It was the stuff of Seinfeld at its peak. Rapper and producer J. Cole, known to family and close friends as Jermaine Cole, couldn’t collect his diploma back in 2007 upon completion of his coursework at St. John’s University in Queens, New York. And believe it or not, it was all because of a single overdue library book. Although Cole didn’t endure relentless harassment by the grizzled and quirky “library cop” in that unforgettable episode of the aforementioned sitcom, Cole’s tardy tome was problematic enough in the eyes of St. John’s administrators to put his sheepskin in cold storage for almost a decade.
According to U.S. News and World Report, Cole majored in communications with a minor in business, finishing with a noteworthy GPA of 3.82. Although he actually did graduate from the school, he chose to not pay for the delinquent book. That decision ultimately held up his diploma. On the bright side, he didn’t have to wait as long as Marie Hunt, who recently earned her diploma at the advanced age of 103.
“If you have any outstanding fee, that translates to money,” J. Cole explained in an interview with the Village Voice. “There’s a price associated with it. I never paid. That’s why I don’t have my degree.”
The Village Voice noted that Cole finally received his official baccalaureate props in hand at an April 9 concert performance at his alma mater. A small contingent of St. john’s faculty presented him with the document backstage. After receiving his diploma, he reportedly commented, “I’m gonna send it to my mom.”
With the informal ceremony and the presentation of his official diploma, J. Cole joins the ranks of St. John’s University’s high-profile alumni, including former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown and former New York Governor Mario Cuomo.
It’s not just academic-types who are awarding J. Cole with some hefty props these days. The rapper is also well-endowed with street cred for his social activism. Earlier this year, the Grio noted that Cole converted his childhood home into rent-free housing for single mothers. Cole also traveled to Ferguson, Missouri, after the death of Michael Brown to publicly pay his respects to the fallen teenager, as discussed in another piece by the Grio.
It’s his conscientious connection with his audience that seems to be winning the respect of fans and paying dividends when it comes to album sales. In fact, Cole’s third album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, went platinum just last week.
While the Mounties always get their man, the library police gave J. Cole a reprieve. Perhaps it’s all for the best, though, as the artist seems intent on sharing his talents and insight with a growing base of admirers who sincerely appreciate his message and style. After all, with or without a diploma, J. Cole commands the attention and respect of industry movers and shakers, fellow artists, and fans around the world.
[Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Mountain Dew]