Mack Pittman // REVOLT
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For anyone who’s been following the career of Dreamville’s own J. Cole over the past decade, you’ve seen his journey as an undeniably talented up-and-comer to one of the premier hip hop artists of this generation. Musically, Cole has undoubtedly been consistent, but has never been the type of MC to oversaturate us with his content.
However, since the early part of 2018, Cole has become increasingly active, relentlessly hopping on tracks with his peers as if he has a point to prove. He’s been killing feature verses left and right by pretty much covering all bases from Jay Rock to Rapsody to Moneybagg Yo to Young Thug and more.
As we continue to enjoy these records, we wanted to take a look back at the work Cole has put in as a featured artist throughout his career. It was challenging, but we’ve put together a strong list ranking J.Cole’s 11 most classic guest features. Let’s get into it!
Royce da 5’9 is easily one of the top lyricists in the game today. So, when “Boblo Boat” was released as the first single for his album Book of Ryan, fans were anxious to hear what a Royce and Cole record would sound like. They delivered a track with a reminiscent and introspective theme, which allowed both rappers to offer verses with great substance, while still flexing as lyricists. The vibe on this one is timeless, as Cole gave Royce one of his better verses in recent years.
The career trajectories of Drake and Cole are similar in many ways. They first collaborated on “In The Morning,” a record first featured on Cole’s 2010 tape, Friday Night Lights. Both MCs were viewed as two of the leading forces for the new era of hip hop, making the collaboration that much more exciting. In 2013, a year when Drake released Nothing Was The Same and Cole dropped Born Sinner, both artists were truly coming into their own as rap stars. Understanding that, fans were ecstatic when Drizzy and the North Carolina rapper came together for a good old fashioned, braggadocious bar session with the “Jodeci (Freestyle).” On this, Cole delivers a bold, bar-heavy verse that still stands out in his lengthy catalog of features.
Cole and Wale first worked together back in 2009, and since then, have yet to disappoint. “My Boy” is a fun record crafted frankly for the two rappers to get some bars off and Cole really spazzes out on this one. Last year was special for Jermaine, and this joint really exemplifies the bag he was lyrically in. Nonstop bars and wordplay are heard throughout this track, making for another dope entry to the already great list Cole and Wale tracks.
A fitting title, right? In 2009, J. Cole got signed to JAY-Z’s Roc Nation, which was around the same time his critically acclaimed mixtape The Warm Up was released. When given the opportunity to rap with Jigga on The Blueprint 3’s “A Star Is Born,” Cole took advantage by delivering a memorable verse that embodied his skillset, even in its brevity. The importance of his appearance on this record can never be overstated because of how early it was in his career.
A Cole and DJ Khaled record on paper immediately reads as compelling, though unpredictable. This track however, ended up being one of the standouts on DJ Khaled’s 2016 album, Major Key. On “Jermaine's Interlude,” we hear the MC deliver an introspective vent session on wax. The honesty and raw emotions were evident in his voice, as Cole gave his unfiltered take on fame, the music industry and society. Despite the infamous line where he admitted, “I play with thoughts of retirement” being the most discussed following the song’s release, there were some great jewels dropped throughout his verse.
6lack’s sophomore album, East Atlanta Love Letter, was quietly one of the best releases of 2018. Maybe the album’s most memorable song was “Pretty Little Fears,” a track where Cole delivered one of the best guest verses of the year. The rapper adds an especially poetic verse, declaring his appreciation for his wife over some atmospheric T-Minus production. The record was already a standout without Cole, but his verse took it to another level, making for a perfect complement to the direction that 6lack had for the song.
Storytelling 101. On “Pray,” a song featured on The Game’s 2012 album, Jesus Piece, Cole puts on a lyrical show by telling an interesting story about a sexual encounter with a woman “back home.” While speaking from his perspective as a rapper who’s garnered some success, the verse is a compelling one because it highlights the duality of life in many ways. The arrogant and selfish mindset that we all can have at times, but also the sympathy we feel for the unfortunate situations of others. The Game always keeps some great deep cuts each album and this was definitely one of them.
21 Savage and Cole over some vintage soul production made for one of the top singles last year. Who would’ve thought it? “A Lot” served as the intro for Savage’s second studio album, I Am > I Was, and was an instant success. 21 held it down for the first two or so minutes, and Cole closed the record out with a flawlessly executed verse that -- for some reason -- just felt like the perfect verse to wrap up 2018. The warm production put Cole in a comfortable pocket, allowing him to kick some knowledge, while flexing his abilities as an MC.
In 2014, Los Angeles rapper Cozz was a young and hungry artist trying to make a name for himself in rap. “Knock Tha Hustle” encapsulates the passionate energy of anyone who is grinding and trying to figuring their life out. The Dreamville rapper channels this energy effortlessly, delivering a vicious couple of verses that can stand up with some of his career's best work. To Cole fans, this is a classic record that seems to only get better with time.
This is where things get interesting. Cole’s verse on Wale’s “Beautiful Bliss” can easily be pinpointed as the best feature verse of his career without much argument. The beautiful hook provided by singer Melanie Fiona, and the strong verses from Wale made this a great track. But, what Cole added to this record made it unforgettable. This showed the MC at the peak of his lyrical powers, as he offers quotables, great content, flow-switches and everything else you look for in a verse. Ten years later, the record has continued to age gracefully and still feels special.
“Ironic you been sleeping on the one that you been dreamin' 'bout”
That final bar pretty much sums up this verse. In 2010, Kanye West’s legendary rollout for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was G.O.O.D Fridays. These consisted of a series of songs released on Fridays, which also featured tracks with guest appearances from a wide array of amazing artists. Cole was tapped for “Looking For Trouble,” and fans heard a Cole who we weren’t quite used to. His aggression and brash raps made for an epic finale to a track that was already stacked with great lyricists. When the beat drops out and Cole keeps rapping relentlessly, it was clear that this would be a moment -- a moment that Cole took full advantage of by delivering the best feature performance of his career.
Honorable Song Mentions ("Lit," "Mama Told Me," "Off Deez," "Just Begun")
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