Fuse is once again celebrating an extended Black History Month by looking at a variety of rising forces who are creating Future Black History before our eyes. Today we pay tribute to North Carolina's J. Cole, the 32-year-old regarded in many quarters as one of the most consistent, independent and socially conscious rapper/producers of our time.
Cole's fourth album, 4 Your Eyez Only, arrived by surprise alongside a 40-minute documentary in December, exactly two years after the 2014 Forest Hills Drive sneak-attack. Its title track is a perfect reminder of Jermaine's vital outspokenness:
"I dedicate these words to you and all the other children
Affected by the mass incarceration in this nation
That sent your pops to prison when he needed education
Sometimes I think that segregation would've done us better
Although I know that means that I would never
Be brought into this world 'cause my daddy was so thrilled
When he found him a white girl to take back to Jonesboro"
We're still watching for Eyez to become Cole's second straight platinum album with no features; for now, it boasts the title of third-highest album sales week in 2016 following Drake's Views and Beyoncé's Lemonade.
After graduating St. John's University in Queens, New York and dropping two hungry, expertly sample-stacked mixtapes, Cole became Jay Z's first Roc Nation artist in 2009; he also operates his own label, Dreamville Records. In 2011 he started The Dreamville Foundation, a nonprofit in his hometown that works, through programs and events, to "'bridge the gap' between the worlds of opportunity and the urban youth of Fayetteville, N.C. The foundation’s goal for the urban youth is to have a dream, believe in their dream, and achieve their dream."
Cole's advocacy for fresh perspectives in hip-hop was clear from the jump. In the throwback clip above, he told Fuse:
"We have to acknowledge the new voices, the new legends, the new people that gonna speak for the people and say important things. We blessed with the ability to be able to rhyme these words, and you would be wasting that ability and that gift if you're not saying something of substance, at least sometimes. Ain't nobody telling you to get on and preach to the world, 'cause this is entertainment at the end of the day, but put a gem in there somewhere, give somebody a chance to learn, you know what I mean, and think about their life a little differently."
Cole's contributions to the rap game and the culture at large are no longer up for debate. First he descended from Kanye, 'Pac and Hov; now Cole World will birth who knows how many more artists committed to carrying us through the years ahead.
In another old-school clip, watch J. Cole talk about the trouble with album leaks: