Time and time again, J. Cole has proven that his buzz is well-deserved. He grabbed our attention with one of the best mixtapes of the summer and followed it up with a career-defining guest appearance on The Blueprint 3. Since then, Roc Nation's flagship artist has been occupying himself in the studio with No ID and on the road with Jay-Z.
Late last week, we caught up with the promising young artist on The Blueprint 3 Tour's second-to-last stop in college town, Champaign, Illinois. We documented the entire night and captured everything from run-ins with Wale and Pharrell to Cole's thoughts on fashion, groupies, and peer competition. Keep reading to check out a gang of photos and quotes that take you into BP3 Tour experience from a Complex perspective...
Photography by Olga Malkiman
Interview by Ernest Baker
6:30: Playing Video Games On The Tour Bus
"This is the only chance I get to play games, so lately, a lot of time has been going into NBA 2K10. At first it wasn't that much because we were so caught up with the fact that we were on the road, but we started going at it once that settled down."
7:15: Getting Dressed For The Show
"I'm not crazy about fashion. I just pick some shit out. As long as I look presentable. I wanna be seen as the dude who's fly, but doesn't give a fuck."
7:30: Pre-Gaming On The Bus With Friends
"Some nights are more exciting than others, but we definitely sip before a lot of the shows. It makes watching Hov's set more enjoyable."
7:45: Preparing Backstage
"This is when I start feeling anxious. I try to go through my lines and make sure I don't fuck up. I wonder what the crowd is gonna look like, especially since I'm the opener."
7:50: J. Cole Hits The Stage
"It seemed like the stadium was set up weird tonight, but I still feel good about it. My goal every time is to leave with more fans than I started with."
8:45: Chillin' With Wale After His Set While N.E.R.D Performs
"Originally, 'Beautiful Bliss' was gonna be J. Cole's first mainstream look, because 'A Star Is Born' wasn't even thought of yet. It was my way of saying, 'Yeah, this is my man Cole. He's on Roc Nation.'" - Wale
Complex: What do you guys say to people who think J. Cole killed Wale on that record?
J. Cole: I wouldn't say that. I got the obvious lines. His verses are still crazy if you really sit down and listen to them. And not to take anything away from my verse, because it's definitely on point, but we're in the day and age where niggas are so competitive and people got their favorites, that nobody wants to just enjoy it as a good song, which it is. They wanna say, 'he killed him.'
Wale: It's no way to not perceive it as such. He's the new guy now. His verse is amazing. It's like when AZ came on "Life's A Bitch." It's a fresh face. I don't stand a chance as far as perception goes, but I think they're equally as good. Why can't it just be a good song though? Everybody feels like they have to like one of us. Nobody was even on 'who killed who' 10 years ago.
9:30: Hitting The Blogs In Search Of New Music
"I'm on the blogs, but I don't get to click as much. It has to be something I really wanna listen to. I go to the blogs almost every day though. I usually just skim and read the posts. Nah Right, 2DopeBoyz, Herfection, Pardon Me Duke, and DCtoBC are the sites I visit."
10:15: Watching Jay-Z's Set
"You can't learn confidence, but I see how much it helps. When we first started I was really unsure of myself. I was all over the stage, trying to please everybody in the crowd. Then I see Jay and he'll rap an entire verse from one spot if he wants. It's like he has an invisible box up there. So the importance of confidence is probably the biggest thing I've learned from him, but also that you gotta have some hits to get there in the first place."
10:30: J. Cole Hits The Stage Again For "A Star Is Born"
"Playing for a crowd that's still filling in and then coming back out to a full house with Jay is straight motivation. It's like, 'Oh. That's what I want.' I get to experience both of them in one night. I wanna get to that level, but standing next to Jay makes it clear that I got a long way to go."
10:45: Talking To Pharrell
"It feels good to have someone like that compliment you. It doesn't gas my head up or anything, but it lets me know I'm on the right path. He goes out of his way to let me know that he's fucking with me or to have a talk with me. I see it as another sign that I'm doing the right thing."
11:30: Leaving The Venue
"I might go play more 2K. I don't do groupies."
Complex: I'm sure your girlfriend appreciates that. Do you at least have to deal with turning them down?
J. Cole: Not really because we leave so quick from cities. They don't be backstage or anything like that. So the only time they would get a chance would be at a after-party or something. That's another thing I thought about the road that wasn't true. I was thinking it was nonstop. Girls backstage and parties every night, but it's not. Maybe it's because it's Jay and he's been doing it for so long, but they run a tight ship.