3. J. Cole
Label: Roc Nation/Columbia
From: Fayetteville, North Carolina
Active Since: 2007
Latest Release: Truly Yours 2
Recent Single: "Power Trip" f/ Miguel
What good is being "The One" when you're the only one that knows it?"
Jermaine Cole pondered this on the intro to his Friday Night Lights mixtape in November of 2010 before launching into "Too Deep for the Intro," a soul-searching catalogue of his first 25 years on this planet. A year after becoming the first signee to Jay-Z's Roc Nation label, J. Cole still had that underdog mentality; that fire burning inside of every high school bench-rider who knows he should be in the game.
Finally, in September of 2011, he found himself center stage. Cole World: The Sideline Story sold 218,000 copies its first week out, topping the charts and surprising many doubters on the way to earning Cole a nomination for Best New Artist at the Grammys.
Earlier this month, he surprised people again, boldly announcing that he would release his second album, Born Sinner, on June 18—the same the same day that Kanye West returns with Yeezus. It may seem crazy, but it's a testament to the confidence and competitive nature he cultivated on the basketball court at Fayetteville, North Carolina’s Terry Sanford High School. Even after tasting success, Cole still raps with the hunger of an artist whose moment has yet to come. —Julian Kimble
RELATED: The Making of J. Cole's Cole World: The Sideline Story