J. Cole and veteran Hip Hop journalist Angie Martinez recently sat down for an interview shortly before Cole’s headlining performance at Rolling Loud 2018. Set at producer Salaam Remi’s home in Miami, the two chopped it up about Kanye West, spirituality, addiction, KOD and a bevy of other intriguing topics.
With the release of KOD, Cole inadvertently became a voice for those wrestling with vices of their own. As he explains to Martinez, countless people reached out to him on social media with stories of their struggles with substance abuse, which Cole says was a welcomed surprise.
Here are 14 highlights from the candid conversation.
A Verse In “False Prophets” Applies To Kanye West
“First of all, [I’m] just a fan,” he says. “Really, I don’t know you. I’m just like a dude that was a fan back in the day, and when I’m writing ‘False Prophets,’ which that song wasn’t about him. There’s one verse that applies to him for sure, but if you listen to that song, that song is about what this shit is exposing. What I gotta check myself about. And I check myself on that song as well …We’re worshipping celebrities.”
He Felt Kanye “Used” Him With (Since-Deleted) Phone Call Tweet
During one of West’s recent Twitter flurries, The Life of Pablo rapper posted a screenshot showing he was on the phone with Cole right after his controversial “slavery is a choice” interview with TMZ Live. It didn’t exactly go over well with Cole.
“Nah, he called me, but I would’ve never posted that or tell him to post that,” he says. “That made me feel a certain type of way. I told him that. He apologized, for the record. I told him that it felt like you just used my name in that very quick conversation for social media and to keep your thing going or whatever you were doing. It felt like it wasn’t sincere because of that.”
Yeezy Wanted Cole To Hold Him Accountable
“It’s touchy because I don’t like talking about other people,” he says. “If this is me and you on a microphone, I’m gonna keep it 100 with you. I’ma go in on the whole situation, but I feel hesitant to go in for the public. So I’ll tread lightly if possible, but the only reason I’d feel comfortable taking it any distance is because I didn’t even ask … you put that out there. When he called me he said, ‘I need you to hold me accountable. Keep me in check. Say whatever you gotta say. I need that. I feed off that.'”
“Really the only thing I consistently do is I do my breathing,” he says. “I try to do a meditation before I go on. I don’t know if I’m good. It works for me. I have a style and a technique that I use for myself. What I do in the room before a show is different than what I do at home. Before the show, I just need five minutes if I can get it. I’ll take 10. I’ll take three. I just gotta do something to clear my head.”
“The meditation for me is more like being present. I’m not trying to think anything … I’m still, observant. If my mind is racing — and it might be nerves or it might be there’s bills due or this is happening in the family — I’m noticing it and I’m trying to let it go but also not fight it. Bring it back to my breathing, something that’s currently happening.
“I wanna become a person that does that everyday, not just when I feel anxiety or I feel stress … I don’t want to be a slave to my thoughts.”
Purveyor Of Truth
“I realize I’m a dangerous interview because it’s hard for me to lie,” he says. “I can’t lie. Not only is it hard for me to lie, it’s hard for me to not go in on the whole truth. Once I tell you something, I gotta make sure you know exactly what I’m talking about … Just by sitting in this chair, I’m wide open and vulnerable to whatever you ask me.”
He’s “Trash” On Instagram
“I took a long break from it [social media],” he says. “Now, that I’m back on it, I realize that some of the same stuff I didn’t like about it before — not because of the people but because of myself — things that I see and make me feel a certain type of way, I notice the break didn’t do anything. It’s still there.”
Alcohol Is His Demon
KOD. 3 meanings.
Kids on Drugs
Kill Our Demons
The rest of the album I leave to your interpretation.
— J. Cole (@JColeNC) April 19, 2018
“I just stopped drinking,” he says. “I noticed I was in a point in my life where I felt like I had to. Whenever I was going out, it was just natural. It seemed inconsequential to me, right? But then I started to notice around that time like, ‘Yo why am I doing this?’ then tracing back all the things in my life like where did it start? I was like, ‘Let me stop doing it.’
“It was my man’s birthday. This was 2015. And I was like, ‘I’m just going to try tonight. I’m gonna go out and not going to drink.’ And this is like unheard of in my life. I never would have even thought the day woulda came that I would stop drinking ’cause to me it wasn’t a big deal. This is when I noticed it was a big deal ’cause when I tried to go out that night and not drink, I could feel the pull and the tug … When I noticed that pull and that tug, that like my body, my mind was telling me like ‘Yo I wanna have a drink,’ that’s what let me know like, ‘Oh something’s there.'” I didn’t like how it was making me feel so I attacked it head on.”
Under Social Media’s Spell
Aight I'm burnt out. Thank y'all for the love. KOD
— J. Cole (@JColeNC) April 27, 2018
“With social media, I was off it so long, I thought I had beat this addiction,” he admits. “Then I got back on it and realized like, ‘Ah nah, you just took a break.’ I didn’t face it head on. I’m dealing with it right now. The fix in the past would have been like, ‘I’m just getting off this shit.’ I think the fix right now is, ‘Nah, let me get on it and become conscious of the pull or the feelings.’
“The more aware I become of that feeling, the more I’m in control and I’m like above it as opposed to being a slave to it or pulled by it. With social media since I got back on, it’s like, ‘Why I keep checking this shit every five minutes, every 10 minutes? What am I checking?’ Noticing that. Being in the crib, being at the show and catching myself. Being aware. Just being conscious.”
He Can Relate To Cardi B
Also Cardi b I seen your breakfast club interview, loved it. Don't put all that pressure on your album. You already won. Just drop & repeat
— J. Cole (@JColeNC) September 24, 2017
“I talked to her in person too,” he says. “I felt like people give her so much advice. I don’t know her like that. But I saw her interview and I seen like, ‘Damn, they’re putting mad pressure on this girl to try to beat herself.’ I know what it’s like to be in those shoes. I wanted to say something to her like, ‘Yo you already won.'”
KOD Might Have Saved A Life (Or Two)
“The things that make me the happy and had me like, ‘Wow,’ there’s a few things,” he says. “The night the album dropped, I got this real long, super long direct message … it was a random dude. The whole message from him is like, ‘Bro, my mom died last year. She was an addict. For years before she died, she was kind of like mistreating me in a way.’ She kept breaking his heart. The people around him was telling him to let her go … so he let her go. I guess like stopped responding to her … and she died.
“As you can imagine, he’s probably blaming himself. Probably blaming the people who told … so he tells me this, he was like, ‘Bro this is 420. I just bought so much weed and so much pills, ’cause fuck it it’s 420, I’m ’bout to numb myself. I just don’t want to feel shit. Bro, I just heard your shit and I realized I’m doing the same shit she was doing. This is how I been dealing with the pain. “I’ve been holding on to all this shit. He was like, ‘Yo I was about to smoke right now and pop these pills right now. It’s 420.’ I’m not going to tell my shit like, ‘Oh this kid’s life is forever changed’ because that’s not how addiction works. He told me like, ‘Yo bro, I’m done with this shit. I’m putting this shit off.’ But I know how it works. He might have did that for a day or two and might have slipped back but just the fact that entered his mind, so that was the first thing.”
He continued, “A friend of a friend – and I know her, we cool too — she’s best friends with a mutual friend. She called her friend crying because her little brother, after hearing the album, opened up to her and had the first conversation he’s ever had with her about their mothers addiction and how much that shit has been eating him up and bothering him. It’s like an elephant in the room that nobody speaks about. Those moments.”
His Mom’s Reaction To “Once An Addict (Interlude)”
“I gave her a heads up,” he says. “She’s fine with it. Like on Friday Night Lights, I was saying things these songs and feelings and these words I was saying before I even got signed. Before I was aware of how many people would be listening, it was more like therapy more than it was show-and-tell to the world.”
He added, “Back then, I wouldn’t even say nothing. I wouldn’t tell my mom. She told me back in the day, ‘Look, my story maybe can help somebody. I’m not ashamed of nothing, so tell my story.’ She told me that years ago. Like, ‘Don’t be afraid to tell my story.’ Now, that it’s gotten this big, I had to call her like, ‘Mom I’m telling this story. This is about this era. This is what I mean when I say this.’
“My mom’s a G, bro. It’s brave. She’s brave.”
Who’s Kill Edward?
When the tracklist for KOD was released, there were two features by a mysterious person named KiLL Edward. It turned out it was actually Cole’s alter-ego and Edward is the name of his stepfather who Cole had a rocky relationship with as a kid.
When asked who KiLL Edwards really was, Cole says, “Some artist. He’s just this artist, he’s fire though. What do you mean he’s me [laughs]. Nah, he’s me.”
“It first started after Forest Hills Drive. It started to feel like J. Cole — which sounds weird even saying that in conversation — that name started feeling like a box. I had told so much of my story from The Come Up, The Warm Up, Born Sinner, Forest Hills Drive, and it was always about me, my aspirations, my dreams, my pains. It was a box. I started feeling limited. I had been telling my story for so many projects.”
He adds, “I don’t want to talk about myself no more, which eventually would birth 4 Your Eyez Only. It wasn’t like I was aware … all of this was subconscious. Another thing that came out of that was I started experimenting with the music. The production, my voice, and I started doing these songs in this KiLL Edward style. I didn’t have a name, I just had these songs … I needed a fire name. It checks that box and then secondly, when I say KiLL Edward, it’s the stuff I feel like I inherited from him. There’s some shit in me I don’t like and that’s the shit I wanna kill off.”
Kendrick Lamar & J. Cole Collab Album Isn’t Happening (At Least Not Now)
“It’s not that I wouldn’t want to work with him,” he explains. “That’s not the case. It’s just like when I’m working on my album that’s just how I operate. You don’t ask Prince why you didn’t have Micheal [Jackson] on it? We did a bunch of ideas. It didn’t come from nowhere. It’s not something that’s actively happening. Not because it’s never going to happen but not now. I don’t like teasing or playing the game. This shit has been going on for a minute.”
“It’s not that easy,” he continues. “It’s timing. This man is his own man. I’m my own man. He got a career, I got a career. He got a family. I got a family.”
The Donald Trump Era
The KOD standout, “1985 (Intro To ‘The Fall Off’)” called out the younger generation of rappers. In fact, Lil Pump thought it was a direct diss to him. During the song, Cole gives an ominous warning to those looking for that quick fame.
“We’re in age of trolling,” he says. “We’re in the generation of trolling. These kids have figured something out. They figured out attention is all that matters. The skill? Who gives a fuck? The quality? No, all that matters is attention. ‘This music is just a platform for me to get attention. What’s even more important than the music is the shit I do outside of the music. What type of wild shit can I cook up? What type of wild shit can I say just to get the attention?’
— Zero McKenzi (@ZeroMcKenzi) May 12, 2018
“We are living in the Donald Trump era, of like, ‘Yo just do the wild.’ I’m not saying Donald Trump started it but this is the era we’re living in. That’s what them kids understand.”
Watch the full interview below.