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From Competing With Kanye to Finding His Own Success, J. Cole Has Come A Long Way Since 'Born Sinner'



It's been three years since J. Cole's sophomore release Born Sinner competed for the #1 spot against Kanye West's Yeezus. A lot has happened to J. Cole's career since his ambitious and competitive decision to compete with Kanye West for the top spot. In 2013 J. Cole was on the edge of reaching his pinnacles in less than five years of him rapping these bars on "Forbidden Fruit;" 
"When I say that I'm the greatest I ain't talking about later
I'm a drop the album the same day as Kanye
Just to show the boys the man now like WanyĆ”
And I don't mean no disrespect, I praise legends
But this what's next the boy sick, can't disinfect..."
Unfortunately for Cole, he fell short of the top spot in the first week to Ye. At the time of it's release, J. Cole had developed a strong fan base, but the industry still questioned J. Cole's future commercial success.While Kanye's Yeezus album is still highly debated by Hip-Hop as one of West's top 5 best albums or his top worst, Born Sinner eventually did fine on its own. In the third week of the album's release, Born Sinner jumped from #2 to #1 on Billboard 200. Eventually selling more cumulatively than Yeezus with two successful radio singles. 
"But I finally put my Momma in that E class, 

And I told her quit her job, but hold your horses
If my next album flops it's back to the post office, both of us, shit
They're saying that's a real possibility
The thought alone is killing me" - "Cole Summer," Truly Yours 2
J. Cole's career has been the story of the underdog. Coming into the industry as Jay Z's Roc Nation signee created pressure and expectation. Initial reservations of success of acts like J. Cole, Big Sean, Drake and Kendrick Lamar created the birth of a new era of Hip-Hop, where all of them have made an impressionable imprint on Hip-Hop culture. Carrying the chips on their backs allowed them to win their own way. After Born Sinner, J. Cole abandoned his quest of industry acceptance, as well as mainstream success, and found a new perspective on life. 

J. Cole's personal and artistic evolution drew him further from the industry as the industry drew closer to him following 2014 Forest Hills Drive. It appeared that J. Cole finally found the success he dreamed and now receiving the accolades he once had hoped. People were captivated closer into his elevated his lifestyle into true manhood with substance, growth, happiness, redemption, freedom and family that played out both privately and publicly. 

 J. Cole's 4 Your Eyez Only came 2 years after 2014 Forest Hills Drive. Similarly to his previous album, 4YEO didn't receive much marketing rolling up to its release besides two singles not featured on the album "False Prophets"(people allude may have referenced Kanye West) and "Everybody Dies." Contrary to all of J. Cole's music being a personal peek into Jermaine's life, 4 Your Eyez Only is one of his most personal pieces of work. J. Cole was able to narrate the album through the voice of the unspoken, while we assume creating parallels to his personal life. 


"For Your Eyez Only Tour" gives fans an intimate feeling experience with the artists as he travels you through the album. The show's set resembles a prison yard, as J. Cole is escorted to the stage by correctional officers. Throughout the show he wears an orange prison jumpsuit with "Property Of" embroidered on the back. His performance opening is "From Whom The Bell Tolls," as he proceeds the remainder of the album in its chronological order. Of course he takes break from the album to perform a series of his classic fan favorites. In between songs, J. Cole takes an opportunity to be transparent with his audience to share his outtakes on various topics. 

He performs "Forbidden Fruit," a song he typically doesn't perform on tour. As he approaches the end, he reverses the beat which you discover is "Neighbors" from 4YEO. This came as total surprise to those who hadn't already found out through social media.  After performing "Neighbors" he plays real footage of his NC studio being raided as he stands center stage explaining the incident. The footage was publicly released on the "For Your Eyez Only" HBO documentary earlier this year. 


Its then the message of the tour is clear. The second portion of the "4 Your Eyez Only Tour" is underway in major cities across the US. During his Los Angeles stop, he performs at The Fourm to two back to back sold out shows. The set design, the costume, his messages in between songs align with his story of still dealing with systematic oppression and racism, despite fame and money. 

Now four albums in, J. Cole has cultivated his career into something unique. His tours and documentaries are just as personal as his albums. J. Cole sells out major venues, has more than one platinum album and has been put in conversations of his writing and producing abilities with an artist that outsold him in the first week in 2013 yet, truthfully much hasn't changed about his messages from 3 years ago. The tie he made from "Forbidden Fruit" to "Neighbors" is a direct link to his progression and the origins of his career. 



   (Photos: Farrin Hymon)

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