North Carolina emcee J. Cole spent some down time with HipHopDX recently to discuss a side of himself that the public has yet to see. Being the first artist signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, we asked how he viewed the progression and acquisition of the talent brought in to the label. “It’s been a blessing man, because obviously I’m like the first over there, so I got like all the attention, well not all the attention now because there are more artists, but there’s still like that marquee artist thing. So the attention I get over there is a blessing. A lot of artists don’t get attention at their labels. If I was at Def Jam, very easily, I could just fall by the wayside. And the same thing with Roc Nation and Columbia; Roc Nation became a part of Columbia or whatever, so same thing with them they don’t have any Hip Hop artists. As far as the other artists they [Roc Nation] picked up, everyone is talented over there. They got Bridgett Kelly singing amazingly, they got a whole bunch of talented writers and things like that, and of course [the management of] Wale and Melanie Fiona.”

Since having the opportunity of touring with one of Rap’s most influential artists, Jay-Z, it is inevitable that his mentor has taught him a great deal about his own performance skills. “Tour experience definitely improved it. Jay had a lot to do with that [as I was]  watching him every night on the tour. I made sure I watched every show on that tour; I came out and watched every Jay show. Even though it’s the same show every night, I made sure I watched it. He has really gotten good over the years. Who else has a banging-ass live show?  It’s tough in Rap. Wale ,when he has that band, it’s a whole other experience. I always keep that in the back of my head, how crucial that band is and the interaction between him and the band is beautiful to watch. Other than that I really try to learn from myself.  Every night what can I do better? I got to work on my voice, because I keep losing it.”

Roc Nation’s artist, who told DX that talking or texting on a cell phone is a pet peeve of his, has toured all over the country, but has been surprised by the warm receptions from some unusual places. “Some of the craziest ones that I didn’t expect was Houston. This was like months ago, this was like before, because it’s getting crazier ever week, the buzz, the fans, are growing every day, every week, and every month. This was a few months back I did Houston, yo, it was so packed! It was my show; it wasn’t like I was opening up for somebody, and it was packed from wall to wall.  And when I came on the stage, they showed me so much love; they knew the words to every single song. It was like damn, this is Houston. Same thing with Atlanta, and same thing with New York.  It just places that I’m not from, and somehow my buzz down there like my fan base is good.”

J. Cole’s warm reception down south could be because he calls North Carolina home. He explained the choice to leave for school in New York. “Just music.  Just because I thought that’s where the music industry was, so that’s why I went,” said Cole. “I just figured that’s where I could get signed at. I didn’t even apply to school anywhere else but New York.”

As one of the few artists from North Carolina recognized in the mainstream, J. Cole addressed other talent in his hometown. “Carolina got a whole bunch of talent. I always shout out my mentors, even though they was doing it years ago, I still shout them out. Their name is Bomm Sheltuh, because to me, they like legends from where I’m from. ‘Cause you know that’s who I came up under. There’s also an artist out of Fayetteville named Rain; he’s been doing it for a long time. And then also there’s an artist out of Raleigh named Small World; he signed to [Disturbing Tha Peace]. So you know, Carolina got a lot of talent coming up, and to be on the look out for. And there’s a bunch of people that I ain’t even heard yet that’s probably incredible.  It’s just one of those melting pots of music, you are going to find a lot of different styles and a lot of different talent.”

Given the hometown artists that influenced him, we asked J. Cole who his biggest non-musical influence was. “Probably my mom. Rap and just life-on some life influence. I think she the reason why I came out as good as I did, ’cause I could have easily gone another way like all kids, basically. I think the way I was raised and the shit she put me in kind of got me where I’m at; the morals she gave me allowed me to even pursue some shit like this, when I think the average person would just…even if you go to college, it’s looked at to be a good thing; but then, what if you go to college and you do the regular shit: not following your dreams, settling for the nine-to-five, $30,000 a year for the rest of your life. Sometimes that’s not always good if you’re not doing what you love, so she gave me the tools I needed to kind of get to where I want to be.” 

UPDATE: J. Cole announced to Shade 45’s All Out Radio Show that his untitled Roc Nation debut could be out as early as late summer. “They ain’t gave me no date yet, but I’ll just say August myself, because that’s what feels right and that’s what it looks like, trajectory-wise,” said the rapper.

Written and Reported by Amaiya Davis.