J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive, has been certified platinum after selling over one million copies according to Vibe. Reportedly, the album sold over 300,000 copies in the first week and over 500,000 copies in the first month. Since then, J. Cole’s third album has produced two singles which have graced the Billboard Hot 100 Charts. With J. Cole being the first hip-hop artist to achieve platinum status in over 25 years without features, people are wondering what is it about the artist that sets him apart from the rest.
First, J. Cole represents a small group of hip-hop “80s babies” who have a completely different outlook on life than those who came before them. Bringing the evident perils of the Black-American experience into the fold, J. Cole has identified himself with the group of targeted men in America and portrayed his frustrations in songs like “Be Free,” which he performed for the first time live on the David Letterman Show. The song makes an evident statement that freedom is not as equally distributed as Americans would like to claim. To follow up, J. Cole’s album contains many social-political statements and personal accounts of life within the identity he defines as the black identity.
Bringing his “80s baby” identity before his black identity, J. Cole is one of the few post-drug epidemic hip-hop voices. After years of artists like Jay-Z, 50 Cent, and southern trap hip-hop artists like T.I., who praised the drug culture which so heavily outshined black culture, J. Cole graduated magna cum laude from St. John’s University.
The post-drug-epidemic artists have a clearer outlook on what life in America as a minority really means. In their eyes, it doesn’t mean that someone is hopeless, but simply that they have to work harder. They also have to be honest with themselves. In J. Coles’s “January 28th,” he calls modern rappers liars because they encourage a way of life that they either don’t live or they know for a fact they aren’t happy with. Similar artists, like Kendrick Lamar, have spoken out about the same falsities.
With this way of thinking in the forefront of everything he does, J. Cole is able to sell his sound and his ideas to a wider audience. Where hip-hop was once dominated by songs about women, money, and drugs, artists like J. Cole have brought back the substance that rap used to have when artists like Nas were prominent. J. Cole also refused to conform to the use of features which has over the years become a hip-hop standard. Features are used to allow hip-hop artists to maintain a mainstream sound, but often taints the hip-hop genre.
J. Cole’s anti-conformist way of handling his music has allowed him to begin to shift the expectations of hip-hop fans. Those just looking to have a good time and hear nothing on current events and American issues are not going to be fans of the new hip-hop. Luckily, his albums sales prove that no such hip-hop fan exists. People seem to be done doing the “gas pedal” and sweating in the club from “Molly.” As social media has shown, everyone was waiting for something real.
Cole is reportedly working on a collaborative album with a fellow “real” artist, Kendrick Lamar. With their two individual albums in mind, it is likely that Kendrick and J. Cole with continue with socially relevant hip-hop.
[Image via Billboard]