Grammy nominated hip-hop artist J. Cole performed to a sold-out crowd Thursday night at Rider’s Student Recreation Center. The Rider News had an exclusive interview with Cole after his show about the immediate success he’s had with his debut album, his own college experience and his passion for music.
The Rider News: You were the first artist signed to Jay-Z’s record label, your debut album was number one on the Billboard charts and you were nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist. What does all that success mean to you and do you feel any pressure to live up to that high standard you set for yourself?
J. Cole: No, I don’t feel any pressure. I actually feel that I could’ve done it better. Not that it was bad but my standards are that high. I should top what I’ve already done. If I settle with that, then I’ve lost already, so I have a long way to go. It’s not like I won the Grammy or went platinum, so there are a lot of things I still want to do.
TRN: You graduated from St. John’s University with a degree in communications. What made you pick that as your major and not music?
JC: I don’t think they had music there. I actually started out in computer science because since I had instant messaging and I knew how to surf on the Internet, for some reason, I thought it made me good at computers. Then when I got to college, I realized it was all too complex and I really wasn’t interested in it. I knew I wanted to switch my major but I didn’t do it until junior year because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I went with communications because it’s so broad and there were a lot things I liked about it. I figured if I have to get a job somewhere, it might as well be in the communications field.
TRN: How important do you think it is for young people to go to college and get a degree? You still pursued your dream of becoming a rapper, but made time for college too.
JC: I do believe in real education and learning. I quote, unquote got my education and learned. If you’re there to learn, or even if you just go to get the experience, I think it’s incredible. To survive these days, getting [an education] is a necessity, but is the payoff as good as the cost is the question because it’s not for everyone.
TRN: When did you decide that you wanted to become a rapper and start a career in music?
JC: I was around 12 years old. I had an older cousin who rapped and he spent the summer with me. He was from Louisiana and I just looked up to him. He played basketball, was a ladies’ man and when I saw him rapping, even though he was just messing around, I was drawn to it. I had already written a couple of poems so I kind of just asked him to show me what to do. We started free styling and that led me to start writing down a couple of things and I just fell in love with it. I noticed after a few months that I was really good at it. So then it became a passion.
TRN: You mentioned how you write your music and in today’s music industry, there are plenty of artists who don’t. Why do you feel it’s important that you write your own lyrics?
JC: It depends on where you’re at. If you’re a pop artist, there’s no way you’re writing your own music and that’s one of those heartbreaking things you find out when you enter the music industry, that your favorite artists aren’t the ones that wrote their songs. But as a rapper, it’s a pride thing. I’m too competitive to get a writer and I’m too much of an artist. I don’t need someone to write a song for me because that wouldn’t be my thoughts. I’m not saying that I’m not down to collaborate with someone and take ideas, but that’s different than getting a song that’s prewritten.
TRN: Do you have any advice for someone who is trying to break into the music industry?
JC: Expand your mind — listen to every type of music that’s outside of the radio. You can’t be ahead of the game if you’re studying what’s current. You can learn a lot about studying the past and letting that influence you. If you just listen to the radio all day, then you’re going to start making music that sounds like the radio. But if you listen to the things that worked throughout history and all the classic albums, then as an artist, you’ll be inspired and apply that to right now. If I listen to Prince and figure out what it was about his music that worked and that I liked, then subconsciously that will come out without me knowing it. That’s true for any genre and any art. Great artists steal but if you’re going to steal, take from the past not from right now. If you’re trying to sound like right now, someone’s already cooking up the future sound and you’ll be behind. Definitely follow your heart. That would be my advice.