This year, we’re celebrating an extended Black History Month by highlighting a variety of rising artists who are creating history before our very eyes. Jermaine Lamarr Cole, the 31-year-old Roc Nation rapper/producer and Dreamville Records head, built his base with relentlessly hard, independent work right in front of our eyes. His first three mixtapes, The Come Up, The Warm Up and Friday Night Lights, remain revisitable, album-quality works, and his three studio LPs have been just as strong. (And they've all gone platinum as of this week.)
In August 2014, less than a week after the unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was murdered by police in Ferguson, Miss., Cole released "Be Free." The anguished piano ballad put Cole among the forefront of musical artists decrying Black America's continually specious, too-often fatally violent treatment at the hand of police. The song sampled the eyewitness account of Brown's killing from friend Dorian Johnson and contained lyrics like, "Can you tell me why / Every time I step outside I see my n---as die / I'm lettin' you know / That there ain't no gun they make that can kill my soul."
Relive J. Cole's haunting performance of "Be Free" from the Late Show with David Letterman:
A rap everyman with biracial heritage and unbreakable ties to his home city of Fayetteville, N.C., Cole created The Dreamville Foundation in 2011. The nonprofit works 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.'"
Now Cole's got headlining slots coming up at Bonnaroo and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. In January he released Forest Hills Drive: Live From Fayetteville, NC, album recorded at the same hometown concert that formed Cole's HBO documentary/concert film. Wherever Jermaine goes next, his intensely devoted following will be listening, and more and more of the music-listening population will continue taking up residence in Cole World.