J. Cole’s 10 favourite albums of all time
Credit: LA Leakers


J. Cole's 10 favourite albums of all time

The North Carolina raised artist, J. Cole who has been reluctant to collaborate in recent years, has willingly been operating firmly in his own lane. In doing so, he has achieved astronomical levels of success.

Often regarded as the finest lyricist of his generation, what Cole does with his songs is weave intricate tapestries for his audience to unpick. Usually, in his songs, Cole adopts the role of the serial weaver as he effortlessly guides threads up and over, down and under as well as straight through the story. One song sees Cole at his best, the heartbreaking ‘3 Wishes’.

J.Cole’s last album, 2018 effort KOD, became his fifth consecutive number-one project on the Billboard 200 and featured set a record of six simultaneous top 20 hits on the Billboard Hot 100—an accomplishment which tied him with The Beatles. His LP from 2021 was another reminder of just how great an artist he truly is.

Here, tracing back to where it all began for J.Cole, we are exploring a sample of the albums that have moulded him by re-visiting a piece he conducted with Complex a number of years ago. Talking shortly after the release of his debut album Cole World: The Sideline Story, Cole discusses his ten favourite albums of all time and it acts as a reminder of his inspirations.

See the full list, below.

J. Cole’s 10 favourite albums of all time:

Micheal Jackson – Bad (1987)

Micheal Jackson’s pop masterpiece is the first feature on Cole’s list which was a record that shaped his early adolescence and is still one that he treasures today.

“I know that out of all the Michael Jackson albums, you could say Thriller or Off The Wall, depending on who you are,” J. Cole said. “But this was the first Michael Jackson album that I had and listened to religiously. I had the white cassette tape. I played it every day. I played ‘Man In The Mirror’ out.

“My favourite song was ‘Dirty Diana.’ I just have great memories of that album and that’s how I became a Michael Jackson fan.”

Nas – Illmatic (1997)

Nas’ Illmatic is unarguably one of the greatest hip-hop records of all time and, with that, instantly has to be in the conversation as the most powerful debut record in existence, the whole album is a statement of intent from the New Yorker.

”When this album dropped I had to be nine, so I give myself a pass for missing out on this at first,” J. Cole said. “It wasn’t until my cousin forced me to listen to ‘I gave you power’ off of It Was Written that I realised Nas was one of the greatest, and I had some homework to do! Illmatic is one of those albums that demonstrates the highest level of lyricism possible.”

UGK – Ridin’ Dirty (1996)

Ridin’ Dirty is the third studio album by American hip hop duo UGK which was released on July 30, 1996, by Jive Records. The album had no music videos or official singles released prior to its release but remains the duo’s most successful album with over 850,000 copies sold to date, with 70,000 copies sold in its first week.

J. Cole: “Certified classic. ‘Murder’ and ‘Diamonds and Wood’ are my favorites. RIP Pimp C.”

Fugees –The Score (1996)

The second and final studio album by Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel, featured the likes of ‘Killing Me Softly’ and ‘Ready Or Not’. A definitive ’90s hip-hop record from one of the decades most revered groups.

“I’ve got great memories of this album, everything down to the skits,” J. Cole’s 10 favourite albums of all time commented. “Classic. ‘On top of all my logic and my theory, I add a motherfucker so you ignant niggas hear me’ – Lauryn Hill.”

Tupac – Me Against The World (1995), All Eyez On Me (1996) and Makaveli (1996)

Tupac was obviously a figure who held a great influence over a young J. Cole and this trilogy of records by the rapper would change the way that he thought about music. Considering he was only 25 years of age when he tragically was killed, it is breathtaking to think about the legacy that he left behind and the vast number of artists whom he would inspire.

“I’ve got three Pac albums on here, so we can consolidate two of them. Everyone knows I’m a super-duper Pac fan, but when Me Against The World dropped I was 10-years-old,” Cole said. “So even being 10-years-old, I still knew the importance of this album. I knew how ill the shit he was saying was, and how emotional he sounded. I was ten years old, but I could connect to the dude.

“It’s like now, when I’m traveling on the road, a parent will bring their 11-year-old kid to me and say, ‘You’re his favorite rapper. He loves you.’ I’ll think, ‘Yo, he’s 11!’ I have to remember that when I was young, I got it too. I understood it. So it reminds me of that. It’s a classic. ‘Dear Mama’ is a fucking classic. The song ‘Me Against The World’ is a classic. ‘Temptations’ and ‘So Many Tears’ are my favorite songs on there.”

Adding: ”As far as All Eyez On Me, that was the first double disc in hip-hop. The fact that he even had the fucking audacity to make a double disc. [Laughs.] And make both discs incredible and able to stand on their own two feet, that’s crazy to me.”

“The reason why I love this album (Makaveli) is because I was a little older, I was in sixth grade. What really made this album incredible was the production. This was the first time I started really taking notice of the production on an album. I knew the beats on All Eyez On Me were incredible, but it was the first I said, ‘Damn, there’s a lot of live bass on this album. There’s a lot of live guitar.’ Everything had a sound, and it’s some of his deepest material front to back.”

Lauryn Hill –The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)

Lauryn Hill’s one and only solo album, which sounds just as good today as it did when the former Fugees member released it over 20 years ago.

J. Cole: “Lauryn Hill has a one of a kind voice. The writing and production are incredible on this album.”

Jay Z – The Blueprint (2001)

The first album to appear on Cole’s list from after the turn of the Millenium comes courtesy of his Roc Nation boss Jay Z, the record features classics such as ‘Takeover’, ‘Renegade’ and ‘Song Cry’.

“The Blueprint deserves its own shit,” Cole said. “I still remember where I was at and where I bought the album from. I remember driving around in my mom’s car, because she had a little mini-system in her car. I remember playing this album to death, front to back. I only skipped one song, which was ‘Jigga That Nigga,’ but even that I used to play. So even the song I skipped I still know the lyrics to. It’s just a classic, hands down.”

Lil Wayne – Tha Carter (2004)

Lil Wayne is a name who is greeted with a level of snobbery however, his records such as Tha Carter would influence the next generation of hip-hop that has dominated the charts over the last decade.

“Being from the South and being from that whole No Limit/Cash Money movement you’re a Wayne fan. You give him his props just for being associated with the Hot Boyz,” J. Cole said. “It was at a period when I had just gotten to college.

“I had a suitemate that ended up being one of my good friends in life, and he was putting me onto these Lil Wayne Squad Up mixtapes. I started really noticing his lyrical ability. I noticed that something had changed between his younger Hot Boyz days and then.

“After that, we got out and went home for the summer. He was like, ‘Did you hear this Lil Wayne Tha Carter?’ and he sent me his album. I’ll never forget hearing that intro thinking, ‘This shit is crazy.’ That album and his first Dedication mixtape was what got me sold on him to the point where I was going out and praising Lil Wayne, like, ‘This nigga is the best.’ This album represents that time when he started to hit that monster level.”

Kanye West – College Dropout (2004)

The final name on Cole’s extraordinary list comes from Kanye West’s impeccable 2004 debut album College Dropout, which saw the acclaimed producer prove that he could do much more than create world-class beats.

“This shit was a life-changing album for me. The first time I heard Kanye rap was on ‘Champions,’ but the first time I saw him and figured out who he was was when the ‘Through The Wire’ video came out,” Cole commented. “That was the summer before I went to school, in June of 2002. From that moment, I was like, ‘This nigga is the truth.’ I was instantly addicted to the music.

“I went and got everything that was unreleased at that time. I was riding with him, to the point that when I got to school that semester in New York, luckily he had a show at S.O.B.’s. and I went. It was a legendary show. His album didn’t come out until like seven months after that, so it was early. That album is all of my memories of my freshman year of college.”