“J.Cole is boring”.
This statement is one of the most debated statements in hip-hop today. A simple Google search will lead you to countless posts debating this very issue. Before getting into why this might be, let’s go back in time a little. Let’s go back to a time where J.Cole was simply Jermaine, a young aspiring artist from North Carolina. It’s important to look at the big picture if we want to get a proper analysis of why people think he’s boring. I mean, if so many people think so, there must be some truth to it, right? No? Let’s jump right in.
Cole’s first mix-tape, The Come Up, was released on May 4, 2007. This came around the same time as he graduated Magna Cum Laude with a 3.8 GPA from St John’s University in New York City. This mix-tape would only start racking up the views later as Cole rose to popularity. This project was, however, far from a joke.
To be blunt, Jermaine showed the world he wasn’t fucking around. The hunger was there. Just look at these lyrics for example: “Thank god we made it my nigga we growed up now we crazy over that bread call us the donuts (dough nuts)”. Very raw, yes, I hear you, however, he was only 22 years old, but his hunger made up for it. You could hear him crying out for attention; and I mean that in the best way possible. Cole put his name in the conversation.
I feel like this is one for the Cole fans though, I mean, maybe it’s just me, but the only people I’ve discussed this mix-tape with were huge J.Cole fans. The greatest thing about this mixtape, though, is how relatable it is. “its time to face reality , the Ville is a trap nigga now, and if you aint focused you gon’ be here for a while”. This showed a more mature and conscious side of him.
But enough on The Come Up.
His next mixtape, The Warm Up, is what really got people interested. We have to remember that this was at a time where rap wasn’t really in its best state; in fact, Kendrick Lamar wouldn’t really rise to stardom until 3 years later. Jay-Z clearly saw a young man who was easily marketable yet not gimmicky. With that, Cole put pen to paper on a deal with Roc nation shortly after. It was now clear that Jermaine was a rare breed. Cole was here to stay. The Warm Up was a testament to J.Cole’s versatility, mixing up emotion in a manner really relatable to the swarm of fans that he had gathered.
Next up came a mixtape that many hip hop heads consider as his best work to date. Friday Night Lights released on November 10, 2010, and searches for his name rose by far to the highest it had ever been on Google.
So back to our question. Why do some people think J.Cole is boring? The body of work that was to come next might be the answer. Although Cole World: The Sideline Story was well received by critics, most hip hop heads thought it was a poor project. This album sounded more commercial than his previous work. It felt like he was missing the hunger that he previously had in his delivery. The “Any Given Sunday” series that preceded the album created much hype for the album. And Cole World didn’t live up to that hype.
Corny lines like “I’m already hot u could say I’m pre-heated, if money talks mine telling yours to be seated” didn’t help his case. It really seemed like he could do better. In fact, many said that he purposely dumbed it down so that his album would have a more commercial appeal. Even Cole didn’t seem to be happy about it as we saw in “Let Nas Down”, where he speaks of Nas harshly criticizing his single “Work Out”. Cole idolized Nas, so this really hurt him deep inside. Nas clearly didn’t mean no harm, and made an affectionate song called “Made Nas Proud’’, featuring Cole’s verse as well as his own.
In my opinion, the fact that many fans had such high hopes for the album made it sound even worse than it actually was. It’s important to remember that “banger raps” made their way into the game slowly after. Artists like Migos and Future started coming up with a style much more experimental to Cole’s. A lot of the criticism of Cole stems on the fact that he keeps things too “safe”. Compare this with Kendrick who released TPAB, where he explores a variety of political and personal themes concerning racial inequality, African-American culture, depression, and institutional discrimination. It’s not to say that Cole wasn’t working as well. He released Born Sinner a year later, which showed good progression in his career, but it still wasn’t what some people were expecting from him. He started getting labeled as “boring”, but also kinda corny with lines like “ because motha fuck I’m the shit I pass gas wen I feel “.
A year later, Cole released FHD out of nowhere, with no marketing or promotion. It took all his fans by surprise and it ended up going “Double Platinum with no features”, a saying that has today become something of a meme. All jokes aside, Cole outsold Yeezy. Nothing more to say here.
Hip Hop heads still weren’t interested but weren’t uninterested as well. If that makes sense. It was just “alright”. And it further fueled the online trolls to continue labeling him as boring. Cole, however, wasn’t done yet. The Revenge of the Dreamers series were a good showcase of the artists Cole had signed to Dreamville, but they also had good Cole verses. Everyone just started a noticing a trend: Cole’s mixtape game is better than his album one, though his albums sell massively due to his really loyal fanbase which gathered swarms of male as well as female fans.
It seems like his music has been regressing since Friday Night Lights, a mixtape which many say should’ve been an album. Many hip hop heads don’t do their homework though. Having never listened to Jermaine’s mixtapes, they’re left judging him on the quality of his albums, when they would be more suited to his mixtape material.
As I mentioned earlier, more experimental hip-hop hit the scene and left Cole behind. Future is one of the biggest hip-hop stars; an artist that clearly goes against the grain.
I don’t like judging albums prematurely – but at the moment 4 Your Eyez Only hasn’t got me begging for more listens. It’s interesting to see Cole’s progression though. It could be said that his beginnings as a father and a husband is the main topic of the album.
So there we have it. To conclude, Cole has been labeled as “boring” because:
– Some believe his music has been regressing rather than progressing
– Cole doesn’t go against the status quo enough which is something that is BIG in hip-hop right now
– The corny lines
– People’s expectations of Cole don’t fall in line with his vision
– His mixtape game is more suited to his “hip hop head” fans
Cole is not here to give you the most fire bars you’ve ever heard. He is here to tell you things about yourself that you didn’t even know and to speak of his story by taking you along on a journey. It is clear that with his massive fan base behind him, Cole’s here to stay.