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How Did J. Cole Get Famous? 10 Essential Facts To Know About The GRAMMY-Winning Rapper
J. Cole performs during his "The Off-Season" Tour in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2021

Photo: Paras Griffin/Getty Images

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How Did J. Cole Get Famous? 10 Essential Facts To Know About The GRAMMY-Winning Rapper

The North Carolina-raised rapper is one of the most acclaimed MCs of his generation. So how did J. Cole get famous? Here are 10 J. Cole facts you need to know.

GRAMMYs/May 11, 2022 - 09:37 pm

J. Cole is as adept with braggodicious bars as any heavyweight MC out there. Still, he's also the one possibly most ambivalent about fame — and self-aware about the destructive power of putting people down in hip-hop.

"For so long my mind state was, I have to show how much better than the next man I am through these bars. Who's the best? Let me prove it," the North Carolina-raised rapper told the New York Times in 2017. "And it's just like, damn, I'm really feeding into a cycle of keeping Black people down, I'm really feeding into that."

The prodigious artist born Jermaine Lamarr Cole expanded on his life's calling to Billboard the following year. "I consider love [to be] respect, acknowledgement of skill and talent. That was always the rush I got from rapping," he said. "There was a money aspect to it. I want to take care of my mom and my family. The part that I never considered was being famous."

So how did J. Cole get so famous and become so influential?

Granted, there are very good reasons J. Cole is a globally recognized figure. Since his debut mixtape, 2007's The Come Up, he's released albums like 2013's Born Sinner, 2014's 2014 Forest Hills Drive, and 2016's 4 Your Eyez Only, to commercial and critical hosannas.

His latest, 2021's The Off-Season, was no different, garnering four nominations at the 2022 GRAMMYs — for Best Rap Album, Best Rap Performance, Best Rap Song ("M Y . L I F E"), and Best Melodic Rap Performance "P R I D E . I S . T H E . D E V I L." All in all, J. Cole has won one GRAMMY (Best Rap Song for "A Lot," a collaboration with 21 Savage, at the 2020 GRAMMY Awards) and has been nominated for 16.

And whatever form his next release takes, J. Cole is set to lead the vanguard of hip-hop in the young decade — despite, or partly because of, his propensity to kick down the fourth wall and look inward. Here are 10 facts all music fans should know about J. Cole.

He Was Born In Germany And Raised In North Carolina

Jermaine Lamarr Cole was born on a military base in Frankfurt, West Germany, to a veteran father and postal-worker mother.

When he was a baby, the family relocated to Fayetteville, North Carolina, eventually landing at 2014 Forest Hills Drive — an address that would inspire the title of his 2014 album.

That's also the location where he wrote some of his earliest raps and where he decided to pursue music as a career.

He Was Inspired Early On By Classic Rappers

J. Cole's formative influences included Eminem, Nas, Canibus and others. And as he explained in 2014, his earliest material sounded like the former two artists in a blender.

"If you go listen you will hear both influences, and I feel like when you start rapping at the beginning, you really just take all your influences and you just rap like them," he said. "Eventually, you become who you are from others' influences, and Eminem was a main ingredient."

Read More: 9 Revolutionary Rap Albums To Know: From Kendrick Lamar, Black Star, EarthGang & More

Jay-Z Initially Dismissed Him…

Early on, J. Cole waited for three hours — part of that time in the rain — waiting for Jay-Z to pull up to his studio so he could give him his CD. Jay-Z turned it down for his label Roc Nation, but J. Cole was undeterred.

…But He Then Became Roc Nation's First Signing

Part of Jay-Z's dismissal was based on the fact that Roc Nation wasn't initially a hip-hop label, but a pop label. That all changed when Hova heard "Lights Please" via record executive and manager Mark Pitts — and arranged to meet with J. Cole once more.

"Jay-Z's reactions are incredible when he's feeling some shit," J. Cole said in a 2009 Complex profile. "When he's feeling something, when there's a line that he likes, he gives you that, 'Wooooooo!' and he'll let you know that he's feeling it."

The signing was fortuitous for both sides. "[Jay] never compromised or interfered with my creative process," J. Cole told the Associated Press in 2012. "There was a never a point when he was like, 'I need to come in and play big brother and show you how to do this.'"

He's Collaborated With Kendrick Lamar

J. Cole's first collaboration with K-Dot was "HiiiPoWeR," which he produced for the latter artist's Section.80 album. And Born Sinner contains a track called "Forbidden Fruit," featuring Lamar. And on Black Friday 2015, both MCs released songs called, naturally, "Black Friday."

Read More: Everything We Know About Kendrick Lamar's Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers — So Far

He's Deeply Attuned To Social Justice

In 2014, J. Cole released "Be Free," a musical reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mississippi. Three days later, he traveled to the city to converse with protesters and activists on the ground.

He's Been The Subject Of Documentaries

The following year, J. Cole released a documentary series called J. Cole: Road to Homecoming ahead of his HBO special, Forest Hills Drive: Homecoming.

The latter covered his concert that year in Fayetteville; the former featured appearances from Lamar, Rihanna, Pusha T and more. And in 2016, he released a 40-minute Tidal documentary to accompany his 4 Your Eyez Only album, simply titled Eyez.

Read More: 5 Takeaways From Pusha T's New Album It's Almost Dry

He's A Label Owner, Too

Since 2007, J. Cole has owned Dreamville Records alongside his manager, Ibrahim Hamad. Together, they've released music by artists like EARTHGANG, Lute and Ari Lennox through their distributor, Interscope Records.

But that's not the only sector of his life called "Dreamville": his charitable nonprofit, the Dreamville Foundation, aims to "'bridge the gap" between the worlds of opportunity and the urban youth."

In 2014, he purchased his childhood home in Fayetteville so single mothers and their children can live there cost-free.

He's Just As Serious About Basketball As Music

In 2012, J. Cole participated in the NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game, playing in the Eastern Team. "Sports is where it started for me," he told Sports Illustrated in 2013, comparing it to the hyper-competitive field of hip-hop. "It parallels my life."

"No Role Modelz" Is J. Cole's Biggest Hit

On Spotify, J. Cole's most-played song by far is "No Role Modelz" from 2014 Forest Hills Drive, topping out at 1.2 billion streams.

With numbers like that, lines like "I punch the time sheet, not no more / And my assigned seat is the throne" — from "a m a r i" — don't feel arrogant, but prescient.

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Dreamville Festival 2020 Is Officially Canceled Due To COVID-19

J. Cole

Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

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Dreamville Festival 2020 Is Officially Canceled Due To COVID-19

The second annual music festival from J. Cole's Dreamville Records squad and friends was first postponed from April until August, and will now have to wait until 2021

GRAMMYs/May 19, 2020 - 02:27 am

Dreamville Festival has announced they are canceling their 2020 event due to public safety concerns caused by coronavirus. The second annual edition of the one-day music fest, hosted by J. Cole and his talent-filled Dreamville Records, was originally slated to take place on April 6 at Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh, N.C., but was rescheduled to Aug. 29 after the pandemic struck the U.S.

Like countless other events that were set to take place this year, it will now have to wait until 2021. Dreamville says all 2020 ticket holders will be receive refunds soon.

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"After much deliberation and careful monitoring of the current situation, we have decided to cancel Dreamville Festival 2020. Although we originally hoped it would be possible to bring you the festival this August, the ongoing uncertainty regarding the COVID-19 pandemic has made this timeline no longer possible. This decision has been extremely difficult to make, but the safety of our fans, artists, and staff is always our top priority, and nothing will ever take precedence over your well-being," the organizers wrote in a statement shared across their social channels and on the fest's website.

The message also shared details on refunds, noting that all tickets purchased online will automatically be refunded to the original payment method, beginning this week. Fans who bought physical tickets from official points of purchase can request a refund here.

"Thank you for your patience and understanding as we navigate this. Please stay safe, healthy, and sane so we can reunite with you in 2021," the statement added.

Watch: J.I.D Talks Lollapalooza Debut, Working With J. Cole & Dreamville, New Music & More

According to Pitchfork, the debut Dreamville fest also faced unforeseen setbacks; it was originally set for Sept. 15, 2018 at Dorothea Dix Park but was pushed to April 6, 2019, due to Hurricane Florence. The 2019 event featured performances from Dreamville head Cole and labelmates J.I.D, BAS and Ari Lennox, as well as SZA, Big Sean, 21 Savage, 6LACK, Rapsody, Nelly and other heavy-hitters in hip-hop and R&B.

No artists have been revealed yet for the second edition of the fest.

The Dreamville squad earned their first two collective GRAMMY nominations at the most recent 62nd GRAMMY Awards; for Best Rap Album for the collaborative Revenge Of The Dreamers III and Best Rap Performance for one of its singles, "Down Bad." Cole earned a total of five nods, including for his work on that project, and took him his first GRAMMY win for his feature on 21 Savage's "A Lot."

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Jay Z Tops 56th GRAMMY Nominations With Nine

Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Justin Timberlake, and Pharrell Williams earn seven nods each; other top nominees include Daft Punk, Drake, Lorde, Bruno Mars, and Taylor Swift

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

Nominations for the 56th GRAMMY Awards were announced tonight by The Recording Academy and reflected one of the most diverse years with the Album Of The Year category alone representing the rap, pop, country and dance/electronica genres, as determined by the voting members of The Academy. Once again, nominations in select categories for the annual GRAMMY Awards were announced on primetime television as part of "The GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live!! — Countdown To Music's Biggest Night," a one-hour CBS entertainment special broadcast live from Nokia Theatre L.A. Live.

Jay Z tops the nominations with nine; Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Justin Timberlake, and Pharrell Williams each garner seven nods; Drake and mastering engineer Bob Ludwig are up for five awards.

"This year's nominations reflect the talented community of music makers who represent some of the highest levels of excellence and artistry of the year in their respective fields," said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy. "Once again, The Academy's awards process and its voting membership have produced an impressive list of nominations across various genres promising music fans a spectacular show filled with stellar performances and unique 'GRAMMY Moments.' We are off to a great start and look forward to GRAMMY Sunday as Music's Biggest Night takes the stage."

Following are the nominations in the General Field categories: 

Album Of The Year:
The Blessed Unrest — Sara Bareilles
Random Access Memories — Daft Punk
Good Kid, M.A.A.D City — Kendrick Lamar
The Heist — Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Red — Taylor Swift

Record Of The Year:
"Get Lucky" — Daft Punk & Pharrell Williams
"Radioactive" — Imagine Dragons
"Royals" — Lorde
"Locked Out Of Heaven" — Bruno Mars
"Blurred Lines" — Robin Thicke Featuring T.I. & Pharrell Williams

Song Of The Year:
"Just Give Me A Reason" — Jeff Bhasker, Pink & Nate Ruess, songwriters (Pink Featuring Nate Ruess)
"Locked Out Of Heaven" — Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine & Bruno Mars, songwriters (Bruno Mars)
"Roar" — Lukasz Gottwald, Max Martin, Bonnie McKee, Katy Perry & Henry Walter, songwriters (Katy Perry)
"Royals" — Joel Little & Ella Yelich O'Connor, songwriters (Lorde)
"Same Love" — Ben Haggerty, Mary Lambert & Ryan Lewis, songwriters (Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Featuring Mary Lambert)

Best New Artist:
James Blake
Kendrick Lamar
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Kacey Musgraves
Ed Sheeran

Following is a sampling of nominations in the GRAMMY Awards' other 29 Fields:

For Best Pop Solo Performance, the nominees are "Brave" by Sara Bareilles; "Royals" by Lorde; "When I Was Your Man" by Bruno Mars; "Roar" by Katy Perry; and "Mirrors" by Justin Timberlake.

The nominees for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance are "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk & Pharrell Williams; "Just Give Me A Reason" by Pink Featuring Nate Ruess; "Stay" by Rihanna Featuring Mikky Ekko; "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke Featuring T.I. & Pharrell Williams; and "Suit & Tie" by Justin Timberlake & Jay Z.

For Best Dance/Electronica Album, the nominees are Random Access Memories by Daft Punk; Settle by Disclosure; 18 Months by Calvin Harris; Atmosphere by Kaskade; and A Color Map Of The Sun by Pretty Lights.

The Best Rock Performance nominees are "Always Alright" by Alabama Shakes; "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)" by David Bowie; "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons; "Kashmir (Live)" by Led Zeppelin; "My God Is The Sun" by Queens Of The Stone Age; and "I'm Shakin'" by Jack White.

For Best Alternative Music Album, the nominees are The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You by Neko Case; Trouble Will Find Me by The National; Hesitation Marks by Nine Inch Nails; Lonerism by Tame Impala; Modern Vampires Of The City by Vampire Weekend.

The nominees for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration are "Power Trip" by J.Cole Featuring Miguel; "Part II (On The Run)" by Jay Z Featuring Beyoncé; "Holy Grail" by Jay Z Featuring Justin Timberlake; "Now Or Never" by Kendrick Lamar Featuring Mary J. Blige; and "Remember You" by Wiz Khalifa Featuring The Weeknd.

For Best Rap Album, the nominees are Nothing Was The Same by Drake; Magna Carta…Holy Grail by Jay Z; Good Kid, M.A.A.D City by Kendrick Lamar; The Heist by Macklemore  & Ryan Lewis; and Yeezus by Kanye West.

The Best Country Album nominees are Night Train by Jason Aldean; Two Lanes Of Freedom by Tim McGraw; Same Trailer Different Park by Kacey Musgraves; Based On A True Story by Blake Shelton; and Red by Taylor Swift.

The nominees for Best Americana Album are Old Yellow Moon by Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell; Love Has Come For You by Steve Martin & Edie Brickell; Buddy And Jim by Buddy Miller And Jim Lauderdale; One True Vine by Mavis Staples; and Songbook by Allen Toussaint.

This year's Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical nominations go to Rob Cavallo, Dr. Luke, Ariel Rechtshaid, Jeff Tweedy, and Pharrell Williams.

This year's GRAMMY Awards process registered more than 22,000 submissions over a 12-month eligibility period (Oct. 1, 2012 – Sept. 30, 2013). GRAMMY ballots for the final round of voting will be mailed on Dec. 11 to the voting members of The Recording Academy. They are due back to the accounting firm of Deloitte by Jan. 8, 2014, when they will be tabulated and the results kept secret until the 56th GRAMMY telecast.

The 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards will be held Jan. 26, 2014, at Staples Center in Los Angeles and once again will be broadcast live in high-definition TV and 5.1 surround sound on CBS from 8–11:30 p.m. (ET/PT). The 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards are produced by AEG Ehrlich Ventures for The Recording Academy. Ken Ehrlich is executive producer, and Louis J. Horvitz is director.

For updates and breaking news, visit The Recording Academy's social networks on Twitter and Facebook

Beyoncé & JAY-Z To Be Honored With GLAAD Vanguard Award

Beyoncé and JAY-Z

Photo: Larry Busacca/PW18/Getty Images

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Beyoncé & JAY-Z To Be Honored With GLAAD Vanguard Award

The GRAMMY-winning pair will receive the honor for their work as LGBTQ+ allies at the 30th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles on March 28

GRAMMYs/Mar 13, 2019 - 01:44 am

On March 11, GLAAD, the LGBTQ+ social justice non-profit organization, shared they will be honoring Beyoncé and JAY-Z for their work as allies of the gay community at their 30th Annual GLAAD Media Awards.

The GRAMMY-winning pair will be presented with the organization's Vanguard Award, which, as GLAAD explains, "is presented to allies who have made a significant difference in promoting acceptance of LGBTQ people. Beyoncé and JAY-Z are longtime allies and supporters of the LGBTQ community who use their global platforms to share messages that inspire and change the world for the better."

The annual awards ceremony celebrates "fair, accurate and inclusive representations of LGBTQ people and issues" in the media, recognizing LGBTQ+ changemakers—and their biggest allies—across music, film, TV, print media and more.

"Beyoncé and JAY-Z are global icons and passionate defenders of human rights and acceptance for all people," GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement on their site.

She continues: "When Beyoncé and JAY-Z speak, the world becomes inspired and when it comes to LGBTQ people, their voices of acceptance have been heard loud and clear. We could not be prouder to stand with them to send a message of love during the biggest LGBTQ event in the world and to honor their work to bend the arc of justice forward for LGBTQ people, people of color and marginalized communities everywhere."

GLAAD points to the couple embracing the queer community on their social-media platforms, in their music and videos, and more. They highlight Beyoncé choosing to include queer individuals and couples in her videos for "All Night" and "Formation," the latter which won Best Music Video at the 59th GRAMMY Awards. They also underscore her advocacy for the community, as she continues to speak up against laws that would discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community and proudly supports marriage equality.

The org explains that JAY-Z also publically supported the nationwide passage of marriage equality, and points to examples of celebrating LGBTQ+ leaders in his work. The music video for "Family Feud," from his 4:44 album, opens with a quote from the late social justice writer James Baldwin, a queer black man, and features a cameo from transgender activist Janet Mock.

"Smile," also from 4:44, tells the story of Jay's mother, Gloria Carter, who came out as a lesbian publically for the first time on the song. Both Jay and Carter were presented with GLAAD's Special Recognition Award at the 2018 event for the touching, personal song and video.

Jay and Bey are among the top GRAMMY winners of all time. Most recently, at the 61st GRAMMY Awards, they each earned another GRAMMY, for the collaborative album they released as The Carters. The powerful LP, Everything Is Love, won Best Urban Contemporary Album.

GLAAD will also hold an awards ceremony in New York City on May 4, where another GRAMMY-winning musical/pop culture icon, Madonna, will be honored with the Advocate For Change Award. The nominees up for awards this year include GRAMMY winner Brandi Carlile, GRAMMY nominees Janelle Monáe, SOPHIE, plus Hayley Kiyoko, Christine and the Queens, Troye Sivan and BROCKHAMPTON.

The L.A. event will be hosted by Ross Mathews and will feature special guests that include the cast of "Queer Eye" and GRAMMY winner Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons.

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Kanye West Leads BET Awards Nods

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Kanye West Leads BET Awards Nods
Nominations for the 2012 BET Awards were announced yesterday with Kanye West in the lead with seven nominations, including Video of the Year for "N****s In Paris" and "Otis" with Jay-Z, and Video Director of the Year. Beyoncé followed with six nominations, including Best Female R&B Artist and Video of the Year for "Countdown" and "Love On Top." Also receiving multiple nominations were Chris Brown, J. Cole, Drake, Jay-Z, and Lil Wayne. The awards will take place July 1 in Los Angeles. (5/23)