J. Cole: “The song is a metaphor for just being the kid on the bench, not being able to get in the game. He really wants to get in the game and he keeps waiting for the coach to call his name. I know what that is like.
“It’s like the kid who finally makes the team and he celebrates for a second, like, ‘Hell yeah! I made the team!’ only to realize real soon, it’s like, ‘Oh, shit. I’m on the team, but, man, it’s a whole other battle.’ He’s not satisfied with just being on the team. He’s like, ‘I don’t like not being in the game. I made the team but I still want to play.’
The song is a metaphor for just being the kid on the bench, not being able to get in the game. He really wants to get in the game and he keeps waiting for the coach to call his name. I know what that is like. - J. Cole
“It was like that when I got my deal. Yeah, I got the deal, but I knew that that shit wouldn’t last long because pretty soon, I was like, ‘Okay, now I’ve got to put out this album. I’ve got to do the right things to put out the album.’ Seeing everybody else putting out albums and having a certain type of success. It’s a metaphor for that.
“You’ve got to learn the system. Luckily, we’re in the day and age where we can build fan bases. You can take your career in your own hands and not just [depend on] the label. You can use that cosign from the label and build your fan base off of that. I’ve been building a fan base this whole time.
“Big Sean built a fanbase too. But I had never felt that feeling [of abandonment that he said he once had]. I know why [Big Sean] felt like that, I have a little insight to his situation. The fact that he put his album out is incredible.
He really overcame odds, from the label not understanding his project and not knowing what to do with it. I’m not trying to act like I know what happened, but I have a little insight, enough to know that his story is incredible, that he actually put that album out, which was successful.
“But I never felt abandoned. I just felt confused, like, ‘Man, what the fuck do I gotta do to get this album out?’ I was just rolling with the punches. I was just rolling with shit how it came. I didn’t really have a strategy.
Big Sean built a fanbase too. But I had never felt that feeling [of abandonment that he said he once had]. I just felt confused, like, ‘Man, what the fuck do I gotta do to get this album out?’ - J. Cole
“I just kept making songs like, ‘Oh, this doesn’t work? Fuck it. I’ll make this song. They don’t want to go with this single? Fuck it, man. I’m just going to put out a whole mixtape so I can keep my name relevant to the people.’ That’s what Friday Night Lights was. I handled shit week by week.
“The long-term goal I’d been working on was this album, period. All the other shit, I was just handling as it came. I felt like [I was ready to go] lots of times. But now, everybody is coming together. I learned now how to use the resources around me.
“I’d been so self-sufficient that [at first] I wanted to do everything on my own. But I neglected the fact that I’ve got this incredible team around me that really fucks with me. It’s actually more fun than it’s ever been because I’m communicating with my team more, getting their opinions.
“It took me bumping my head a few times to realize that, but now that I know. I’ll never stop using them in a good way. They’re there to be used. They’re there because they care about my shit and they want to see me win. If I win, they win, we all win. I genuinely enjoy them and vice-versa. That’s why it’s way more fun now.”