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
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
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.

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat