would debut at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200, and was soon certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).[3] His next two releases, 2013's Born Sinner and 2014's 2014 Forest Hills Drive, received mostly positive reviews from critics,[4][5][6] while being both certified platinum in the US. The latter earned him his first Grammy Award nomination for Best Rap Album. 2014 Forest Hills Drive was also the first rap album in over 25 years to gain platinum certification without any guest appearances or features.[7]

Self-taught on piano, Cole also acts as a producer alongside his hip hop career, producing singles for artists such as Kendrick Lamar and Janet Jackson, as well as handling the majority of the production in his own projects.[8] He has also developed other ventures, including Dreamville Records, as well as non-profit organization, the Dreamville Foundation.[9]

Early life[edit]

St. John's University, where Cole attended college.

Jermaine Lamarr Cole was born on January 28, 1985 at an United States Army base in Frankfurt, West Germany.[10][11] His father is an African-American former soldier for the U.S. Army,[12] and his mother is a white German who worked as a postal worker for the United States Postal Service.[13] Cole's father would later abandon the family during his youth, prompting his mother to relocate Cole and his brother to Fayetteville, North Carolina.[14][15] Cole grew up in a multi-ethnic environment,[16] and when asked about how closely his ethnicity impacts him, Cole commented, "I can identify with white people, because I know my mother, her side of the family, who I love. But at the end of the day, [I've] never felt white. I can identify [with white people] but never have I felt like I'm one of them. I identify more with what I look like, because that's how I got treated [but] not necessarily in a negative way".[17] During his youth, Cole expressed an affinity for basketball and music, and served as a first-chair violinist for the Terry Sanford Orchestra until 2003.[13]

Cole began rapping at 12, and saw it as an ideal profession in 2000, when his mother purchased an ASR-X musical sampler as a Christmas gift.[13] During this period, Cole heightened emphasis on improving his production skills, later beginning initial production under the pseudonym Therapist.[18][19] Cole would later collaborate with local group Bomm Sheltuh, rapping and producing whilst a member of the group.[20]

Upon graduating high school, Cole decided that his chances of securing a recording contract would be heightened in New York City, relocating to the city whilst accepting a scholarship to St. John's University in the process. Initially majoring in computer science, Cole later switched to communication and business after witnessing the life of a lonely computer science professor, changing in order to not end up like the professor.[21] Whilst a student at the college, Cole was the president of Haraya, a pan-African student coalition.[22] He would later graduate magna cum laude in 2007, with a 3.8 GPA.[13][23][24] Despite graduating, Cole would officially receive his diploma during a homecoming concert in 2015, revealing that owed money for a library book caused the college to hold back granting him his diploma.[25] Cole would later work in various part-time jobs in Fayetteville, including a working ad salesman for a newspaper, a bill collector, a file clerk, and a kangaroo mascot at a skate rink.[13][26]


1999–2009: Early work and initial mixtapes[edit]

After becoming musically inspired by Nas, Tupac and Eminem, Cole and his cousin worked on developing their basic understanding of rhyming and wordplay, as well beginning to learn how to interpolate storytelling within their lyrics.[27] By 14, Cole had various notebooks filled with song ideas, however, was unable to produce beats further than sampling. Cole's mother would later purchase him the Roland TR-808 drum machine in order to further Cole's understanding of production. Over the next three years, he began posting songs on various internet forums under the moniker Therapist.[28]

Cole would later expand his production to create an entire CD's worth of instrumentals, and traveled to Roc the Mic Studio, hoping to play it for Jay Z whilst he was in recording sessions for American Gangster. Cole would eventually wait for over three hours, before being dismissed by Jay Z.[29] Cole would then use the CD as the backdrop for his debut mixtape, The Come Up.

2009–10: Mixtapes and Roc Nation signing[edit]

Cole was the first artist signed to Jay Z's Roc Nation in 2009.

He released his second mixtape, The Warm Up, on June 15, 2009 to positive reviews. Cole appeared on Jay Z's album The Blueprint 3 (2009), on the track "A Star Is Born."[30] He is featured on both Wale's debut album, Attention Deficit (2009) and mixtape Back to the Feature (2009) respectively.[31] In January 2010, Cole, along with label mate Jay Electronica and Mos Def appeared on Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek's single, "Just Begun" for the follow-up of Reflection Eternal's album Train of Thought (2000), titled Revolutions Per Minute (2010).[32] Cole also appeared on B.o.B's mixtape May 25 (2010) on the song "Gladiators".[33]

In early 2010, Cole was chosen as one of Beyond Race magazine's "50 Great Breakthrough Artists," he ranked 49, resulting in the cover story of the publication's #11 issue, as well as a Q&A for the magazine's site.[34] He was also featured in XXL magazine 2010 version of Top Ten Freshmen. J. Cole began a college tour from March 19, 2010 to April 30, 2010 concluding in New Brunswick, NJ at Rutgers University's annual Rutgersfest. The tour also featured a stop at Syracuse University for a show with fellow rapper, Wiz Khalifa.[35] On March 31, he performed a new song titled "Who Dat" and released the song as a single on April 30, 2010.[36] Cole was also featured on Young Chris' song "Still the Hottest" as well as Miguel's debut single "All I Want Is You."[37] Additionally, Cole was featured on titled "We On", a song that failed to make final track list for DJ Khaled's Victory LP.[38]

Cole performing at South by Southwest in 2010.

To celebrate the anniversary of the release of The Warm Up mixtape, J. Cole released a freestyle entitled "The Last Stretch" on June 15, 2010. On June 21 of that year, J. Cole premiered the music video to his first single "Who Dat" on the BET program 106 & Park.[39] In August 2010 J. Cole, was awarded the UMA Male Artist of the Year thanks to his heralded The Warm Up mixtape and a high-profile deal with Jay Z's label Roc Nation at the 2010 Underground Music Awards. In a July 2010 interview, J. Cole revealed three songs that would appear on his debut album: "Dreams", "Won't Be Long", and "Never Told"; which was produced by No I.D.[40] On October 30, 2010, a demo titled "I'm Coming Home" was leaked onto the internet. Cole recorded the song as a reference track for Diddy, which later became "Coming Home" off Last Train to Paris (2010).[41] On November 12, 2010, J. Cole released his third official mixtape titled Friday Night Lights.[42] The tape included features from Drake, Wale, and Omen with most of the production being handled by Cole himself.

2010–11: Cole World: The Sideline Story[edit]

Cole performing in London during Cole World…World Tour in 2011.

Cole served as a supporting act for Drake on the Light Dreams and Nightmares UK Tour, January 5–21, 2011. In April 2011, "HiiiPoWeR", a song Cole produced for Kendrick Lamar's Section.80 (2011) was released. The single was the first of many collaborations to come from the two. On May 22, 2011, J. Cole released a song entitled "Return of Simba," the third in the "Simba series" following "Simba" and "Grown Simba."[43] Cole purposely avoided releasing his debut album’s title for fear of inconsistency, only announcing that Jay-Z would be featured on his debut album.[44] Cole then released his follow-up single to "Who Dat", the album's lead single, "Work Out" on June 15, 2011, in honor of the second anniversary of his highly acclaimed mixtape The Warm Up.[45] The song, produced by Cole himself, samples "The New Workout Plan" by Kanye West and interpolates "Straight Up" by Paula Abdul.[46][47] The song later became a hit single, topping several music charts.

On July 31, J. Cole took to Twitter to announce Any Given Sunday, reminiscent of Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Fridays, a weekly free music giveaway. J. Cole wrote "Every Sunday til the album drops I’ll be back with something. Maybe just 1 song, maybe a video, depending on how I’m feeling." For the 3rd installment of his Sunday series, "Any Given Sunday", J. Cole hopped on Ustream to update fans about the album and play some tracks that didn't make the cut. On August 15, the music video for "Work Out" premiered on YouTube, Vevo, and 106 & Park. On August 22, Cole released his debut album's cover art, designed by Alex Haldi for Bestest Asbestos, whom J. Cole recorded a song for titled "Killers", for Haldi's mixtape The Glorification of Gangster.[48] For the fourth installment, on August 29, he released his debut album's track list, once again through Twitter.[49]

On August 30, after an unfinished version had previously leaked, "Can't Get Enough" featuring R&B singer Trey Songz was released as the album's second single. While in Barbados for his last performance as the official opening act for Rihanna's Loud Tour, Cole shot the music video for "Can't Get Enough", with Songz and Rihanna, who provided a cameo while in her homeland.[50] The video, directed by Clifton Bell, was released on September 14, 2011. In addition early on September 25, two days before his album's release, Cole released a music video for the iTunes bonus track "Daddy's Little Girl".

Cole World: The Sideline Story was released September 27, 2011 debuting at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart, with 218,000 copies in its first-week of sales.[51] As of December 2, 2011, the album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipments and sales of 500,000 copies.[52] On February 7, 2012 the third and final single from Cole's debut album was released. The song, titled "Nobody's Perfect", features renowned female rapper Missy Elliott, marking her return to music.

2011–13: Born Sinner[edit]

Main article: Born Sinner

On October 24, 2011, during an interview with Hot 106’s Rise & Grind morning show, Cole revealed he had begun working on his second studio album, with hopes of releasing it in June 2012. He had also stated that the album would consist of songs that failed to make his debut: "I don’t know how many, but I got songs that didn't make the last album that are automatically going to make this one," he said, revealing the release date. "June. End of June, maybe June."[53] On November 6, 7 and 8, Cole was the supporting act for Tinie Tempah, appearing at Bournemouth International Centre; Liverpool Echo Arena, Motorpoint Arena Cardiff, Cardiff, Wales; LG Arena, Birmingham, England; SECC Arena, Glasgow, Scotland; and MEN Arena, Manchester. J. Cole was nominated for Best New Artist at the 2012 Grammys but lost to Bon Iver.

Cole played for the Eastern Team in the 2012 NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game. On February 24, 2012 Cole reached two million followers on Twitter, he celebrated by releasing the song "Grew Up Fast."[54] On March 1, 2012, Cole returned to his home town, Fayetteville, North Carolina. To celebrate his return he released the song "Visionz of Home" and launched an event titled "Dreamville Weekend" to inspire the youth of his hometown to achieve great things.[55] Cole performed for the first time in Africa during the Big Brother Africa 7 opening ceremony on May 6, 2012, alongside Camp Mulla, P-Square, Naeto C, Flavour N'abania, Davido, and Aemo E'Face.[56][57]

On May 14, Cole announced that he is working on a collaborative album with Kendrick Lamar saying in an interview with Bootleg Kev that "I just started working with Kendrick the other day. We got it in, finally, again. We got maybe four or five [songs] together." The project will be more focused on and released once Born Sinner is released.[58] On July 26, he returned to Twitter after a 100-day absence and went on to reveal and release his new song "The Cure" in where he hints at a new album. On October 20, he announced at a live show that his second album is complete and he's waiting until after Lamar releases good kid, m.A.A.d city to reveal it.[59]

Cole performing during What Dreams May Come Tour.

On November 5, Cole revealed the title of his second album, Born Sinner, as well as a scheduled release date of January 28, 2013, via ustream.[60] On November 13, 2012, Cole released a promotional single for the album entitled "Miss America."[61] Cole stated he hoped "Miss America" would shift music in a different direction, adding that he knew it wouldn't be a big radio hit. He elaborated further, saying, "To me, 'Miss America' shifts things a little bit, it changes the conversation it takes it in a more aggressive direction, more raw, more social commentary... Any type of commentary is good compared to what a normal single is these days. That's my aim, is to shift culture slightly, change the conversation. Nobody expects that for your first single."[62] The song would not go on to make the cut for the standard edition of Born Sinner. However, it would be featured on the deluxe edition of the album, alongside five other tracks which collectively created Truly Yours 3, the third member of the Truly Yours trilogy. On December 31, 2012, Cole revealed that Born Sinner would not be released on January 28, 2013, as previously expected. Cole said that he, "needed a little more time than that to get things done." On February 14, 2013, he released the artwork for the first single via Instagram. "Power Trip" was released on February 14, 2013, marking Cole's second collaboration with R&B recording artist, Miguel. Following the originally planned release date of January 28, 2013, Cole had announced a set release date of June 25, 2013 for Born Sinner. However, when it was announced that Kanye West's Yeezus would be released just one week earlier on June 18, Cole moved the release date of Born Sinner up a week in order to compete with West, later commenting, "This is art, and I can't compete against the Kanye West celebrity and the status that he's earned just from being a genius," Cole added. "But I can put my name in the hat and tell you that I think my album is great and you be the judge and you decide."[63] Born Sinner sold 297,000 copies in the United States in its first week of release, debuting at number two on the Billboard 200 chart, finishing approximately 30,000 copies short of Kanye West's Yeezus.[64] As of September 19, 2013, the album has sold 599,000 copies in the United States.[65] He released three more singles in support of the album, "Crooked Smile" featuring TLC, "Forbidden Fruit" featuring Kendrick Lamar, and "She Knows".

2014–present: 2014 Forest Hills Drive[edit]

On August 15, 2014, Cole released "Be Free" as a response to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Three days later, he would later visit the city in order to meet with protestors and activists who were gathered at the site, discussing the civil unrest that was taking place within the city. He would perform the track with an additional verse at the Late Show with David Letterman on December 10.[66] On November 16, Cole released a video announcing his third studio album, titled 2014 Forest Hills Drive, would be released on December 9.[67] The video featured footage regarding the album's composition, as well as revealing the album's name was derived from the address of Cole's childhood home. Cole would announce that the album would include no lead singles and have little promotion, however, was supported by four promotional singles; "Apparently", "Wet Dreamz", "No Role Modelz", and "Love Yourz".[68] The album would debut at number one on Billboard 200 upon release, selling 353,000 copies in its first week.[69][70] Cole would later announce the Forest Hills Drive Tour on February 13, 2015. The tour would serve as the backdrop for his first live album, Forest Hills Drive: Live. It was recorded during the Fayetteville shows of the tour before its release on Cole's 31st birthday.[71] On March 31, 2014 Forest Hills Drive was certified platinum,[72] making it the first hip-hop album with no features to achieve platinum status since 1990.[73] Cole would win Top Rap Album at the 2015 Billboard Music Awards, as well as being nominated at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards for Best Rap Album. He would also be nominated for Best Rap Performance and Best R&B Performance for "Apparently" and "Planes", respectively.[74]

On December 15, 2015, Cole starred in a documentary series titled, J. Cole: Road to Homecoming, released ahead of his HBO special Forest Hills Drive: Homecoming. The documentary aired on January 9, 2016, and included five episodes as well as featuring guest appearances from Kendrick Lamar, Wale, Rihanna, Pusha T, Big Sean, Jay Z, and Drake.[75]

He has an upcoming joint project with Kendrick Lamar, with no title yet.[76]



Cole has cited several hip hop artists as influencing his rapping style, including 2Pac, Nas, and Eminem. He would later describe 2Pac as his biggest musical influence.[77][78] Cole would draw comparisons to Nas following the release of Friday Night Lights, soon stating that Nas served as the primary inspiration behind the creation of the mixtape.[79] Cole would later address their musical similarities on "Let Nas Down", a song written and composed due to his disparaging comments towards "Work Out".[80]

Business ventures[edit]

Dreamville Records[edit]

Main article: Dreamville Records

During the composition of The Come Up, Cole started his own record label in early 2007 with current label president, Ibrahim Hamad. Cole sought for an avenue to release his own music, whilst Hamad yearned to start a record label, prompting the two to team up to form Dreamville Records.[81] The label is currently distributed by Interscope Records.[82]

The logo of Cole's Dreamville Records imprint.

Cole, Omen, and Bas were the label's inaugural artists.[83][84] The label houses artists including Cole, Omen, Bas, Cozz, Lute, and Ari Lennox, and producers including Elite, Ron Gilmore, K-Quick, Cedric Brown, and Meez.[85][86][87][88][89][90][91] Dreamville Records has released nine albums, with three certified platinum or higher by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

The Dreamville Foundation[edit]

In October 2011, Jermaine Cole established The Dreamville Foundation. The foundation's website describes its purpose in this way:

“The Dreamville Foundation is a non-profit organization 501(c)(3), created to 'bridge the gap' between the worlds of opportunity and the urban youth of Fayetteville, NC. The foundation’s goal for the urban youth is to have a dream, believe in their dream, and achieve their dream. The Dreamville Foundation is dedicated to creating programs and events that will allow our youth to be 'Set up for Success.'"

The mission of the foundation is to “To reveal to the urban youth, their limitless potential, through positive life- altering experiences.” The Dreamville foundation offers a variety of programs geared towards inspiring and empowering Fayetteville's youth. In 2015, with help from volunteers, the foundation’s annual “Back To School Supply Giveaway” provided more than 500 backpacks filled with school supplies to the community.[92] The Dreamville Foundation also partnered with DTLR to launch their book club as an initiative established to improve the reading and comprehension among young men. Likewise, The Nobody's Perfect Writing Contest and Mother's Day Brunch allows students to express their gratitude for the role models they aspire to be someday, while celebrating their personal accomplishments. Every year J.Cole hosts a weekend of community events called the 'Dreamville Weekend' at his hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina. The events include a discussion with the Young Men's Book Club and Appreciation Dinner to recognize community leaders and organizations who've impacted the community alongside the foundation, as well as, students for their improvement academically and socially. During Dreamville Weekend, the foundation hosted a conference that consists of a Career Day panel of African-American professionals in a variety of fields.[93]

In 2014, Jermaine Cole purchased his childhood home in Fayetteville, NC for $120,000 through the Dreamville Foundation. The home had been repossessed from his mother years earlier, while Jermaine was attending college in New York. His plan is to turn the house into a homestead for single mothers and their kids to live rent-free.[94]


Main article: Tidal (service)

In 2015, J. Cole's mentor, Jay Z, acquired music streaming service Tidal's parent owner, Aspiro, for a high revenue.[95] During the launch party, J. Cole, along with Jay Z, Kanye West, Usher, Alicia Keys, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Madonna, Daft Punk, deadmau5, Nicki Minaj, among countless others were named "The owners of Tidal". J. Cole is a minor shareholder of the service.[96]

Personal life[edit]

In January 2016 interview with director Ryan Coogler, it was revealed that Cole was married.[97] His wife, long-time girlfriend Melissa Heholt, went to St. John's University with Cole, and is the Executive Director of the Dreamville Foundation. [98][99]


Studio albums
Compilation albums
Live albums
Extended plays

Awards and nominations[edit]

American Music Awards[edit]

BET Awards[edit]

  • 2011: Best New Artist (Nominated)[105]
  • 2012: Best Hip Hop Artist (Nominated)[106]
  • 2012: Best Collaboration: "Party (Remix)" (Nominated)
  • 2014: Best Male Hip Hop Artist (Nominated)[107]
  • 2016: Best Male Hip Hop Artist (Nominated)[108]

BET Hip Hop Awards[edit]

The BET Hip Hop Awards are hosted annually by BET for hip hop performers, producers and music video directors. J. Cole has won 5 awards from 22 nominations.

Year Nominee/work Award Result
2011[109] Friday Night Lights Best Mixtape Won
2012[110] Cole World: The Sideline Story CD of the Year Nominated
Himself MVP of the Year Nominated
Producer of the Year Nominated
Lyricist of the Year Nominated
Best Live Performer Nominated
"Nobody's Perfect" (featuring Missy Elliott) Reese's Perfect Combo Award (Best Collabo) Nominated
2013[111] Born Sinner Album of the Year Nominated
"Power Trip" (featuring Miguel) Best Collabo, Duo or Group Nominated
Best Hip-Hop Video Nominated
Track of the Year Nominated
People's Champ Award Nominated
Himself MVP of the Year Nominated
Producer of the Year Nominated
Lyricist of the Year Nominated
Best Live Performer Nominated
"Crooked Smile" (featuring TLC) Impact Track Won
2014[112] Best Hip Hop Video Nominated
Himself Lyricist of the Year Nominated
2015[113] Nominated
MVP of the Year Nominated
Producer of the Year Nominated
Best Live Performer Won
Hustler of the Year Nominated
2014 Forest Hills Drive Album of the Year Won
"Apparently" Impact Track Nominated
"Be Free" Nominated
2016[114] "Love Yourz" Won
Himself Lyricist of the Year Nominated
Best Live Performer Nominated

Billboard Music Awards[edit]

Year Nominee/work Award Result
2014[115] Born Sinner Top Rap Album Nominated
2015[116] 2014 Forest Hills Drive Won
Himself Top Rap Artist Nominated

Grammy Awards[edit]

Year Nominee/work Award Result
2012[117] Himself Best New Artist Nominated
2014[118] "Power Trip" (featuring Miguel) Best Rap/Sung Collaboration Nominated
2016[119] 2014 Forest Hills Drive Best Rap Album Nominated
"Apparently" Best Rap Performance Nominated
"Planes" (with Jeremih) Best R&B Performance Nominated

MTV Video Music Awards[edit]

Year Nominee/work Award Result
2013[120] "Power Trip" featuring Miguel Best Hip-Hop Video Nominated
2014[121] "Crooked Smile" featuring TLC Best Video with a Social Message Nominated

mtvU Woodie Awards[edit]

  • 2012: Woodie of the Year: Series of Popular Mixtapes (Nominated)[122]

Soul Train Music Awards[edit]

  • 2012: Best New Artist (Nominated)[123]
  • 2013: Best Hip-Hop Song of the Year: "Power Trip" featuring Miguel (Nominated)
  • 2013: The Ashford and Simpson Songwriter's Award: "Crooked Smile" featuring TLC (Nominated)
  • 2013: Best Collaboration: "Power Trip" featuring Miguel (Nominated)
  • 2015: The Ashford and Simpson Songwriter's Award: "Apparently" (Nominated)[124]

World Music Awards[edit]

  • 2014: Worlds Best Song: "Power Trip" featuring Miguel (Nominated)
  • 2014: Worlds Best Album: Born Sinner (Nominated)
  • 2014: Worlds Best Video: "Power Trip" featuring Miguel (Nominated)
  • 2014: Worlds Best Male Artist (Nominated)
  • 2014: Worlds Best Live Act (Nominated)
  • 2014: Worlds Best Entertainer of the Year (Nominated)



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