(Photo: Billboard, June 2013)
Kanye West isn't the only person J. Cole is facing off with for his Born Sinner release, he's also fighting against himself. A self-professed "underdog," Cole covers the latest issue of Billboard magazine, where he elaborated on the fear of failing that tends to seep through his lyrics.
Cole, born Jermaine Cole in Fayetteville North Carolina, is son to an interracial couple and was primarily raised by his mother, a white postal worker. The 26-year-old looks more suited for basketball than the rap game, but in the interview he describes camping outside Jay-Z's New York City studio in hopes of meeting his idol and launching his career. "We were standing in the rain for hours, drinking a bottle of E&J for courage."
He would later become the first person signed to Hov's Roc Nation label. By the time 2011's Cole World: The Sideline Story was up for release, two less than stellar singles ("Who Dat" and "Work Out," which eventually moved up from No. 98 to No. 13 on the Hot 100 charts) didn't calm the trepidation, but he still had faith. "I remember praying at the time, 'Please, Lord, let me do 100 the first week,'" he recalled. "The label was predicting 60,0000-70,000. But when the charts came in, all these top execs were calling [former Columbia Records VP of A&R] Mark Pitts, calling Jay-Z, like, 'Yo, how the f--k did you do it?' I worked my fan base and put out free music and toured for two years, that's how. Every album I sold wasn't because of a hit song. The single didn't do the work; my fan base did."
The prayer and the fans paid off, double time. Cole World debuted at No. 1 with 217,000 records sold in it's first week. Now with Born Sinner exactly two weeks from release, old fears still very much have a place in Cole's psyche. And the 'Ye factor only adds to the pressure. "I am not half as big of an artist," he admitted in regards to West. "He's legendary. He's one of the greatest artists of this generation. But I just have that competitive spirit about me."
While West and Cole get all the shine, there's another rapper fighting to top the charts on June 18, and he too has been there before. Mac Miller's Watching Movies With the Sound Off shares the release date. His 2011 Blue Slide Park debut sold 145,000 copies, earning the title as the first independent album to come in at No. 1 in over a decade.
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