J. Cole and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are “perfect strangers” on the cover of ESPN’s The Magazine, out next month. Inside the issue, Cole and Earnhardt talk about why a 40-year-old white NASCAR diver got shouted out on the 29-year-old rapper’s new album.
Cole and Earnhardt hadn't actually met in person prior the shoot. “It all started when I missed the deadline for the physical CD album credits, so I decided to put them on a song and basically shout out everybody who had something to do with the album,” explained Cole. “I’d been working on the album for a year, and I was in such an ecstatic mood — I felt like I won. So while I'm shouting out everybody, I was like, ‘I may as well pretend a shout out, somebody I have no idea who they are, just as a joke.’
That’s where Earnhardt came into the picture. In an old interview, he named Cole’s “Power Trip” single as the song he plays before races, “Which freaked me out!” admitted the rapper.
“What is Dale Earnhardt Jr. doing playing my s**t? How did he even find out about it? You don't think somebody on that level would ever hear your stuff," Cole said. "From there, I never forgot, I was always like, ‘Yo, I ride with Dale Earnhardt Jr.’ So when I was picking a name, I chose his. And it worked out crazy. Everywhere I go now — the airport, the store — people say, ‘Yo, Cole, I love that album, bro, it's a classic!’ And Dale Earnhardt Jr., it's the first thing they bring up! It's already a thing in hip hop, already an inside joke that's going to live forever."
Earnhardt found out about Cole’s music through the Internet radio app Pandora. Since both hail from North Carolina, he was even more inclined to become a fan. "When you like a guy's music and you find out he's from where you're from, you tend to start to follow him,” Earnhardt said. “I heard he had a new album, and it started popping up on my Twitter timeline that there was this shout out. I was like, ‘Oh s**t, what's happening here?’ So I went and listened to it, and it was funny as hell! So I tweeted to him, ‘Man, that s**t's funny!" And he retweeted it and thought it was cool.”
The fact that Cole “reps North Carolina in his music” made Earnhardt “proud,” he said. “We’re proud of you too, man," Cole said back. "You're a legend. My brothers are going to flip. It's crazy that that shout out would lead to this.”
Later in the interview, Cole and Earnhardt discuss similarities between rap and NASCAR. The issue lands on newsstands Feb. 2.
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