J. Cole Is Secretly One Of Rap’s Most Stylish Artists

Before launching his currently running Off-Season tour, J. Cole made a statement with his performance at the iHeartRadio Festival. It wasn’t a political statement, or even an announcement, though. It was a fashion statement. Rocking a tie-dye shirt, sweatpants, and black Crocs, Cole captured the attention of social media. While he’s far from the only rapper to endorse the Broomfield, Colorado shoe brand’s signature chunky, no-effort clogs, it was notable that he did so during such a high-profile performance. However, it shouldn’t be surprising; J. Cole has always secretly been one of rap’s most stylish artists.

I know what you’re thinking: “J. Cole? Stylish??” And I get it. If you’re online in any way, you’ve likely seen the Fayetteville, North Carolina rapper getting roasted for seemingly putting minimal effort into his performance fits — see the aforementioned Crocs instance. He’s never been one to shout out name brands or construct elaborate ensembles with glittering accessories dangling from his neck or wrists. He’s the ultra-regular rapper whose almost extreme relatability gets him clowned for not being flashy enough either in content or presentation.

Let’s get a few things clear, though. Fashion and style are two different things. As Cole’s mentor Jay-Z once said, “I can’t teach you my swag / You can pay for school but you can’t buy class.” Just donning a stack of expensive items bearing the brand marks of Italian designers doesn’t equate to having style; anyone can buy their way into fashion icon status with enough money. Having style means having a signature look, an ethos behind what you’re wearing besides showing off your bank account. It’s about showing people who you are. Plenty of rappers are arguably more fashionable than J. Cole but while designers’ names pop off of individual pieces, their ensembles often look like they got dressed in the dark with their stunner shades on.

Cole knows exactly what he’s going for with his looks, opting for comfort over name recognition. And yes, he too flaunts established rules about color matching and fit, he usually turns out to just be ahead of a coming trend rather than out of style. Consider his ultra laid-back looks of late. Some may consider them frumpy or lazy, but who among us didn’t give up on jeans during the pandemic in favor of layabout fits better suited to our new working from home lifestyles (I mean, those of you who didn’t already work from home)? Even his adoption of Crocs as performance wear reflects the foam clogs’ newfound popularity and cultural cachet. Industry peers like Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj, and Post Malone have collaborated with the brand with pieces so highly demanded they’ve sold out within minutes of availability.

Maybe Cole hasn’t become a fashion icon because his simple, cozy fits reflect his down-to-earth persona a little too well. Just look at Kanye West, who’s gotten away with leather kilts, retro puffer vests, cultural appropriation (those keffiyehs didn’t bother anyone else?), and all types of other outlandish sartorial choices — including his own lazy-boy, dad-life-inspired Yeezy brand — almost solely because he presents himself as a fashion maven, going to designers’ shows and pitching fits (no pun intended) about his perceived lack of support from those in the industry.

Say what you want about Cole’s love for tie-dye and baggy joggers, at least his looks have a lot of personality. Yeezy seasons 2-6 were roundly ridiculed for being bland and lackadaisical, with Kanye seemingly re-pitching the same shapeless, earth-tone pieces year after year. Cole may not have his own brand, but his style has an identity; he isn’t just mashing together designer pieces for the sake of Frankenstein-ing the most expensive outfit for the sole purpose of flexing. You can even see how his — and Yeezy’s — respective influences have begun to spread. More and more celebrities like Bieber and Billie Eilish have already embraced the cozy lifestyle dressing for comfort over Vogue approval… And fans have naturally reciprocated. Being outside after the past year is anxiety-inducing enough; why not at least be warm (or well-ventilated), mobile, and free from worries about showing off the quarantine 15 many of us picked up after a year of UberEats (or Postmates, or DoorDash) and suspended gym memberships?

If you ask me, J. Cole always had the right idea. He’s always just dressed like himself, even as he strove to be a superstar rapper. If anything, that’s the most hip-hop thing he could’ve done. Remember when the Beastie Boys tried to dress like rappers, with their matching Adidas sweatsuits? Russell Simmons saw right through them; they looked ridiculous. Instead, he told them, they should be themselves — that would endear them far more to the culture than looking like outsiders trying to dress the part. It seemed like that would be the rule forever, but somewhere along the way, that rule got lost. Keeping it real wasn’t enough; you had to look like you were rich — which, to the newly wealthy artists of the platinum era, meant wearing all the money they were “making,” even if they were just wasting their advance money to look cool by someone else’s standard.

From the moment he arrived on the scene, J. Cole offered an antithesis to the money-hungry image often associated with major label rap acts. Sure, for a while, he got caught up in the hype himself (hello, “Mr. Nice Watch”), but in time, he grew into his status and embraced his own way of doing things. His style is a reflection of his music, which is a rejection of rap’s status quo — or maybe just a reclamation of its roots. Yes, the pioneers of the culture wanted to be fly, but they wanted to be fly their way, to show the world who they were without frills or having to code-switch to fit in. Cole doesn’t switch up for anyone else’s approval, which is really what hip-hop is all about. For that alone, he should be considered not just a style icon, but one of rap’s role models for redefining the rules and showing the world that style and substance don’t have to be opposites. Like Cole’s intricate rhymes and his mainstream success, they can counterintuitively go hand-in-hand.

Rolling Loud New York 2021 – Playboi Carti & Uzi Reunite and More

It went down at Rolling Loud New York 2021. Continue reading…

Wale Explained How A Bad Touring Experience Pushed Him To Leave Jay-Z’s Roc Nation

While he spent more than a decade under Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group, Wale, who just released his Folarin II album, has called a few other labels home throughout his career. This includes Interscope, Atlantic, and Warner Records, where he resides today. Another place he called home at one point was Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, which served as his management team since 2009. However, during his 2013 What Dreams May Come Tour with fellow rapper and good friend J. Cole, Wale was pushed to leave Roc Nation after he came to a shocking realization during the string of shows, something he revealed during an appearance on the Drink Champs podcast.

“What happened was, I was in the Hov cycle for a long time,” he said on the podcast. “There was a time that I was on tour with J. Cole. At the time, I was opening for him. They said it was a co-headlining tour, but whatever, I was opening for him, and it was an elaborate stage and this that and the third.”

He continued, “And somebody in my circle told me, ‘You’re losing 5 grand every time you get on stage. Not only are you’re not breaking even, you’re losing money.’ Me, at that point in my life, I forget what city we was in but I was on the bus and I got an offer to do a tour with two other artists. And I wanted to go with Cole because that’s my brother and we just did the Hov tour.”

At this point, Wale knew a decision had to be made between staying or exiting the tour. “I could literally be hosting clubs and making this a night,” he noted. “I just had a meltdown for real and I remember whatever city I was in, there were three days left and I just quit the tour. I just quit.” Wale added, “If I was touring by myself, I could be bussin’ it crazy every night. So I kinda just had a meltdown and I didn’t know who to call, my lawyer or my accountant. The next day, called somebody there and they gave me this option or that option.”

Despite his frustrations, Wale maintains that it’s been nothing but love between him and Jay-Z since the touring incident. “It’s been all love ever since but I wasn’t privy to this f*ckin’ music industry sh*t,” Wale admitted. ” I just knew, this many people in the room, we can make something happen. Jay’s still my idol, still my favorite rapper. I still got all the love for all of them. I was just a little bit early in this sh*t though.”

You can watch the full Drink Champs video

Wale Brought Q-Tip Out During His Rolling Loud Set To Perform ‘Vivrant Thing’

An appearance from Q-Tip is a very rare thing these days, but Wale made one happen for the lucky fans attending his Rolling Loud set this weekend. As he graced the stage at the hip-hop fest, Q took the time to perform an oldie but classic song for fans, busting out the first single off his solo record, Amplified. “Vivrant Thing” was a chart hit for the rapper, and a remix also featured verses from Missy Elliott and Busta Rhymes, but more recently, Wale sampled it for the song “Poke It Out” featuring J. Cole as part of his new album, Follarin II. Now, Tip has some new solo material on the way, but it’s always great to go back to the beginning. Check out a clip of Q-Tip’s performance below:

As the last decade has seen a plethora of unexpected or untimely deaths in the hip-hop community, the call to give veterans their roses while they’re still here has been strong. That’s exactly what Wale has done by bringing the Tribe Called Quest legend out during his set. Regardless, the internet has certainly changed how hip-hop is perceived, and how it is consumed. In a recent interview with Uproxx for a cover story earlier this month, Wale said that the new shift toward recording everything on social media has changed public perception a lot. He cites his won accomplishments in his early career that rarely get recognized as an example.

“I don’t think a lot of people don’t know that me, Cole, and Pharrell opened for Jay-Z,” he said. “We did a whole college tour… A lot of people don’t know I opened for Jay before that, even in Europe… A lot of people don’t know I opened for Rihanna in Europe. Because there was no Snapchat. I wasn’t walking around with a cameraman for YouTube all day. It was a weird time… We got a little bit of the Mandela effect going on in this generation.” Read the full cover here, and check out Wale’s “Poke It Out” video above.

J. Cole Helps Us Decide Whether Big Arenas Or Smaller Venues Offer The Best Concert Experience

For as long as hip-hop has existed it has done so in sweaty, small venues where the crowd is often pressed into the stage and the artists are no more than an arm’s length away from their adoring fans in the front row. As hip-hop’s commercial appeal grew, though, so too did the size of the crowds, then the venues themselves. Now, rap music is being played at arenas and stadiums before tens of thousands of fans at once. While that’s great for the genre — and artists’ bank accounts — there are some who feel that the old-school, intimate feeling at rap’s core has been lost, or, at least, irrevocably eroded.

When No. 1-selling artists like Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and J. Cole come to towns now, it’s rarely to show out to the 5,000-capacity (or lower) sized rooms in which they got their respective starts. K-Dot wouldn’t be pulling up to The Good Hurt in 2021, even if its organizers had kept it going for the 15 years since he became a household name. Which is why, when J. Cole announced a throwback, small-venue show at The Roxy on Saturday for SiriusXM and Pandora’s Small Stage Series in Los Angeles, just two days after his headlining tour stop at The Forum in Inglewood, I jumped at the rare opportunity to compare the proverbial apples to apples and determine just which live experience really is best.

Another thing that helped the comparison: Cole used the same setlist (with the needed adjustments for absent guests) at both shows. The theme, according to the man himself, was “real fucking bars.” While many tours would focus on playing the hits, J. Cole wanted to try something different: bringing a focus to the lyrics to a new setting, the arena tour — a similar principle to the renewed focus on tongue-twisting displays of vocal virtuoso on his new album, The Off-Season. Of course, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t room for some of his hits, but when he opened the concert with the assertive “85 South,” it was clear that this wouldn’t be the typical arena show.

Like the artwork for the album, the stage revolved around a basketball theme, with a massive flaming hoop behind Cole. The man himself truly dressed for the occasion, wearing a Dreamville jersey in the signature colors of the iconic NBA team that once racked up multiple championships in the legendary venue. The joking Mount Rushmore meme made an appearance on the big screens. Cole’s band, ready to embellish every song with live instrumentation — a favorite was playing a snippet of Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.” during “Punching The Clock” — played from recesses upstage, allowing the focus to be entirely absorbed by the rapper and his occasional guests.

After running through impressive displays of breath control on “100 Mil” and “Let Go My Hand,” Cole finally launched into his “classic shit,” playing his older songs grouped by album/era. From 2014 Forest Hills Drive: “tale of 2 cities,” “GOMD,” “No Role Modelz,” and “Wet Dreams”; from his debut album Sideline Story: “Nobody’s Perfect,” “Workout,” and “Can’t Get Enough”; from his 2013 sophomore album Born Sinner: “Power Trip.”

He also played a few of his feature verses. His verse from Jeremih’s “Planes” got a warm reception and when Ari Lennox popped out to do “Shea Butter Baby” and “BMO,” the change of pace was welcomed by the audience. From Revenge Of The Dreamers III, Cole played *Under The Sun,” then Bas returned for a blitzkrieg performance of “Down Bad” under an image of the Dreamville lineup. Returning to The Off-Season era, “The Climb Back” and “Pride Is The Devil” preceded one last feature, “The London,” (during which Cole joked he finally started getting features on his own albums yet forgets his guests’ verses), then he was rejoined by tour openers 21 Savage (who happened to be celebrating his birthday) and Morray to close things out with “My Life.”

At the Forum, these songs rumbled to life and washed over the 17,505-capacity crowd. There’s a certain sound quality you only get from the massive systems available in big venues like this, but for all the bellowing bass and bone-rattling decibels, Cole’s vocals never got lost in the mix. This is an impressive achievement in itself, made all the more potent by that theme of “real bars.” The clarity of his rhymes anchored the show, making his newer songs feel all the more vivid and vibrant by the realization that there were no recording tricks, no punch-ins or retakes for him to fall back on. He can really, really, really, rap like the athlete he depicted himself as in the rollout to The Off-Season’s release.

Oddly enough, this element worked slightly against him in the closer confines of The Roxy. Acoustically, with his band packed around him on the 20-foot-square stage, their playing filled the room, sometimes overtaking the backing beats and threatening to drown him out — especially the drums. However, some deft on-the-fly remixing by the sound engineer throughout the set mitigated this, while the crowd — made up almost entirely of Cole diehards — weren’t just capable of picking up the slack, they relished it. When the whole crowd jumped in to finish lines and the like, The effect felt like it had more impact in the tighter space despite the disparity in the number of voices joining in. It was also fun to hear Jermaine’s vocals on “Let Go My Hand” as he filled in for his compatriot Bas, who had moved onto Red Rocks in Colorado with the rest of the Dreamville roster.

The smaller space had the added effect of increased crown participation, too — and vice versa. When Cole called for everybody to get their motherfucking hands up, he was able to see the one person in VIP with their hands down and gently call them out. He required fewer preambles between songs to catch his breath because he had less real estate to cover to perform to everybody in the room. He teased people who fake knowing the lyrics at shows (no one in particular here, but Lebron James sprung to my mind). The mic went out halfway through his “Can’t Get Enough” verse. His face said it all but he kept rapping and it worked out. The screams of encouragement from the audience were one thing… But then he did a reprise. It was the exact sort of unrehearsed, spontaneous moment that literally can’t happen at an arena show, hammering home the sense that it was a special, one-of-a-kind performance in a way that a rapper’s insistence that “this” city is the best one could never convey, no matter how many times they repeat it.

At the big show, things were professional and smooth, but impersonal. At the smaller one, sure, there were hitches, but Cole seemed all the more human for them. The sense of community and connectedness was greater at The Roxy; more than once, I had to shrug off an overly enthusiastic neighbor, which felt like a gift and a curse. Obviously, don’t touch people without their permission — but being part of what felt like a single organism, rather than just another seat number in a faceless crowd, is why these events even exist, right? The experience at the smaller show, especially with such a big artist who played so many fan favorites, amplified the communal enjoyment. As much as I enjoyed seeing Cole interact with his friends and collaborators, watching him do so with the people who came to see him had a different impact. (Also, getting home from the Forum with the parking and rideshare situations there can be an utter nightmare, adding a layer of unnecessary hassle that detracted from the afterglow).

It might seem elitist or snobby to say, but if you can, go to the small show. It’s harder to do, it’s rarer to experience, but it’s worth it. And if you can’t, go to the big one! It’s a fun night out, you get to see all the cool stage effects the artists worked out beforehand, there are usually surprise guests, and you will never hear better sound quality unless you’re in the studio with the artists when they’re recording the songs (the ultimate elitist experience, sorry). You really can’t go wrong with either choice.

J. Cole’s exclusive performance as part of SiriusXM and Pandora’s Small Stage Series will air on SiriusXM’s Hip Hop Nation channel via satellite (ch. 44) and on the SXM App on Tuesday, October 26 at 6:00 pm ET.

Young Thug Isn’t Quite A ‘Punk’ On His Latest, But Offers Up Some Of His Most Compelling Music Yet

The RX is Uproxx Music’s stamp of approval for the best albums, songs, and music stories throughout the year. Inclusion in this category is the highest distinction we can bestow and signals the most important music being released throughout the year. The RX is the music you need, right now.

Leave it to Thugger to continue to push the boundaries of what we should expect from him. After the success of his debut album So Much Fun, you’d think he’d lean further into the simple trap aesthetics that worked so well there, but instead, he takes a drastic stylistic departure akin to his “country” experiment Beautiful Thugger Girls on his latest album, Punk. However, despite its name, Punk is surprisingly low on power chords and rushed drumming, focusing instead on atmospheric, mellow production that sounds almost folksy.

It’s always been Thug’s way to make a left when everyone else expects him to make a right. Consider the mush-mouthed, yet irresistible chorus from 2014’s “Lifestyle” or the sartorially challenging cover from 2016’s Jeffery — both prime examples of Thug’s tendency to zig instead of zag while still adhering to a core of solid trap-rap fundamentals. Punk finds him again experimenting with sound and style but remaining as true as ever to his core aesthetic. In fact, it’s arguably the truest he’s ever been to himself — or at least, the most honest.

Starting with the very first song on the album, “Die Slow,” Thug is more revelatory here than he’s ever been. Over soft, poetry-house guitar strumming, Thug reveals childhood traumas, a prescient political outlook, and almost militant defiance toward being categorized, demeaned, or held back by societal expectations. Elsewhere on the album, the contrarian production leans tender, like some of the most emotive R&B ballads of the last ten years or so. “Insure My Wrist” is the most romantic ode to jewelry that hip-hop has produced in at least that span, which would be borderline surprising if Young Thug didn’t have a well-established history of being Young Thug.

“Love You More” also surprises, with its Nate Ruess and Jeff Bhasker appearances — but then again, it doesn’t, because Thug once sampled Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” sparking a years-long friendship that led to glowing assessments of Thugger’s talent from the knighted one himself. It’s also a gracious rumination on a relationship mostly bereft of Thugger’s usual cartoonish depictions of sex (although there is one line that reads as more considerate than jokey). Again, eyebrow-raising were it not from the same gentlemen whose catalog of hits includes “Best Friend,” a deceptively encouraging self-love anthem.

That isn’t to say he doesn’t go at least a little hardcore. While “Rich N**** Shit” with Juice WRLD is relatively far from Dead Kennedys — they’re philosophically opposite, on top of the sonic differences — the two rappers go for broke over a thumping, bass-turned-to-eleven beat with some good, old-fashion chest-thumping braggadocio. Meanwhile, the moody “Day Before” brings things full-circle with another confessional, ukulele-strumming introspective jam featuring Mac Miller. The punk promise here comes from the revelation that the song was literally recorded just one day before Mac’s tragic passing.

Thug brings out the best of his other guests on Punk, as well — particularly J. Cole, who stops just shy of a Thug impression on “Stressed,” a rejuvenated ASAP Rocky on “Livin It Up,” and Doja Cat on “Icy Hot.” While the tracklist feels excessive at times, the runtime comes across smooth, even with the bloat. As to why it’s called Punk, I think it boils down to Thug’s very personality. He’s always been anti-establishment, even as he slowly but surely became the establishment.

This album is his way of shaking himself loose from the tendency to stagnate and calcify as complacency sets in. He isn’t completely successful — perhaps a few more sonic cues from the rock world could have woken up some of the sleepier melodic songs — but the record is unapologetic, one-hundred-percent Thug. What’s more punk than being yourself? Maybe it’s just being willing to redefine exactly what that means, even if it’s just a little bit at a time.

Punk is out now via Atlantic Records and YSL. Get it here.

Young Thug is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.

Young Thug Reunites With J. Cole, Juice WRLD, And Mac Miller On His New Album, ‘Punk’

In keeping with the modern trend in hip-hop, Young Thug’s newly released second(!) album, Punk, is a star-studded affair on which the trap experimentalist is accompanied by a plethora of guests from across the genre. However, unlike his previous release, So Much Fun, he expands the range of artists he taps to help him fill time, including newcomers like ASAP Rocky, Doja Cat, and Mac Miller among his frequent collaborators like Drake, Gunna, and Future. He also reunites with J. Cole, Juice WRLD, and Post Malone after working with them on some of their biggest singles.

Thug, who officially kicked off the promotion for his latest album with his first-ever NPR Tiny Desk Concert alongside rock drummer Travis Barker, rolled out the album in a most unusual way, only releasing one single, “Tick Tock,” and playing new songs at places like Givenchy’s Paris Fashion Week show and in the backseats of Lyft drivers’ cars. And speaking of cars, his release party stunt of trashing a brand-new Rolls-Royce with baseball bats alongside Gunna and Metro Boomin drew both attention and criticism. However, judging from the fact that many fans on Twitter freely admitted to staying up later than usual for the release (midnight Pacific, three hours later than most New Music Friday releases), it would seem that these tactics had an overall positive effect on the album’s reception.

You can check out some of the new songs from Punk above and listen to the full album courtesy of Atlantic and YSL here.

Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.

J. Cole Reveals His Hilarious ‘Mt. Rushmore Of Rap’ During His ‘Off-Season’ Tour

Dave Chappelle may well be in hot water over his latest Netflix special at the moment, but his influence remains as strong as ever. Just take a look at J. Cole’s “Mt. Rushmore of Rap” display from his Off-Season tour currently crossing the nation. The cheeky statue takes just as much inspiration from Chappelle’s Show as it does from the Twitter meme it references, borrowing one of the hilarious bits from Dave’s parodic Making The Band sketch. Just like Chappelle’s exaggerated version of Jamaican rapper Dylan’s top 5 rappers of all time, Cole’s Mt. Rushmore consists of just one name/face.

J. Cole’s.

As you can see, the cheeky display, which flashes during his set, consists of just four photos of Cole at different stages of his career (remember when he had the bald fade? Time flies!). The screenshot above comes courtesy of Vibe‘s recap of the Dallas tour stop by Eric Diep, who caught the moment and posted it to Twitter for posterity.

The jokey Mt. Rushmore is illuminating after Cole’s “Heaven’s EP” freestyle in which he compares himself to contemporaries Drake and Kendrick Lamar, ranking himself third behind them. However, on the first night of his tour, Drake popped out to refute Cole’s statement, calling him “one of the greatest rappers to ever touch a mic.”