***We know, we know—two months is too long to wait for VIBE to hit your local newstand. So as a supplement, we'll highlight a celebrity making an impact as the VIBE.com cover story every Tuesday. We're going with Hov's choice for our first cover subject: Roc Nation's flagship rookie J. Cole. Check out the exclusive interview below as well as photos and an essential playlist.***
Nas is known to fumble a verse or two. He’s got a million. So if one of hip-hop’s most prolific doyens recites a rap line other than his own, the possessor must be someone special. Right, J. Cole?
In the inaugural VIBE.com cover story, Roc Nation’s increasingly respected 24-year-old draft pick talks debut details, Drizzy, and ditching groupies. —Tracy Garraud
VIBE: Everyone knows how important first singles are. Why was “Who Dat” the one?
J. Cole: First it was all feeling, just the sound and excitement behind it. Instead of shooting for an obviously commercial song, I love [“Who Dat”] because it’s really about the beat and the raps and not much more. It’s an introduction to those that were unfamiliar and also something for my fans to brag about as opposed to hearing it on the radio and being like ‘Ehhh.’ I also thought it was real ill, that I’m rapping on that the way I used to always rap… raw, aggressive. Those used to be the only raps I wrote, but as I get older, I barely do those anymore. It’s kind of interesting because the rest of my album is so far from that. That’s probably one of the only braggadocios raps, maybe one more. Everything else is conceptual storytelling with substance and meaning. Putting that out first, kind of reflects my growth as an artist.
This is also the first song from you where all the blog comments weren’t immediately positive—they were a bit polarizing. Were you surprised?
I kind of knew. Just from seeing other people, not even necessarily people from the blog era, you kind have to pick your strategy and go with it. People automatically look at the word ‘single’ different, especially ‘first single’. But I don’t pay attention because I understand that that’s going to happen for the rest of my career. As much as I would love to have everybody in agreement like ‘J. Cole’s the truth, everything he’s doing is perfect,’ I totally understand that that’s not realistic. No rapper in the world from Jay-Z to Tupac to Biggie has 100 percent love on everything they do. These people’s opinions for the most part are valid, but I don’t stress it. I just do what’s in my heart.
True life. Are you shooting the video soon?
Next week, [me and BB Gun are] going to Fayetteville to shoot it. I have to stay loyal.
Nice. Is this something where you’re having a bunch of locals involved?
Yeah. I want it to be a surprise for the city.
What were Jay’s words when he first heard the single?
He liked it a lot, said the beat reminds him of a Biggie's "Hypnotize." I believe him. That’s why they call him Hov [laughs].
"The craziest thing that's happened is girls asking me to sign their breasts, but there hasn’t been any wild backstage stories."
When I first interviewed you last year, you said your conversations with him were limited. Has that relationship changed?
Now it’s more… I think his brain is in the same boat as mine. He’s really in executive mode like, ‘How can we take this kid to the next level. What do I need to be doing as Jay-Z to help this kid.’ I can see that all in his moves.
Is an August release really what it’s looking like?
I haven’t been given a date, but that’s what it seems like. It could be September, who knows. I just throw that out there because of the way this single is going.
Do you have an album title?
Yeah, but it may change next week so I don’t want to put it out there yet. Fans keep saying, Cole World and The Blow Up, but neither of those are it. Four months ago I was sold on one, but it restricted me a little bit. And I was smart about it because I didn’t go shout out the title as soon as I had it. I know how the game works and people don’t really understand that I have the right to change my mind.
You’ve been on a lot of other people’s tracks, but it’s usually not the reverse. Is that changing for your debut?
Right now there’s really no big features on my album and I plan on keeping it like that. I kinda like the idea of having an album that’s all me. If I do a feature, I want to do it because I really love it, not because they’re what’s hot now. I want to do a track with Rich Boy, even though his last single to blow was a couple years ago. But I still want to work with him because he has an incredible rap style. I could be like Jeezy’s on fire, let me get him, but that’s not how I operate. If I do a feature it really has to make sense, not that I don’t want to work with Jeezy, because I would love that, but you know [laughs].
About a month ago, Drake mentioned the possibility of you jumping on a Thank Me Later bonus cut. Fact?