VERY OFTEN, when rappers talk about those who have influenced them in their careers, many list luminaries like Tupac, Biggie Smalls and N.W.A.
But for US hip-hop sensation Jermaine Lamarr Cole – better known as J Cole – his first and lasting influence has been his mother. Currently signed to Jay-Z’s record label Roc Nation, Cole explains how the support of his mum made him the artist he is today.
“The biggest influence in my life was my mother,” says the North Carolina native. “As I was growing up, she introduced me to music; she listened to a wide variety of songs, all types, from jazz to folk music.”
Cole was hotly tipped as one to watch when he became the first artist to be signed to Roc Nation in 2009. The buzz surrounding hip-hop’s next big thing translated into tangible success when his debut album Cole World: The Sideline Story sold over 115,000 in one day and subsequently reached the number one spot on the Billboard chart.
But of all his achievements, the Who Dat hitmaker is most happy when he thinks about how pleased his mother is to see his success.
“My mum is super proud right now,” says the 28-year-old. “When I left home and moved to New York, my older brother was gone too. I was a free spirit and I was so caught up in being in New York, I didn’t think about leaving my mum. She was totally alone.”
Though Cole is clearly a family guy, listening to his lyrics, it becomes clear that it hasn’t always been a case of happy families for the young star. Upon his introduction to the rap game, it was widely publicised that the rapper’s father left the family when Cole was young.
The experience led the lyricist to address the issue of absent fathers in his tracks Breakdown and Lost Ones, and he believes it’s an issue that is particularly relevant for the black community.
“I rap about a lot of different issues, like family issues or fathers not being present. I didn’t know my father and until I got older, I didn’t know any people with two parents [still together].”
“About 99 per cent of my friends were raised by their mother only; their fathers were mystery figures. I talk about it because it’s a real issue in the black community. There are conversations I have in real life that I put into my music; my music is who I am as a person.”