J. Cole is on another hot streak in 2022, popping up with impressive guest verses alongside everyone from Benny the Butcher to BIA.
Cole’s run of impressive verses this year is reminiscent of another ridiculous string of guest features he strung together back in 2018 and 2019. That streak included him linking up with artists like Ari Lennox on “Shea Butter Baby” and 6LACK on “Pretty Little Fears,” and it awarded him his first (and only) Grammy for his feature on 21 Savage’s “A Lot.” It seemed unlikely that Cole would ever be able to top a run like that, but only four months into 2022, he has already tallied half a dozen new verses that live up to the precedent he set for himself.
In Applying Pressure, the documentary that J. Cole released to accompany his latest album The Off-Season in 2021, he revealed that his 2019 features run helped him get out of his comfort zone and learn more about himself. “When you put yourself in uncomfortable moments, you find out a lot about yourself, and usually, you find that you’re capable of rising to that bar that’s set by that uncomfortable situation,” he explained. That’s evident during his 2022 run, too, as every new verse demonstrates his versatility in cadence, lyrical structure, and delivery. In the process, he’s been able to expand his repertoire by working with artists in different genres.
These features have helped to keep Cole relevant between albums, without the collaborations feeling contrived or forced. Like he wrote in his Instagram caption after “London” with Bia dropped, he only jumped onto the song because he loved it. His inclusion on Benny the Butcher’s “Johnny P’s Caddy” made sense given the kind of lyrical-minded artists they both are, and it gave the Griselda rapper his first Billboard Hot 100 entry, another testament to how Cole is still able to elevate every song that he’s on.
The subject matter in these new verses have been diverse. Like his mentor Jay-Z, Cole doesn’t frequent social media, but he still makes it very clear that he hears what people say about him online. Instead of responding in a post, though, he’s been putting his thoughts to wax and addressing common misconceptions and jokes about him with rhymes, like finally firing back at memes about his “homeless aesthetic” with emphatic boasts about his wealth and success.
J. Cole’s run of verses in 2022 has proven that he just keeps getting better over time, which is a testament to his work ethic. In the Applying Pressure documentary, Cole spoke about how he figured out what he needed to do to improve as a lyricist after being in the game for over a decade. The Carolina rapper presented a question to himself: “Are you OK with getting comfortable, chilling, mailing it in, waiting around on inspiration? [...] Did you leave no stone unturned creatively?” His answer: “Nah, I’m not cool with that.” Thus, The Off-Season was born, and that same hunger is still driving him in 2022. The lyrical exercises Cole put himself through between albums have paid off, and he’s been rapping like he has something to prove lately, even though he’s arguably already reached the pinnacle of his craft.
With the year still in full swing and already a lot of bars to count, we decided to rank every J. Cole verse in 2022 so far. These are all of his guest features on songs with other artists, plus his verses on Dreamville’s D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape.