J Cole - The new star of rap is sitting pretty

J Cole hit the headlines in rumours about a Rihanna sex tape. But now it's his No 1 album that's big news

Jay-Z's protégé J Cole scored a No 1 album in the US last month with his debut album Cole World: The Sideline Story. The American rapper/producer, who was the first artist signed to Jay-Z's Roc Nation label, still has to pinch himself.

"I see Jay-Z more like a wise uncle than a father figure," says Cole. "When my album went to No 1, he was pleasantly shocked. I could hear it in his tone. It was his record label's first No 1 album. It's just as much a win for him. Jay-Z really worked me hard; he'd say: 'This song is a nine. Bring back a 10.' He pushed me harder; he never let me actually settle. That's a reason why the album took so long to come out." The video for his new single "Can't Get Enough", featuring Trey Songz, and which is out on Sunday, features Rihanna in a cameo role .

"I'd been supporting Rihanna on the North American/Caribbean leg of her 'Loud' tour when she asked if I wanted to do the Barbados gig. I thought it would be a great location for my video because "Can't Get Enough" has a real island vibe. I asked her to be in it. I knew Barbados was her home country and she said, "Yes, when is it?" I think she agreed because it was good for tourism."

I'm surprised that Cole, 26, with so many friends in high places, is so understated as he pops his head round a West London hotel room while here to headline his first UK tour. Always looking a bit pensive – even when I see him perform later to a sold-out Shepherd's Bush Empire – Cole is, according to the Roc Nation website, "poised to wake up a dormant industry". And with his new album, it continues, "he hopes to change the tide of current rap music, swaying it in a more insightful, meaningful and passionate direction."

During his show he pulls out a stool to sit on and holds his hand to his heart, while the crowd raps along. "Lost Ones" is about getting a girl pregnant; "Breakdown" is an absent-father lament. Less profound songs on the album include "Lights Please", "Work Out", "In the Morning" featuring Drake, as well as "Mr Nice Watch", featuring boss Jay-Z.

Jay-Z said: "I wanted to sit out the wave of the 'club song', the 'girl song' etc until hip-hop found its voice again. I wasn't going to sign any rappers, but J Cole changed my mind in a few bars – it felt new and familiar, naive and strong, vulnerable and heartless."

Cole has learnt a trick or two from Rihanna. "I learnt to have show outfits. I used to worry about what I was going to wear on stage. Now I wear my J Cole jacket."

What is remarkable about Cole's story is the sheer nerve it took to follow his dream. "You have to be oblivious to failure," says Cole. Born Jermaine Lamarr Cole in Germany, where his father was stationed in the US army, he moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina, when he was eight months old. He was raised by his mother and only saw his father sporadically after they separated when he was a baby.

Cole treated school like one big competition: "I was consistently a straight 'A' student. When I was cut from the basketball team I trained to the standard of an athlete." With this same steely determination, Cole applied himself to a career as an MC. By the age of 12, he was churning out rhymes in notebooks. His mum bought him a beat machine so he could produce his own music and by 17, he was posting songs on the internet as Therapist.

He left home and studied communication and business at New York's St John's University. After he graduated he worked as a debt collector. Perhaps arrogantly, Cole, then aged 22, decided to try to enlist Jay-Z's help.

"I waited outside Jay-Z's studio, where I knew he was recording American Gangster, to give him a beat I'd made and he would rap on. But he told me, 'I don't want that shit!'" Then about a year later Cole's manager, Mark Pitts,played Jay-Z one of Cole's tracks, "Lights Please". "That's when Jay-Z wanted a meeting," says Cole.

Newly signed, Cole released his mixtape "The Warm Up" and appeared on Jay-Z's album The Blueprint 3 on the song "A Star is Born" in 2009. In 2010 he released his third mixtape, "Friday Night Lights". His debut single "Who Dat" was released in the UK in February, followed by "Work Out" in August.

Cole was caught up in the Rihanna sex-tape scandal this summer, after adult magazine Hustler claimed to have obtained raunchy footage of the pair, an allegation which they both denied. "People were like, 'Rihanna has sex with who?'"

That's all about to change. When you see Cole make the same diamond symbol that Jay-Z makes with his hands in his latest video "Can't Get Enough", you'll see how he is waiting in line for Jay-Z's throne.

J Cole's new single, 'Can't Get Enough', is out on 27 November. The album 'Cole World: The Sideline Story' is out now

Arts and Entertainment
Britain's Got Talent judges: Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden, Alesha Dixon and David Walliams

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral