It's hard to label J. Cole and Kanye West's situation a beef. Traditionally, feuds in rap have always played towards one subject coming after the other, lyrically and later, physically. But Cole's observations of Kanye are kin to someone realizing their favorite auntie is lame and misguided. As a youth, you may have been inspired by her carefree disposition, only to realize her trips out of town were just to Virginia Beach and her fondest concert memories only include Summer Jam sets from 2004.
Kanye isn't that lame, but several of his anti-groupthink moves have only pushed him further into a shadow of the man we thought we knew. It's a challenging thought to someone like Cole, who like many, has been widely inspired by the super producer. It's a thought not lost on Cole with the release of "Middle Child." Cleverly released in the middle of the week, the Dreamville titan is confident in lyrical nature while sharing his perspective on an artist he once admired.
"Middle Child" is something of a declarative statement for Cole. As an older millennial, the rapper exists within a unique position on hip-hop's timeline. No longer a rookie but not enough stripes to be considered a veteran, Cole enjoys the space of being at the center of the genre's rich history.
But "Middle Child" isn't without a few rewind moments, including the potential digs at West.
"If I smoke a rapper, it’s gon' be legit/It won’t be for clout, it won’t be for fame/It won’t be ‘cause my sh*t ain’t sellin’ the same/It won’t be to sell you my latest lil' sneakers/It won’t be ‘cause some ni**a slid in my lane."
While it may seem like Cole has inserted himself into Drake's battle with West, Cole's observations of the super producer go back to the days when Twitter had a favorite button.
The stars would rightfully align with him signing with 'Ye's "big brother," Jay-Z under the Roc Nation umbrella. From there, Cole and Kanye's paths would cross musically but that didn't stop Cole from being a voice of the people several times about West's involuted career.
Enjoy a somewhat brief history of Cole and West's challenging relationship.
Cole's Debut Mixtape The Come Up Features Freestyles Over Kanye-Produced Beats
In May 2007, Cole's introduction to the game came with help from his favorite producers. More than half of the mixtape was produced by the then 22-year-old with the others being his favorites from future collaborators like Salaam Remi and West. Four tracks (“School Daze,” “College Boy,” “The Come Up,” and “Homecoming") are beats produced by West.
Cole Features More Kanye-Produced Beats On The Warm Up
In June 2009, Cole's breakout tape The Warm Up birthed classic tracks like "Grown Simba" and "Lights Please" but it also continued his admiration for West with three interpolations: "Last Call" gives an ode to the Late Registration track of the same name, "Dollar And A Dream II" borrows a bar from "Can't Tell Me Nothing" while "Get By" and "Knock Knock" are West's productions for Talib Kweli and Monica, respectively.
Cole Signs To Jay-Z's Roc Nation
In addition to signing with Jay in the spring of 2009, Cole is featured on The Blueprint 3's prophecy track, "A Star is Born" produced by Kanye West. As the story goes, Cole attempted to hand Jay his CD by waiting outside of his studio. It took two years and a listen of "Lights Please" to convince Jay to sign Cole. With the help of Mark Pitts, now President of Urban Music at RCA Records, Cole's life changed for the better.
"I get a get a call from Mark Pitts and he’s like, 'Yo ni**a, Jay just hit me. He said he got something big for you.' I was like, 'Oh sh*t, what you mean?' He said, 'He got this Kanye track… something about a star is born…some sh*t about a star.' I thought, from his explanation, because you can tell he wasn’t too clear on it, I thought Jay just had a joint for me," he recalled to Complex in 2009. "I thought it would be mine, and I was on some sh*t like, 'Ahhh, I don’t like being told ‘get on this’ or whatever. But I’m like, 'Damn!'"
Cole Has The Breakout Verse On G.O.O.D Friday's Cut, "Looking For Trouble"
The concept of G.O.O.D. Fridays in Nov. 2010 is something I can't wait to share with my future spawn. The brilliant tactic to release master collaborations every Friday to coincide with the release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy included many heavyweights like Yasiin Bey, Lupe Fiasco and Cam'ron, but it was rookies like Big Sean, Teyana Taylor, CyHi The Prynce and Cole that would shine the brightest.
Cole, in particular, would own his verse on "Looking For Trouble," a posse cut with Pusha T, CyHi The Prynce, and Big Sean. The song was such a fave Cole included it as a bonus track on Friday Night Lights, his follow up to The Warm Up.
J. Cole Reacts To Kanye West Comparisons
While promoting his debut studio album, Cole World: The Sideline Story, from 2010 to 2011, Cole would go on to big up Kanye. Speaking with Karmaloop in 2010, the rapper reacted to the comparisons.
“If it feels like that, then that’s great. I would love to be as successful as he has been, putting out hits and making hits consistently that still represent him. All his hits, you would never look at him like, ‘Aw, why you make that?’ It all felt like Kanye West, which is dope.”
He also expressed how he wanted to work on a joint project with West.
“I’m such a Kanye West fan,” Cole told Vulture. “I would love to work with him on a major scale. Not just a song here or a song there I would love to do something extraordinary with him, but I feel like I gotta step my game up and kind of earn my spot before I can worry about that.”
A year before, Cole would continue to pay homage with his verse on Young Chris' "Still The Hottest."
Uhh, what if somebody from the ville that was ill
Got a deal on the hottest rap label around
But he wasn’t talkin bout coke and birds
It was more like spoken word
Can’t you see I’m putting it down
Cole's Debut Single "Work Out" Includes A Sample Of 'Ye's "The New Workout Plan"
J. Cole - Work Out from the ghettonerd co. on Vimeo.
Keeping it in the family, the Roc lineage continued on Cole World with Cole sampling West's "The New Workout Plan" for "Work Out," his official debut single in June 2011. The track hit platinum status and peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard charts in 2012.
Cole Switches Release Date For Born Sinner To Compete With Yeezus
Speaking on MTV's now-defunct RapFix Live, Cole explained his decision to move his release date for Born Sinner to directly compete with Yeezus in May 2013.
"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 said. "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."
In addition to outselling West, "Forbidden Fruit" also included the first of many digs to the producer.
When I say that I’m the greatest I ain’t talking about later
I'mma drop the album same day as Kanye
Just to show the Boyz the man now like Wanyá
And I don’t mean no disrespect, I praise legends
But this what’s next
Kanye And Cole Work On Unreleased Music Together
From 2015 to 2016, Genius points out the two finally began working side by side on music...for other artists. The two shared co-producer credits on Pusha T’s King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude track “M.P.A.” Pigeons And Planes reported the two also worked on Yasiin Bey's final album in 2016 including a track titled "Assalamualaikum." Sadly, we haven't heard much about the album or track since.
Cole Releases "False Prophets" With Thoughts On Kanye And Wale
Before the release of 4 Your Eyez Only in 2016, Cole released the mini-documentary Eyez with two tracks, "False Prophets (Be Like This)" and "Everybody Dies" in Dec. 2016. The former would go on to highlight two important people in his life — Wale and Kanye West.
While Wale and Cole have remained friends (Wale released a response titled "Groundhound Day"), West remained quiet.
Kanye Tells Charlamagne Cole Is Always Dissing Him
Charlamagne made the claim during an April 2018 episode of "The Breakfast Club" citing "False Prophets" as a reference to possible jabs. "He said he feels like J. Cole is always dissing him in records," Charlamagne said. He also pointed to specific lyrics on Cole's 2014 song "No Role Modelz," in which he rapped: "Now all I’m left with is ho*s from reality shows / Hand her a script, the b***h probably couldn’t read along." Charlamagne said Yeezy thinks it was a reference to his wife Kim Kardashian.
"Who else out here is in love with people from reality shows like me," Kanye allegedly questioned, according to the show host. As previously reported, despite feeling subliminally attacked by J. Cole, Charlamagne asserts that Kanye isn't taking it too hard.
"[Kanye] didn’t say it in a malice way at all, he was laughing about it."
Kanye Screenshots And Tweets Personal Conversation With Cole
Days before Kanye boasted that "slavery was a choice" in May of 2018, he released a stream of consciousness on Twitter that also included a phone conversation with J. Cole. “I’m posting this but not as a diss to J. Cole. I love J. Cole,” Kanye tweeted.
Cole Felt Used By Kanye West After His Phone Call Was Leaked On Twitter
After finding out their conversation didn't stay private, as Kanye screenshot the call and uploaded it on Twitter, Cole expressed to Angie Martinez his disappointment in Kanye. "He called me, but I would've never posted that or tell him to post that," he said.
"That made me feel a certain type of way. I told him that. He apologized, for the record. I told him that it felt like you just used my name in that very quick conversation for social media and to keep your thing going or whatever you were doing. It felt like it wasn't sincere because of that."
Cole's Video For "Work Out" Is Wiped From YouTube
Weirdly, the popular video for "Work Out" is removed from J. Cole's VEVO page over a copyright issue, possibly in November of last year. A raw unedited version of an alternate video is now the only visual on the platform. The alternate video features Cole in a club setting and was uploaded in 2011.
Cole Releases "Middle Child," Comments On Kanye's Feud With Drake
Reuniting with Elite nine years after creating "Who Dat," Cole revises his spirited lyrical banter while addressing his views on Kanye's feud with friend and collaborator Drake.
But I'd never beef with a ni**a for nothin'
If I smoke a rapper, it's gon' be legit
It won't be for clout, it won't be for fame
It won't be 'cause my sh*t ain't sellin' the same
It won't be to sell you my latest lil' sneakers
It won't be 'cause some n***a slid in my lane