J Cole on First Raps, Stories Behind Born Sinner, Lyrics, Double Meanings, Beating the System
To celebrate 15 years of Hard Knock TV, we are uploading the full version of some of our favorite interviews over the years. In honor of the release of J Cole’s “Born Sinner” 7 years ago, we had to dig into the Hard Knock TV vaults and pull out this classic interview . J Cole talks to Nick Huff Barili about his first Hip Hop memory. “My first Rap music memory was Kool Moe Dee…I just remember being a big fan of Kool Moe Dee. I had a Kool Moe Dee poster…I didn’t know that much about him but I knew he was cool.” J Cole goes on to reminisce about the first Rap he wrote, “I wrote a rap when Pac died. I was in 6th grade…I felt compelled to write a rap..That’s like the first official rap I ever wrote. I feel like I was talking about him. Almost like I had to carry the torch or something…in my six grade mind.” Cole remembers being influenced by Eminem and Nas on early tracks like The Storm. “I remember I made a song called The Storm…I thought I would never make a song that good again. Not that I thought I wouldn’t, I was scared that I wouldn’t. I’m like Yo Am I ever going to top this?” On “Let Nas Down” Cole raps” I used to print out Nas raps and tape ’em up on my wall, My niggas thought they was words, but it was pictures I saw.” Elaborating on those lyrics J Cole says “At this time you had Ohhla.com. Now you have lyrics sites everywhere…but back then was like one site that you go for all these rap lyrics…When I made a decision in my mind that I was gonna be a rapper, I tore down all the basketball [posters in my room]. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Penny Hardaway…I remember it was a big day. It was a Saturday. I took the whole day and meticulously ripped down all my basketball posters and pictures and then went and cut out all the pictures of the rap magazines that I had. Source, Blaze, XXL…And what I had on top of that right next to my bed…was the lyrics. I had pages and pages and pages of lyrics. To make my wall you had to be amazing you had to be Nas, Eminem, Canibus, you had to be, Royce would get a verse, Pac…I used to sit…and just read the verses. I already knew them word for word but reading the words was special.” Fast forward, Cole shares the stories when he first signed to Roc Nation and had to pile up into a Honda with his friends and follow the Wale promo tour so he could open up for him. As the interview continues, J Cole talks to Nick about creating music for his sophomore album. Asked why he begins Born Sinner stating “Its way darker this time” Cole states “There was some real dark shit that I made in the processes. Some of it aint even on it. There was one song…that was mad dark…Almost too dark…But sometimes it was dark, sometimes it was Chris Tucker cause that’s just how I was feeling that day. But the point is I was just free. Just free to get shit off my chest. [like] Let Nas Down…or play with flows but really say some shit like Rich Niggaz”. “A song like Let Nas Down is like…weight of your chest. Ever told a secret to somebody? [and feel like] I’m glad I told. That’s what Born Sinner felt like for me.” Cole goes on to describe what it felt like to finish his album. “I’m literally sitting in the studio by myself, I had been in the studio 7 straight days. No shower. No bullshit. Literally straight. I didn’t even see the outside until I was done with the album.I’m in the studio listening to the album and I could not believe. Its almost like I’m listening to it like a fan for the first time. As soon as Born Sinner came on, the last song, [I] started crying grateful tears and also unbelievable tears like I really did it. I beat this shit. I beat yall niggaz. I could of been crushed. I could have been broken. I could have lost. The shit I had to go through….Its just the way the game was set up. It wasn’t set up for me to survive in my purest state…I’m not supposed to still be here dropping Crooked Smile and having that be a smash.” On Dumbing down: “I’m past that. You go through it though,” said Cole. “Because when you’re a student of the game and you study what works you see what works. And when we say ‘dumbed down’ I don’t mean become dumb. Dumbed down is actually being smart. It’s being smart. And I’ll give you an example…He’s [Kanye] writing lines that he knows are so simple for you. He’s not trying to go over your head. He’s putting it on a platter for you. He’s setting you up. Jay Z. Reasonable Doubt was the most intricate shit, but he learned ‘Man, let me feed it to the people better.'” J Cole explains the inspiration to his track Rich N * * * * z from his album Born Sinner. Cole breaks down lyrics and tells stories to give deeper insight to the song.
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