Most Valuable Players: J. Cole's 10 Favorite Albums

You've heard his debut disc, now listen as Cole talks about the albums that inspired him—from 2pac, Jay-Z, Nas, and more.

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Image via Complex Original
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Interview by Insanul Ahmed; Photography by Matt Salacuse; Styling by Matthew Henson; Additional Credits.

This feature is a part of Complex's J. Cole week.

We've had a ton of fun during J. Cole Week here at Complex. We dropped our awesome digital cover, did the Making of his album, and even found time to shoot some hoops. But like all good things, it must come to an end. We figured since we've spent the last few days bumping Cole's debut, Cole World: The Sideline Story, what better way to end the week then to have Cole tell us about all the albums that inspired him. Although he didn't want to rank them, or give us the Complex's standard 25 favorite albums, Cole still offered us a glimpse into what his favorite artists. Click ahead and check it out.

As told to Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin)


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Michael Jackson, BAD (1987)

Label: Epic

J. Cole: “I know that out of all the Michael Jackson albums, you could say Thriller or Off The Wall, depending on who you are. But this was the first Michael Jackson album that I had and listened to religiously. I had the white cassette tape. I played it everyday. I played ‘Man In The Mirror’ out. My favorite song was ‘Dirty Diana.’ I just have great memories of that album and that’s how I became a Michael Jackson fan.”


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Nas, Illmatic (1994) / It Was Written (1996)

Label: Columbia

J. Cole: ”When this album dropped I had to be nine, so I give myself a pass for missing out on this at first. It wasn't until my cousin forced me to listen to ‘I gave you power’ off of It Was Written that I realized Nas was one of the greatest, and I had some homework to do! Illmatic is one of those albums that demonstrates the highest level of lyricism possible!”

Ridin Dirty

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UGK, Ridin Dirty (1996)

Label: Jive

J. Cole: “Certified classic. ‘Murder’ and ‘Diamonds and Wood’ are my favorites. RIP Pimp C."

The Score

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The Fugees, The Score (1996)

Label: Ruffhouse/Columbia

J. Cole: “I’ve got great memories of this album, everything down to the skits. Classic. ‘On top of all my logic and my theory, I add a motherfucker so you ignant niggas hear me’ - Lauryn Hill”


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2Pac, Me Against The World (1995) / All Eyez On Me (1996)

Label: Amaru/Jive/Interscope/Atlantic, Death Row/Interscope

J. Cole: “I’ve got three Pac albums on here, so we can consolidate two of them. Everyone knows I’m a super-duper Pac fan, but when Me Against The World dropped I was 10 years old. So even being 10 years old, I still knew the importance of this album. I knew how ill the shit he was saying was, and how emotional he sounded. I was ten years old, but I could connect to the dude.

"It’s like now, when I’m traveling on the road, a parent will bring their 11-year-old kid to me and say, ‘You’re his favorite rapper. He loves you.’ I’ll think, ‘Yo, he’s 11!’ I have to remember that when I was young, I got it too. I understood it. So it reminds me of that. It’s a classic. ‘Dear Mama’ is a fucking classic. The song ‘Me Against The World’ is a classic. ‘Temptations’ and ‘So Many Tears’ are my favorite songs on there.”

”As far as All Eyez On Me, that was the first double disc in hip-hop. The fact that he even had the fucking audacity to make a double disc. [Laughs.] And make both discs incredible and able to stand on their own two feet, that's crazy to me.”


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2Pac, Makaveli (1996)

Label: Death Row/Interscope

J. Cole: “The reason why I love this album is because I was a little older, I was in sixth grade. What really made this album incredible was the production. This was the first time I started really taking notice of the production on an album. I knew the beats on All Eyez On Me were incredible, but it was the first I said, ‘Damn, there’s a lot of live bass on this album. There’s a lot of live guitar.’ Everything had a sound, and it’s some of his deepest material front to back.

"Collectively, from ‘Hail Mary’ to ‘Krazy’ to ‘Against All Odds,’ it’s deep. This album gets better for me as time goes on. Me Against The World is like that too, but Makaveli is really the one where the older I get, the more of it I get. Every year that I get older, I hear this album differently. I know more about life, so I’m like, ‘Oh shit, this is what he meant.’ So Makaveli is super special. I could talk about that album all day. It was the percussion value, in terms of it sounding tight and live and jazzy in a sense, and his deepest lyrics.”

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

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Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)

Label: Ruffhouse/Columbia

J. Cole: “Lauryn Hill has a one of a kind voice. The writing and production are incredible on this album.”

The Blueprint

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Jay-Z, The Blueprint (2001)

Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam

J. Cole:The Blueprint deserves its own shit. I still remember where I was at and where I bought the album from. I remember driving around in my mom’s car, because she had a little mini-system in her car. I remember playing this album to death, front to back. I only skipped one song, which was ‘Jigga That Nigga,’ but even that I used to play. So even the song I skipped I still know the lyrics to. It’s just a classic, hands down.”

Tha Carter

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Lil Wayne, Tha Carter (2004)

Label: Cash Money/Universal

J. Cole: “Being from the South and being from that whole No Limit/Cash Money movement you’re a Wayne fan. You give him his props just for being associated with the Hot Boyz. It was at a period when I had just gotten to college.

"I had a suitemate that ended up being one of my good friends in life, and he was putting me onto these Lil Wayne Squad Up mixtapes. I started really noticing his lyrical ability. I noticed that something had changed between his younger Hot Boyz days and then.

"After that, we got out and went home for the summer. He was like, ‘Did you hear this Lil Wayne Tha Carter?’ and he sent me his album. I’ll never forget hearing that intro thinking, ‘This shit is crazy.’ That album and his first Dedication mixtape was what got me sold on him to the point where I was going out and praising Lil Wayne, like, ‘This nigga is the best.’ This album represents that time when he started to hit that monster level.”

The College Dropout

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Kanye West, The College Dropout (2004)

Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam

J. Cole: “This shit was a life-changing album for me. The first time I heard Kanye rap was on ‘Champions,’ but the first time I saw him and figured out who he was was when the ‘Through The Wire’ video came out. That was the summer before I went to school, in June of 2002. From that moment, I was like, ‘This nigga is the truth.’ I was instantly addicted to the music.

"I went and got everything that was unreleased at that time. I was riding with him, to the point that when I got to school that semester in New York, luckily he had a show at S.O.B.’s. and I went. It was a legendary show. His album didn’t come out until like seven months after that, so it was early. That album is all of my memories of my freshman year of college.”

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