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J. Cole Sends Subliminal Shots At Kanye and Drake on "False Prophets"

Before we left the year 2016, J. Cole released 4 Your Eyez Only. Full disclosure: I have it and have listened to it.

But we aren’t here to talk about the project’s content.

Instead, I started to notice a couple of weeks after the album’s release that the internet was all abuzz about how Young Simba had another album that had gone (internet) platinum “with no features.” Covered by BET, The FADER, The Daily Beast, Complex and many others — I saw many commentators praising the effort for repeating this awesome feat [of being successful with no features]. I even read about his manager defending the decision in an attempt to ward off criticism.

As I digested all of this information, I began to think to myself: is a project so popular with no features really something to celebrate as it relates to the health and future of hip-hop culture?

Now, to be fair, this is not an attack on Cole (he’s a grown man who’s free to do what he feels in his own creative space) as much as it is a treatise that explores the power and influence of the “cosign.” For the sake of argument, I will define the cosign as “one well-known artist endorsing another lesser known artist, often from their own team, in an effort to use their platform to introduce the new artist to a larger, captive audience.” In a sense, it says, “Yo, I think they are dope. You guys should check them out.”

The cosign can occur in a couple of ways: either the more prominent artist mentions the rising star in an article or interview OR the artist features the new artist on their own project.

I often have had discussions about the theory of cosigning with Terrace Martin, although we haven’t had reason to discuss it in recent years. I remember when Martin was working with an early (yet post K. Dot) Kendrick Lamar. It was around the time of the release of Overly Dedicated in 2010 and uber popular radio deejay Big Boy was still at Power 106. Dr. Dre was a guest on the morning show and said something to the effect of “I’m really looking forward to connecting with that Kendrick Lamar.” Terrace called me like, “N—a, did you just hear that? Watch what happens.” Lamar connected with Dre, went on to release Section.80 and then good kid, m.A.A.d. city. And the rest, as they say, was history.

In the past, a predominately black movie would come out with a soundtrack produced by a known name or an indie label. On these soundtracks one could find new music from unknown artists—insert Usher, “Just Call Me a Mack” here. We would take these suggestions of new music with intent, determining if we would become fans or let them pass. Taking heed to the opinions of talent we were already fans of became custom.

Of course, there are many artists who have made waves on their own strength. I don’t want to discuss them. I would rather discuss the artists that we might be missing out on because there are no referrals from the stars at the top. By Cole releasing his last two projects with no features, are you really telling me that he didn’t think there was one cat in his camp that he could’ve shared a hot 16 from? He didn’t feel there was anyone on his team that could have added value to his body of work? Could he possibly not want to share his time and potentially be outshined by his cohorts?

And then… what does that do for the culture?

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Comments

  • jawn305

    Wow, must say great article, great read and great view point. Only two cents I wanted to chime in about is… Cole has his own style, and I admire him for keeping with it. He stays out of the media and focuses on hip-hop as an art form instead of a means to make money. This essence to me is a true-er form of hip-hop. I believe Cole would rather touch the minds and souls of 100,000 real fans instead of conforming to what’s trending now, and having 4 platinum albums with millions of dollars.
    Even though Cole didn’t have any features on his recent album (however, he did work with other industry producers on that album fyi), he instead invited local artists, engineers and fans from his hometown to work on this album and be a part of the process. In the mainstream news no one cares, but in the state he lives in, many are touched and he genuinely changed people’s view of life at a level rarely seen in Hip-Hop. He put his city on and his fans on instead of featuring a new artist or two. I do agree though I would want to see a collaboration album or more features on the next, like the one he has with Kendrick that should be releasing later this year. But if you think about it, Jay-Z signed him, so even though Cole didn’t come up as being a “featured artist” then dropping an album, he instead went the “independent route” on a mainstream level.
    So technically it was a “co-sign” by Jay-Z that introduced Cole to the hip-hop community. However, it’s a different form of co-signing at the financial-backing level which enabled Cole to do what he wishes with his career going forward. With Roc Nation backing him, I am sure Cole could have had almost anyone he wanted as a feature, or vice-versa, be featured on more tracks from other artists. What does baffle me the most is almost no marketing and weird timing of the last two releases. Voting members of the Grammy Academy aren’t what they used to be. This newer body of Grammy Academy Members are very knowledgeable in the history of hip-hop, and they have witnessed the shift from the 90’s to today. His albums are coming out too late to even be entered into the Grammy’s on time. That timing hurts because he ends up on the ballot almost 1 ½-2 years after it’s been released (hence no Grammy for Forest Hills Drive 2014 in 2016). Chance had great timing, internet buzz and uplifting music.
    Cole’s music reflects a lot of where’s from, which is a very urban and racist area in North Carolina. His music also reflects hip-hop pioneers as he has sampled many familiar discernable samples in the past, maybe something that has hurt him in Grammy voting. I would like to hear a new J. Cole album with no samples (from famous songs) and some big-time artist features. Then he should do an unplugged album with The Roots, er at least that’s what I would do if I were him.
    So the question I’d like to ask is, what is culture to you? Is it following the footsteps of others, or trends in history? Or is it to be diverse within one culture to spark change and growth? I see culture as many individuals shining with different hues and different vibrancy to ignite and empower other artists to emerge and be themselves. It’s hip-hop ya’ll, stay peace.

  • Jed Tristana

    Idiots. This is one of the best albums ever, and here you are trying to sound futuristic w your analyasis of greatness. Bitch, please Okayplayer isn’t 1/100th of the genius J. Cole is. Get the fuck out here trying to navigate this man’s career. He for sure is not a sell out like this OKP brand is.

    • There is a difference between signing acts to a label and placing them in your project. Can you say that he is setting up those acts to have the same sort of recognition that he has if they don’t even have the same visibility?

  • Jed Tristana

    And how dare you fucking speak on the future of the culture. You fucking poison the culture daily. You are so farm removed from the culture at heart that you have just turned into a propaganda machine exploiting its own people and gate keeping the truths. Fuck OKP right to the boneyard. Such fucking losers

  • john Mariyaseelan

    his label houses artists that are not known but should be very well know. actually research j Cole before u say he doesn’t think anyone is worthy. stupid shit.

  • he needs to do whatever da fuck he wants to do .

  • Andrew Medrano

    Only argument is Cole has a plan for his albums. Typically songs with features are meant to be mainstream. He is trying to tell stories and much of the time personal stories. Having a feature I feel would devalue that message he is trying to put out. But makes sense, maybe he will throw out some songs with people like Jay Z did with him but as far as albums go idk if he should.