Photo by Steven Duarte/Honey Magazine
Roc Nation is having the best week ever. Not only has their founder and biggest star, Jay-Z, been on a media blitz promoting his new book Decoded, but they also announced signing one of the hottest (and most elusive) rappers hip-hop has seen in years, Jay Electronica. Their trifecta was completed by J. Cole.
The young North Carolina-based spitter dropped his mixtape Friday Night Lights last week to much fanfare and praise. Of course, he dropped the mixtape only a week after the killer guest spot he did on Kanye West's recent G.O.O.D. Friday leak "Looking For Trouble."
With so much going on in his career, we had to chop it up with the "Who Dat?" star , so we spoke to Cole about the response he's gotten to Friday Night Lights, how his Kanye feature came about, and what his relationship with Jay Electronica is like...
As Told to Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin)
On the response he's received to Friday Night Lights...
"When The Warm Up dropped, I watched that grow legs and work for me for a year straight. I saw it reaching people every day. With this, what's really overwhelming—in a good way—is the amount of people. It's all positive feedback, but the amount of people who hit me on Twitter or sent a text or quote lines on Twitter has been overwhelming.
I seen people who I knew from college make comments like, 'Wow, everybody on my timeline is quoting J. Cole.' It's a really cool feeling knowing that I reached a group of people I wasn't reaching before. Hopefully, more people will see the type of music I'm trying to bring to the people.
"This mixtape was a part of my plan. I told everybody I didn't want to release an album that was really good that went under the radar. An album that no one was interested in and only my fans got it, so only 50,000 the first week. I'm not all about first-week numbers, but I don't want to work this hard and then have it go over people's heads.
So the mixtape is the first step to getting on that next level, and getting on more people's radar. I think it exceeded my expectations of that. That's step one. The next step is a single and from there it'll lead to the album. And then the label will be comfortable putting it out.
I believe in a body of work, but I do need a smash hit single. If I want to be in the game and do arenas one day, you need to have smash hit singles. But it's possible to have smash hit singles, still be who you are, and put out classic albums."
On the making of his "Looking For Trouble" verse...
"[That verse] was last minute. I got the beat the night before from my manager. But nobody told me they wanted to do it for G.O.O.D. Friday, and definitely not that G.O.O.D. Friday. I was like, 'Oh man, that beat is dope. I'll write to it soon.'
The next day I woke up in Kalamazoo, Michigan—I was on tour—and I was getting ready to go to Detroit because I had a radio promo event to do. So I got a call from Kanye and he was like, 'What's up? It's Kanye. Can you get that verse today? I'm tryna put the song out tonight.'
I honestly didn't think I could do it in time so I told him that. He said, 'I'll wait. We got engineers up all night so you got a while to do it. But if you can, have it done by today.' I said, 'I'll make it happen somehow.'
"I wrote my verse on the hour-and-a-half ride to Detroit, did the radio promos, left that, went directly to the studio, laid the verse, and sent it to him by 5 o'clock. Mind you, I didn't hear anybody else's verses or the song itself, I just heard the beat and did my verse.
I drove back to Kalamazoo and did the show. When I got offstage, he had just put the song out, and I sat back and watched all the comments as people went crazy. It was a beautiful night.
"I don't know what it is [when it comes to features]. What it comes from is fear, that's why I go so hard [on guest spots]. I'm a real competitor. It's just a fear of somebody besting me and dominating me with a better verse.
Not every song is like that, but on a song like 'Looking For Trouble' it is. It's that spirit of hip-hop: Let's see who can come the best. I don't know if I'm going to have the best verse, but I know ain't nobody just gonna kill me."
On Jay Electronica Signing To Roc Nation...
"I'm such a Jay Electronica fan; he's out of this world good. And I wanted to work with him before he was on Roc Nation. So I'm sure [we'll collaborate] in the future when our schedules permit. I'm sure he's with it.
I have as much [of a personal relationship] as you can have with Jay Electronica. We're cool, but he just changes his number so much that whenever I try to hit him, it's tough.
He's a free spirit, man, he just goes where the wind takes him. If he thinks about you, he'll hit you up. And I'm the same way. And this is before the Roc Nation thing. I literally have four or five Jay Electronica phone numbers in my phone. He's super-mysterious. But that's his aura.
That's the ill thing about him as an artist. His voice on the track, he sounds like Thor. It's exciting to be able to say I'm on the same label as Jay-Z and Jay Electronica. It's fun as a rapper."