J. Cole on Being Biracial: “I Represent Both Sides”

Part two of our interview with the up and coming rap star.

Posted: 08/27/2013 08:30 AM EDT
J. Cole

In part one of our viral interview with J. Cole, the rapper went deep about racial profiling, homophobia and colorism in hip hop and America. Plus, he talked Splinter Cell: Blacklist, which is in stores now. In part two, the North Carolina native sounded off on touring, Jay Z, fame, his biracial identity and more.  

You have an upcoming tour.  What are you looking forward to the most about being on the road?
Touring is very routine. You get to the city, you go to the hotel, you got to be at the hotel by a certain time — it’s very routine. I’m not a very structured person so when I get some structure, it’s cool, it’s good for me. I also get a lot of personal space on tour, in the back of the studio bus just working. I’m also looking forward to the production. I’ve never went on tour with a production this great, in terms of lighting, building the stage and video screens. It’s the biggest tour I’ve ever done in terms of cost and production. I’ve never done all this before; it’s new to me. I’m looking forward to that. 

For the first time, four different hip hop albums consecutively held the number  one spot on Billboard — you, KanyeWale and Jay Z.  That was big for hip hop. What did Jay Z say to you after Born Sinner reached number one?
Just congratulations and that the reason why he respected me so much is because he said…I don’t know how to word it, but younger artists are accustomed to hand outs, what such-and-such didn’t or did for me. He said in a day and age where everybody’s looking for somebody to do something for them, I went the opposite route and did it on my own. Then I put myself up against one of the biggest artists in the game [Kanye West] just to guage where I’m at — he just commended that. He told me congratulations and he appreciated what I did. 

There are artists who have talked about the struggles they’ve faced being biracial in the music industry. In hip hop, have you experienced any pushback for your background? 
Not at all. Just questions, I think people are curious to know. I get those questions a lot. “How has it affected you? Did you have identity issues growing up?” I get those questions a lot but I feel like I represent both sides. The perspective that I’m bringing is a side that’s aware of both. I’ve seen both sides. I wouldn’t be able to say the things I say had I not seen another side. I don’t think I’d be aware of the inequalities if I wasn’t in these classes with all white kids, but then all my friends outside of class are not in these classes — and I see what happens in their classes or right down the street at the school that was my district, the school I was supposed to go to. They don't even have books to take home. But why my school, which is 60 percent white, why does it have more than enough? I don’t think I [would have] been aware of that had I not been brought up with a white mother.  

You’re part of a new generation of artists who are turning the conventions of hip hop on their head. How would you define hip hop today, compared to what it was 20 years ago?
Twenty years ago was ’93, so that was definitely the gangster era on the rise, but you also had a balance of A Tribe Called Quest and that movement. How does it compare? I think it’s just more evolved, aware of itself in the form of being a vessel for art and also a vessel for business. There’s clear vehicles you can use hip hop now. When back then it was just like, you had people rapping and the next thing they know their getting paid off rap. It was just like, “Damn, I never expected this.” It wasn’t even a dream for them, it just happened. Therefore, it only lasted a couple albums. Now it’s like the path, it's the way out. I think the music is then made different. The songs you hear on the radio are made with the intention of being successful radio songs. When back then, I feel like hip hop was just cooking; I don’t think it was so formulaic. It’s way more formula now. Even the successful stuff that we call “pure hip hop” now, it has still got formulas to it, there’s catchy parts — more formula driven.

Are you at all nervous about fame or celebrity?
Not nervous because it’s inevitable. I already see it so it’s only going to get more restricting. I don’t like to be restricted. I’m the same kid who used to hop the trains with headphones and just go to downtown Manhattan, walk around and listen to music or walk through the city. The fame restricts that. It’s a small complaint in comparison to the benefits I get from it, but the restrictive part is what I don’t like — and the fact that it’s not reversible. You can’t reverse fame. You can lose all the money but you’ll never lose people knowing you. 

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(Photo: Mike Windle/Getty Images for BET)

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