Jermaine Cole, who simply goes as J. Cole, is a Grammy-winning rapper who hails from Fayetteville, North Carolina. The rapper is known for “going platinum with no features” and has consistently made influential music throughout his career beginning with his ’07 mixtape The Come Up, and generally doesn’t rely on guest appearances on his albums. He was the first artist signed to mentor Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label and has continued to create compelling music through his storytelling and production. Just last year he collected his sixth No. 1 album with The Off-Season and is up for four Grammys at the 2022 award show.
Cole has also made an impact through his vigorous activism in the community, hitting his hoop dreams by previously playing professional basketball for the Rwanda Patriots BBC, and is leading the next generation of artists under his label Dreamville.
Check out 10 of J. Cole’s best songs ranked:
"Can't Get Enough" is the second single from Cole's debut album 'Cole World: The Sideline Story.' The song features R&B singer Trey Songz. He told Billboard how the Trey collab went down, "I went [to the Drake show at Radio City Music Hall] and I came out on stage and Trey Songz was there. And I instantly was like, 'Oh what if I put Trey on the song I just did?' He was with it, he was down, so that's how that happened." The song went platinum in 2016.
"Apparently" was released as the first single off of Cole's '2014 Forest Hills Drive' album. The track finds J. Cole reflecting on his life and past mistakes. He also raps about his love for God and how his mother has always rooted for him. In the song, he also apologizes to his mom for leaving her to deal with the foreclosure of his childhood home while he was attending St. John's University. He went back to North Carolina in 2014 to buy the house back and restore it to how it looked during his childhood. The song currently sits at 2x platinum status.
Cole is known to speak his mind through his music and doesn't run to social media when he chooses to address issues. "False Prophets" is a single that Cole released in 2016 that was rumored to be about Kanye West and other artists who believe themselves to be prophetic. In 2018, Cole addressed the rumor, noting that only part of the song reflects his feelings about Ye, "That song wasn't about him," he said. "There's one verse that applies to him, for sure, but if you listen to it, it's about what this s--- is exposing. We're worshiping celebrities. At one time I put this dude on a major pedestal… It's when it's at an unhealthy level that I fear. For the majority of us, our fascination for celebrities and what they do for us is unhealthy." "False Prophets" was released shortly before his 2016 studio album '4 Your Eyez Only' and wasn't included on the project which didn't sit right with fans. Cole's manager Ibrahim "Ib" Hamad cleared it up the confusion, "The album was initially like 13, 14 songs and then just at the last second, we kind of were like, 'Look, if we're trying to tell a story, let's just make it as clear as possible and cut it down to that.' So when we cut out 'False Prophets' and 'Everybody Dies,' it really hurt," Hamad said in an interview. "We really wanted [the songs] on the album and it was like we still wanted people to hear it but we didn't want to put the music out because we knew it wasn't a real representation of the album."
In "Nobody's Perfect," Cole raps about how his life has changed since signing to Jay-Z's Roc Nation. He raps: "Remember when I used to be stressed over D'wanna/ Now a n---- only texting, get stressed over Rihannas/ I'm talking 10s and better." Production-wise, Cole brings Missy to sing the backup vocals on "Nobody's Perfect" who was crucial in landing that "Aaliyah" sound who Cole has credits the late R&B singer for inspiring him. "I felt like the album needed something that you could just ride to. I ended up doing the beat and writing the raps and I'm like 'This really does sound like an old Aaliyah song,' so I was like 'Ahh, Missy!,'" he explained to Billboard.
"In the Morning" featuring Drake was released in 2011 on Cole's debut studio album 'Cole World: The Sideline Story.' It originally appeared on Cole's 2010 mixtape 'Friday Night Lights' without Drake but reportedly when the beat got released before the mixtape dropped Drake asked Cole to hop on. Cole and Drake teamed up later on "Jodeci Freestyle" in 2019 and most recently Cole did an unofficial remix to Drake's "Pipe Down" from 'Certified Lover Boy.' "In the Morning" is one of the tracks that put Cole on the map and was well received by fans.
"Workout" was Cole's first single from his debut studio album, 'Cole World: The Sideline Story.' The track was dropped on the second anniversary of Cole's breakthrough mixtape 'The Warm Up.' In the video, you can see the North Carolina rapper spitting game to girls at a house party. This song was directed primarily at clubs which made hardcore Cole friends upset but the rapper later spoke to The Boombox to clear it up, "I'm just going to be me. That's it. Of course, I want to be commercially successful. That's not the label making me feel like that, that's what I want to do." The song currently sits at 2x platinum status.
"Crooked Smile" is the second single from 'Born Sinner.' The song features Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas from the R&B group TLC. The song is an uplifting track that focuses on people being more comfortable in their skin. "It's a very empowering song," he said of the record in an interview. "I don't have that Colgate smile and people keep reminding me about it. People are always looking to criticize you and I started to feel self-conscious about it - it takes you back to high school." The song was certified platinum in 2016.
"P r i d e. i s. t h e. d e v i l" derives from J. Cole's 2021 album 'The Off-Season.' In this song, Cole speaks on the role pride can play in your life and usually, the end result is not positive. Cole recruited Atlanta-bred rapper, Lil Baby, for the feature which is the first time the two have linked on a project. The track is nominated for Best Melodic Rap Performance at the 2022 Grammy Awards along with the hit reaching platinum status by the RIAA.
Cole starts off "No Role Modelz" with the iconic lyrics, "First things first rest in peace Uncle Phil" referencing the late James Avery who played Uncle Phil on the 90's sitcom 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.' The rapper name drops several celebs in the song including Aunt Viv from 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,' Jada Pinkett-Smith and Will Smith, Nia Long, and more. In this song, Cole draws a blank on having any role models in the industry, "No role models and I'm here right now/No role models to speak of/Searchin' through my memory, my memory/I couldn't find one" he raps. He also shows his self-awareness and feels that he was a better person before becoming a "B list celebrity." The song went 6x platinum by the RIAA in 2020.
"Power Trip" is the first single off of Cole's 2013 album 'Born Sinner.' Cole recruits Miguel on this track about how he reflects on a teenage crush and goes back to his hometown to find himself still enamored by the girl. Cole also self-produced the song, "I get excited about that; it's an opportunity to change things," he told MTV News. "It's almost like the first time I heard 'Cry Me a River,' Justin Timberlake. The minute that came on ... It hit you a certain kinda way. That was the exciting part." The song went platinum in July of 2013.