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Old School Archives

How Jay-Z and Tupac helped J. Cole forge his sound

J. Cole is undoubtedly one of the most talented artists behind the mic in the modern era, and after all, he was mentored by Jay-Z. ‘Hova’ has been a crucial part of his life even before their two path’s crossed; in fact, Cole once named Tupac and Jay as the biggest influences on his career.

Over the last decade, since he shot to fame, the rapper has proven that he can go toe-to-toe with anybody in this game. On top of that, Cole is refreshingly blessed with an old school mindset, and it feels like he’s a throwback to a bygone era of hip-hop. In a pool of SoundCloud rappers, Cole is championing lyrics over pure vibe, and it’s helped make him a renaissance man.

Cole, not one to look over his shoulder at what his peers are doing, instead creates music the only way he knows how. It’s a mindset that has rewarded him richly, solidifying him as one of the most prominent figures in the rap game right now. However, his love for Tupac and Jay-Z will never be eclipsed.

“Jay was mentor before I ever signed to him,” J. Cole told Lobel back in 2014. “I studied his moves that much. I got to go on tour with him and steal a lot of gems. That’s how you supposed to do it. You’re supposed to learn and take pieces from the greatest.”

That tour was a life-affirming experience for Cole, and also, Jay likely wanted to see him in action before signing him to Roc Nation. They’ve formed a tight-knit bond since that run of dates, which forced the Off-Season rapper to up his game.

He continued, “So, Jay was my mentor before I ever signed to him. And now that I signed to him it’s just a blessing to be able to hit him for advice and get that real 20 years of experience or however long he been in the game. It’s priceless.”

Although Jay is a hero to him personally and professionally, Cole’s love of Tupac’s music is unparalleled. “My favourite rapper was Pac,” he explained. “He was my favourite rapper before I even started rapping. Before I even thought of-It went from Michael Jackson, Bobby Brown as a kid and artists like that. Even Kool Moe Dee. Just the cool dude that I looked up to.

“Then one day my stepfather came home from-I don’t know if he was back from Desert Storm. I remember him coming home with that first Pac album. With ‘Brenda’s Got A Baby.’ It was 2Pacalypse Now. 

“I was too young to know what he was talking about, but it connected. Cause that’s the thing about art. It’s just truth. It’s straight whatever you feel. So, even as a seven-year-old kid, an eight-year-old kid, I could hear Pac’s early albums and feel the truth.”

With icons like that in tow, it’s little wonder that Cole has managed to climb his way to the top of the pile. He has Jay-Z on speed-dial as someone to sound ideas against, which makes every other rapper in the world envious. Whether it’s musically or from a business perspective, Jay is a guy who has been there and made history. However, without Pac, there simply is no J. Cole, and he doesn’t even end up signing with Roc Nation.