6 songs to learn who J. Cole is before his Las Vegas show

If practice makes perfect, he’s practice’s baby.

Or so J. Cole likes to call himself.

The 33-year old MC is a true craftsman, a tender-hearted technician who raps with depth, candor, intellect — he graduated magna cum laude from St. John’s University — and uninhibited emotion.

Since dropping his first mixtape in 2007, the aptly titled “The Come Up,”

Cole has evolved into a voice for hip-hop’s conscience, a thoughtful agitator who questions materialism, masculinity and rap stars’ influence on the world around them.

Along the way, he’s developed into one of the genre’s best of his generation.

“While the people debate who’s the king of this rap game / Here comes li’l ol’ Jermaine,” Cole announces on “Fire Squad” from his chart-topping third album, “2014 Forest Hills Drive,” a boast that’s not without merit.

But just who is li’l ol’ Jermaine?

Check out this six-song playlist to begin to understand what J. Cole is all about.

‘Apparently’ (‘2014 Forest Hills Drive’)

The album takes its title from the address of Cole’s boyhood home in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and on this track Cole laments not being there for his mom when it was foreclosed upon while he was at college.

“I’m so sorry that I left you there to deal with that alone,” he regrets on a song that doubles as a testament to a mother’s selflessness.

Years later, Cole would make good: Not only did he buy his mother a house, but in 2014, he purchased his childhood home to let single mothers and their children live there rent-free.

‘She’s Mine Pt. 2’ (‘4 Your Eyez Only’)

The piano is gentle, the questions hard in this lullaby to first-time fatherhood.

“Am I worthy of this gift?” Cole wonders as his newborn daughter cries in the background. “Am I strong enough to lift, into a place that I can see / Someone more important than me?”

Having grown up without his dad around, he vows to be there for his child.

“For the first time / For you, I drop the tough guy (stuff),” he tells her, never sounding tougher.

‘Let Nas Down’ (‘Born Sinner’)

Plenty of rappers get dismissed as sellouts for chasing commercial success with pop-leaning hits, but seldom is it those rappers themselves doing the dismissing. That’s what Cole does here, though, taking himself to task after releasing run-of-the-mill sex anthem “Work Out” as the lead single for his major label debut, “Cole World.”

Stung upon learning that one of his heroes, rapper Nas, was disappointed in him for releasing an obvious cash grab, Cole repents over a squealing sax line.

“Apologies to OGs for sacrificin’ my art,” he atones, making amends by never making that mistake again.

‘Lost Ones’ (‘Cole World: The Sideline Story’)

An after-school-special storyline gains bruising, real-life connotations when this song’s protagonist impregnates his girlfriend, then urges her to get an abortion because he doesn’t feel they’re fit to be parents. She objects, promising to raise the child on her own while noting how hard it was for the man who impregnated her to grow up without a father himself.

“Did you forget all those conversations that we had way back / ’Bout your father and you told me that you hate (him) / Talkin’ bout, he a coward and you so glad that you ain’t (him),” Cole rhymes in her voice, confronting the painful realization of becoming that which you despise.

‘4 Your Eyez Only’ (‘4 Your Eyez Only’)

On the title track to his fourth album, Cole provides a voice for a man who no longer has one: his boyhood friend James McMillan Jr., who died at age 22.

The first two verses are delivered from the perspective of McMillan, as he addresses the daughter he left behind after getting caught up in a life of crime.

“See, baby girl, I realized, my definition of a real (man) was skewed / My views misshaped by new mixtapes / That confirmed the (lessons) I learned in the streets was true.”

On the final verse, Cole speaks to his friend’s daughter directly, explaining to her the real meaning of masculinity in an environment that often equates being hard with being a man.

“Your daddy was a real (man), not ’cause he was hard / Not because he lived a life of crime and sat behind some bars / Not because he screamed, ‘(Expletive) the law,’ although that was true / Your daddy was a real (man) ’cause he loved you.”

‘Love Yourz’ (‘2014 Forest Hills Drive’)

Plenty of rappers make a living by pointing out just how much more awesome their lives are in comparison to yours — we’re looking at you, Future. But Cole frequently takes the opposite tack. He may elevate himself over other rappers, but not his audience.

“No such thing as a life that’s better than yours,” Cole argues here. “Always gon’ be a whip that’s better than the one you got / Always gon’ be some clothes / That’s fresher than the ones you rock / Always gon’ be a (lovely young lady) that’s badder out there on the tours / But you ain’t never gon’ be happy till you love yours / For what’s money without happiness?”

His point: Don’t sweat those empty pockets so long as the heart is full.

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

Entertainment Videos
Brownie sundae at VegeNation in Las Vegas is completely vegan
Donald Lemperle, chef/owner of VegeNation in Las Vegas and nearby Henderson, NV, makes his sundae with ice cream made with coconut and almond milks, a brownie made with coconut flour and oil and organic sugar and cacao, and fresh fruit. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Taste of the Town: Henderson Booze District
Those who like to support local businesses and sample local products will find the best concentration in an unlikely spot: a Henderson industrial park.
Founder of theatre talks about a favorite play
Ann Marie Pereth, founder of A Public Fit Theatre Company, speaks to the Review-Journal about which play she would see every day if only given one option. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N interactive exhibit
The new exhibit features original and recreated props and plenty of interactive features. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Writer's Block and Lucy are open in Las Vegas
The Writer's Block and Lucy are open in Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas ice cream shop offers everything in the kitchen sink
Have you ever wanted to eat an ice cream sundae out of a kitchen sink? Who hasn't, right? At Sloan's, located inside the Venetian, you can do just that. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Maxie’s in Las Vegas puts eggs Benedict in a box
Chef David Mangual at Maxie’s in The Linq Promenade in Las Vegas makes his eggs Benedict in a brioche “box” layered with spinach, bacon and tomatoes and topped with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Caviar Twinkie Served at Stripsteak in Las Vegas
Stripsteak Executive Pastry Chef Vivian Chang and Chef Gerald Chin create a novel savory food item that looks like a familiar sweet treat at the restaurant in Las Vegas. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
NAB attendees battle to qualify for Fortnite event
NAB is sponsoring an online video game event with Epic Games’ Fortnite allowing attendees to qualify to go head to head with top players. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Arctic Shrimp Sandwich at Saga near Las Vegas
Chef Gert Kvalsund, a native of Norway, founded Saga Pastry + Sandwich in Henderson to give Scandinavians a taste of home. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Guy Fieri and Sammy Hagar talk UNLVino
Guy Fieri and Sammy Hagar talk about the upcoming UNLVino vent. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Christie Brinkley at Smith & Wollensky
Christie Brinkley, in town for her run in “Chicago” at the Venetian Theatre, paid a visit to the Grand Canal Shoppes’ still-under-construction Smith Wollensky on Monday for a ceremonial first toast at the bar. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Two artists create a mural for peace in Las Vegas
2 artists create a mural for peace in Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Inside Kaos nightclub and dayclub
A look at new club at Palms.
CinemaCon Brings Theater Professionals To Caesars
CinemaCon is not just celebs, it's also a place where theater owners can browse the latest in seats, projectors and concessions. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas restaurants provide a taste of ballpark food
The Las Vegas Ballpark, home to the Las Vegas Aviators, will serve food from Giada De Laurentiis and a team of favorite local restaurants. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Taste of the Town: Bobby Flay Opens Shark at the Palms - VIDEO
Bobby Flay opens Shark at the Palms; his first high-end restaurant in 15 years.
Chef Marc Marrone at T-Mobile Arena
Chef Marc Marrone has opened a bao cart at T-Mobile Arena. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bellagio fountains celebrate 'Game of Thrones'
A medley of the theme for HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and the song “Winter Is Here” from the show premiered at the Bellagio Fountains water show on the Las Vegas Strip on Sunday, March 31, 2019. The new number will run in rotation through April 13. The series premieres its eighth and final series on April 14. (Mick Akers/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegan Aunt Chippy talks about being on Jimmy Kimmel's show
Concetta Potenza, Aunt “Chippy” to Jimmy Kimmel, talks about her first time being featured on her nephew’s show. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The "Flight Unknown" At Bar Centro at Bazaar Meats Las Vegas Features 5 Innovative Cocktails
The "Flight Unknown" At Bar Centro At Bazaar Meats Las Vegas Features 5 Innovative Cocktails (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Cotton candy crowns pancakes in Las Vegas
At Maxie’s at The Linq Promenade in Las Vegas, executive chef David Mangual fills pancakes with fruit and cream cheese and piles on pastel cotton candy, which is melted in a stream of chocolate syrup. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Bananas Foster Pancakes go up in flames at The Stove near Las Vegas
Chef Antonio Nunez at The Stove in Henderson, near Las Vegas, flames the pancakes tableside for a fiery presentation. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
El Loco Rollercoaster at Circus Circus' Adventuredome
The El Loco rollercoaster opened at the Circus Circus' Adventuredome in February 2014. It features a 90-foot ascent, followed by a drop that produces a negative 1.5 "verticle G," a 180-degree turn, and reverse 240-degree roll that turns into an inverted drop. The coaster reaches a maximum speed of 45 mph and is the only indoor coaster of it's kind in the U.S., and is the second indoor El Loco coaster in the world, according to MGM Resorts.
Bartending flair competition at the Nightclub & Bar Show
Highlights from the ten contestants who competed for the Shake It Up Flair and Classic Competition at the Nightclub & Bar Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Justin Kingsley Hall shares details on his next gig
Chef Justin Kinglsey hall shares some details about the newArts District restaurant he's developing with Kim Owens. (Al Mancini/Las Vegs Review-Journal)
Film prompted Carrie Hogan to found 2 farmers markets in Las Vegas
Carrie Hogan founded Fresh 52 Farmers and Artisan Market in Las Vegas after realizing she had to do something about the influence of factory farms on the food supply. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Seafood dishes being made at Pasta Shop near Las Vegas
Executive chef Edwin Martinez incorporates fresh pasta into Lobster Salmon and Saffron Shrimp Sauté at Pasta Shop Ristorante & Art Gallery in Henderson, near Las Vegas. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Andrew Carmean will be the only local participant in upcoming demolition derby
Andrew Carmean, a demolition driver, will be the only local participant in upcoming derby at the Plaza Hotel. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Masso Osteria first anniversary in Las Vegas
Scott Conant was in town Tuesday to host a one-year anniversary party for his Red Rock Resort restaurant Masso Osteria.
TOP NEWS
Home Front Page Footer Listing