Producer: No I.D.
J. Cole: “That came from one of the first sessions I had with No I.D., which was like a week long in L.A. No I.D. was the first dude I got in the studio with. That was almost two years ago. It’s one of the best times I had in the studio. We got so many good songs done and great ideas done.
“The best thing about those sessions were we would start those sessions out with talks. We was doing music, but we was also having great talks, just me, No I.D., and whoever was in the studio. He gave me a lot of advice. He still gives me advice.”
No I.D.: “Anyone that works with me knows I like to joust, talk, and spark different energy. It wasn't like ‘I'm in here, I'm trying to get on the album, we need a hit right now.’ It was really just natural, coming in working, learning, sharing, and trying stuff. I bet if you asked him he would say it was some of the funnest sessions he's had working with another producer because it was really just cool, carefree.”
J. Cole: “The best advice he gave me broke me out of my box. Talking with him, I started to break out of this box that I had. You have all these fake rules that don’t exist when you’re a young rapper and thinking you’re pure and when you’re a young producer and thinking you’re super pure, you got these rules set in place.
“Getting in with him, I started to say, ‘We don’t follow no rules, Kanye don’t follow no rules, and these guys don’t follow no rules, so why am I following the rules?’ That’s when I started to break out that box I had myself in. I started to experiment a little more.
“[My rules were] nothing serious. It was just small things. It’s not a rule, it’s a fake rule. Like if somebody samples something, you don’t want to go touch that sample. Any limitation you place on yourself is a rule, basically. I didn’t write them out, but it was things that keep you in a box.”
No I.D.:“The person I learned that from was Kanye West. I know that he he always gives me so many compliments about what I taught him, but I think most of our growth came from us learning from each other and not necessarily each one trying to teach each other. We were just being strong enough to learn from what we see.
“He took certain things that I knew how to do and eliminated all rules that I learned from being an underground hip-hop guy. There are so many rules that we put on ourselves—I saw him break the rules and I saw that was all in pursuit of still being creative. And that's when I said ‘Aww, I get it.’ There is no reason to have boxes and limitations as long as you are pursuing creative excellence. So I would give that to Kanye, I learned that from watching him.”
J. Cole: “‘Never Told’ came after we had already made a bunch of songs that week and we already had a bunch of talks. It was specifically after we was having some relationship discussions. That’s why I love ‘Never Told,’ it really sums up that moment, out of all the things that we were talking about, in musical form.”
No I.D.: “A lot of people don't understand a lot of that is more life than music. It translates into it being music but, music needs to get more personal.
“You have people that work with an artist but they don't even know the artist. They send music, they don't know each other. They don't even have a real chemistry that allows the music to be other than ‘Hey I sent you some music. It was good. I did a song.’
“I'm really big on not working like that. I really like to develop a relationship with who I work with and make a decision whether I want to work with them.”
J. Cole: “The music on that is incredible. A beat like that can’t even be remade because we were all in the moment when it was made. While they were making the beat, I was writing the raps. It was special. The way music should be made is how that song came about.”
No I.D.: “I knew ‘Never Told’ was the song that was going to stick. With him being a producer, most producer/artists only want to buy a record they feel they couldn't do. And I think with him [having the same] style of production that I have, it was like maybe I made other good records, but maybe he had stuff like that already.
“I knew that this record was something he wouldn't even think of trying to do, much less aim to do. I knew it was just a really good song. I knew out of all the records that was the one that would really outlast everything because it was a special record to me. And when you hear it I think it just does not sound like the average song that I have produced.”
J. Cole: “When I about 17, I got a box set of [Richard Pryor’s stand-up routines]. I was already into stand-up comedy, like Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence. I had seen Richard Pryor’s stuff, but not really. I just started riding around listening to it. I would ride around Fayetteville listening to his stand up and dying laughing.
“So, after we had made that song, that same night, I started skimming through some old Richard Pryor shit because I felt like he had something that summed up the mood of that song. He always talked about real shit. So, that’s where I ended up getting that sample from, but they couldn’t clear the sample, so we didn’t use it on the album. I will put out a version online with the Richard Pryor sample.”
Mark Pitts (J. Cole’s Manager): “Cole and No I.D. made a lot of good records but it also stepped Cole up as a producer. All the songs he brought to me when I first listened to him he produced. Working with No I.D. took his production to another level. He’s definitely has grown as a producer.
“[When J. Cole was working with] No I.D. in L.A., I would go by there and go to hear the songs he was cooking up. Cole, he’s on his own schedule. He does his thing. He’s one of the artists where you don’t need to be on his back.
“There would be days where I might not hear but two or three joints because he was rocking and I was busy. Most of the time, he’d be excited about something or had a rough idea, he’d send me the track, the hook, or a verse from it just to get the idea and see where I was at with it.”