On the surface, J. Cole has lots to be grateful for. He was the first artist to sign to Jay Z’s Roc Nation label, he's released two gold-selling studio albums and has platinum singles to his name, yet internally the North Carolina-born spitter wasn’t happy, he reveals in Complex magazine's Dec. 2014/Jan. 2015 cover story.
Cole, 29, drops his third album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, next month and is at a point in his career where success is no longer measured by recognition or record sales. Getting to a place of contentment, one where he no longer stresses over what other people think, didn’t just happen over night. “I was unhappy when amazing things were happening, [career successes] that I should have been grateful for and super happy for,” he recalls. “I didn’t feel I was getting the type of recognition I always wanted and that I felt you had to get to be considered at a certain level.”
It wasn’t until last year that things changed. “I started to realize that means nothing. It’s all unattainable. You have no control over what somebody else feels about you, but you have 100 percent control over how you feel about yourself and how you feel about the people around you and how you handle life. I became happier and started to deal with s**t more, not run from the feelings, not have the anxiety.”
The preoccupation with matters he now deems unimportant stopped Cole from finding the gratitude in life. “I have so much positive s**t going on,” explained the Dreamville Records founder who recently nabbed a label distribution deal with Interscope. “I’ve got family and friends that love me. I have the opportunity to make music and have a career that I love. That [other] s**t is so minor.”
Speaking of "love," it happens to be big in Cole’s lyrical repertoire. “I became more conscious of that with this album,” he shares. “That’s what Hollywood represents versus 2014 Forest Hills Drive, which is home. Home is wherever the authentic, unconditional love is. The fake s**t, the synthesized love, is Hollywood. I ran from Fayetteville to New York, from New York to everywhere, ultimately looking for what? For love — respect and love from my peers, love from the fans, love from the critics. I’ve learned that none of that s**t is real. I appreciate it, it’s extra love, but it can and should only help and add to the real pot of love. It should not substitute.”
Finding happiness and ultimately a new peace of mind, has Young Simba looking at the future differently. Although he’s not ready to hang up the mic, if retirement ends up being the next chapter, he’s not backing away. “I love doing it, so I’m not going to use that as [a sales pitch], like, ‘Last album — make sure you go out and buy.’ But I’m content if this is my last one, going out like this,” says Cole. “Listen to all my music and you’ll hear this n***a who went to New York City and started with a dream; he gained his confidence and his step with The Warm Up and was here to show y’all n****s ‘I’m the best’ — and Friday Night Lights put a stamp on that. Sideline Story was like, ‘I have to figure this s**t out and sell records.’ Born Sinner was ‘F**k, that wasn’t how I wanted to do it. I gotta make up for that one, I got to get back to myself.’ And then fighting through all of that to realize on 2014 Forest Hills Drive, ‘No, this is where it was always at.’"
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(Photo: Complex Magazine, December 2014)