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The Best Debut Rap Albums of the 2010s

It’s well-known that hip-hop is one of the most popular genres in music. A big part of that success has been a result of the emergence of new generations of talented rappers who’ve set the standard for what rap could be with their debut albums. If you’re a fan of rap music, it’s expected that you’ve heard of some of the best debut albums released during the last decade. 

The 2010s may not have been hip-hop’s golden age, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been iconic albums released during that ten-year span. The 2000s in general have been a great period for rap music and debut albums have been some of the best projects that have come out during that time period. The 2010s was a decade that saw rap music reach new heights and produce some truly unforgettable albums.

Some of these albums introduced the world to some of the most successful artists of all time and are now considered to be some of the best rap albums of all time. Several of these albums changed the landscape of hip-hop and cemented their respective creators as legendary artists. These albums have helped to define a generation of hip-hop and are now essential listens for just about any rap fan. They pushed the genre in new and exciting directions. 

When it comes to best debut rap albums, there are a few that stand out from the pack. In the 2010s, there were a number of fire debut rap albums. Here are some of the best debut rap albums of the 2010s.

Drake – ‘Thank Me Later’ (2010)
Republic Records

Singles: “Over,” “Find Your Love” & “Fancy” 

Drake’s debut album Thank Me Later was highly anticipated by fans and critics alike. Luckily, it did not disappoint. Drizzy proved himself to be a master of both sing-rapping and delivering bars on this album. He showcased his unique vocal style with tracks like “Over” and “Find Your Love.” He also proved himself to be a hell of a storyteller, with songs like “Fireworks” and “The Resistance” giving listeners a glimpse into his life and experiences. Thank Me Later was a defining moment in Drake’s career and solidified him as one of the biggest names in rap music.

Waka Flocka Flame – ‘Flockaveli’ (2010)
Warner Records

Singles: “O Let’s Do It,” “No Hands” featuring Roscoe Dash and Wale & “Hard in da Paint”

Flockaveli was lowkey a game-changer. It helped to cement a new wave of trap music and set the sonic foundation for drill music, which became synonymous with Chicago artists like Chief Keef. Led by the hard-hitting production of producer of the moment Lex Luger, Waka Flocka Flame’s debut is full of tracks sure to keep your head nodding. The 17-track project, which was praised by the likes of Complex, Billboard, Rolling Stone and Pitchfork features most of Waka’s best-known songs, including the Drumma Boy-produced top 10 hit “No Hands.”

Nicki Minaj – ‘Pink Friday’ (2010)
Republic Records

Singles: “Your Love,” “Moment 4 Life” featuring Drake & “Super Bass”

Nicki Minaj’s Pink Friday was an instant hit. It set the stage for her to become one of the most popular and influential rappers in the world. Nicki’s lyrical skills, distinctive flow and knack for crafting catchy tunes were on full display throughout the album. The 13-track project featuring production from Swizz Beatz, T-Minus, J.R. Rotem and Bangladesh also showcased her more introspective side, which came through on songs like “Dear Old Nicki” and “Here I Am.”

J Cole – ‘Cole World: The Sideline Story’ (2011)
Roc Nation/Columbia Records

Singles: “Work Out,” “Can’t Get Enough” featuring Trey Songz & “Nobody’s Perfect” featuring Missy Elliott 

Prior to the release of his debut, who would have thought that J. Cole would go on to be one of the best rappers of all time? Cole did! With Cole World: The Sideline Story, Cole proved that he was a force to be reckoned. The Fayetteville, North Carolina native’s debut was met with critical acclaim, and helped solidify him as one of the best rappers ever. The album sheds light on the story of Cole’s life and his growing up in North Carolina. Songs like “Work Out” and “Can’t Get Enough” showed that not only did he have bars for days, but that he could also make hits. Cole World debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and featured Jay-Z, Drake and Missy Elliott.

Meek Mill – ‘Dreams & Nightmares’ (2012)
Atlantic Records

Singles: “Amen” & “Burn”

Meek Mill’s Dreams & Nightmares was one of the most highly anticipated rap albums of the early 2010s. Meek’s first official project featured collaborations with Drake, Mary J. Blige, Nas, Rick Ross, John Legend and others. It also featured one of the greatest hip-hop intro of all time, “Dreams and Nightmares.” Whether you’re a fan of Meek or not, his debut is worth a listen or two.

Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012)
Aftermath/Interscope Records

Singles: “Swimming Pools (Drank)”, “Poetic Justice” & “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe.”In the early 2010s, there were a number of excellent debut albums that set the tone for the decade to come. Kendrick Lamar’s major label debut good kid, m.A.A.d city is a perfect example of this. The album which tells the story of Kendrick’s upbringing in Compton immediately established him as one of the most important voices in hip-hop. good kid, m.A.A.d city is widely considered to be one of the best rap albums of all time, let alone one of the best debut albums. Throughout the project he demonstrates his expert use of wordplay and metaphors. He also shows he can crossover with addictive singles such as “Swimming Pools (Drank)”, “Poetic Justice” and “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe.”

Chief Keef – ‘Finally Rich’ (2012)
Interscope Records

Singles: “I Don’t Like”, “Love Sosa” & “Hate Bein’ Sober”

Even before he dropped an album, Chief Keef was a local legend. Months after receiving a cosign and a remix from Kanye West, the teenage star-in-the-making released his debut album, Finally Rich. The forefather of Chicago’s drill music collaborated with day-ones like Lil Reese, as well as legends like 50 Cent, Rick Ross and Young Jeezy on the album that featured cult-classics like “I Don’t Like” and “Love Sosa.”

A$AP Rocky – LONG.LIVE.A$AP (2013)
Polo Grounds/RCA Records

Singles: “Goldie,” “Fuckin’ Problems,” “Wild for the Night” & “Fashion Killa”

A$AP Rocky took the hip-hop world by storm following the release of his debut single “Peso.” Over a decade later, he continues to be an influence on the culture. His debut album, LONG.LIVE.A$AP is a part of what helped him make his mark on the rap world. The album that would eventually be certified platinum housed an eclectic collection of songs and spawned the hit “Fuckin’ Problems,” which featured 2 Chainz, Drake and Kendrick Lamar. Other guests on the album included Santigold, Florence Welch, Danny Brown, Action Bronson, Joey Badass and others.

Pusha T – ‘My Name is My Name’ (2013)
GOOD Music/Def Jam

Singles: “Pain,” “Numbers on the Boards” & “Sweet Serenade”

Pusha T was a seasoned veteran by the time his debut album My Name is My Name hit the streets, and it showed. Released in 2013, the album was one of the best projects from a rapper that year. Featuring production from Kanye West and The Neptunes, My Name is My Name showcases Pusha T’s lyrical prowess and knack for storytelling. It was met with critical acclaim and was praised for its lyrical content and production value.

YG – ‘My Krazy Life’ (2014)
Def Jam Recordings

Singles: “My N***a” & “Who Do You Love?”

After building a buzz with a series of mixtapes, YG broke through with his debut album, My Krazy Life. According to the Def Jam rap star, the album featuring hit singles like “My N***a” and “Who Do You Love?” was like “a day in the life of YG from the morning until the night.” Superproducer DJ Mustard handled much of the well-reviewed album’s production, incorporating his signature West Coast sound. Rich Homie Quan, Drake, Ty Dolla Sign, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj and Kendrick Lamar were just a few of the artists that appeared on My Krazy Life.

Rae Sremmurd – ‘Sremmlife’ (2015)
Eardrummers/Interscope

Singles: “No Flex Zone”, “No Type”& “Throw Sum Mo” featuring Nicki Minaj and Young Thug

Rae Sremmurd seemingly came out of nowhere when they dropped their first single, “No Flex Zone” in 2014. By the time their debut album dropped, months later, the Mississippi-born dynamic duo individually known as Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi were household names. Executive produced by hit-maker Mike Will Made It, Sremmlife featured several top 40 hits, including “No Flex Zone”, “No Type” and the Nicki Minaj and Young Thug-assisted “Throw Sum Mo.” The group’s first album landed on several best of 2015 lists and even made it to Rolling Stone’s The 200 Greatest Hip-Hop Albums of All Time list. Sremmlife was so successful that it spawned a couple of sequels.

Travis Scott – ‘Rodeo’ (2015)
Grand Hustle Records/Epic Records

Singles: “3500” & “Antidote”

Following the release of two mixtapes (2013’s Owl Pharaoh and 2014’s Days Before The Rodeo), Travis Scott let it be known he was here to stay with his debut album, Rodeo. The 14-track project was a sign of things to come from one of popular music’s most sought after artists. Rodeo’s lead single, “Antidote,” peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100. Not only did the album feature a smash hit, it also featured a fire rap verse from Justin Bieber.

Nipsey Hussle – ‘Victory Lap’ (2018)
Atlantic Records

Singles: “Rap N*ggas,” “Last Time That I Checc’d” & “Dedication”

It’s not a secret that some of the best debut rap albums are created by artists that have something to prove. After grinding for much of his life, delivering dope mixtapes and attention-grabbing guest appearances, Nipsey Hussle finally released his debut album in 2018. Titled Victory Lap, the Grammy-nominated album featured everything from soulful vibes to motivational anthems. Offering a more polished sound on this album than on previous releases, the late rapper delivered a project that was both fresh and familiar.

Cardi B – ‘Invasion Of Privacy’ (2018)
Atlantic Records

Singles: “Bodak Yellow,” “Bartier Cardi,” “Be Careful” & “I Like It”

Cardi B’s debut album, Invasion Of Privacy was released in 2018 to critical acclaim and commercial success. The album introduced Cardi’s in-your-face style to the masses. She tapped into her own personal experiences and observations and crafted a project that was personal and universally relatable. It was also an album to turn up to! The well-crafted songs and clever lyrics resonated with listeners, helping her debut to not only achieve mainstream success, but also make history.

Playboi Carti – ‘Die Lit’ (2018)
AWGE/Interscope

Singles: “Poke It Out” featuring Nicki Minaj

Golden era-loving hip-hop heads may not get it, but Playboi Carti is a hugely influential artist. A couple of years before his Whole Lotta Red album was coined one of the best rap albums in modern history, Carti further established himself as an innovator with Die Lit.

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Music

Celebrate Black Culture this Juneteenth with Reflection and A Fire Playlist 

It’s a celebration fr fr! For the second year, Juneteenth National Independence Day aka Juneteenth — which commemorates the unofficial end of slavery here in America — is being officially recognized as a national holiday.

“We must understand that Juneteenth represents not only the commemoration of the end of slavery in America more than 150 years ago, but the ongoing work to have to bring true equity and racial justice into American society,” said President Joe Biden after he signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law, establishing June 19th as federal holiday.

It wasn’t that long ago that Ye reminded us listeners that “racism is still alive.” And boy, was Mr. West right. Just think about the recent increase in hate crimes such as racially-motivated mass shootings that have taken place in churches and supermarkets or the everyday interactions with “Karens” that go viral or how COVID-19 disproportionately impacted certain communities.

These are just a few of the constant reminders for so many Black Americans that their Blackness is simply inescapable. That Blackness is, however, also bold and beautiful and artists from Beyoncé to Billie Holiday have made sure to remind the world of that.

Way before Juneteenth was celebrated across the country, African-American artists had been using their music and platforms to shed light on their people’s struggles, culture, achievements, beauty and heritage. “Say it loud! I’m Black and I’m proud,” said James Brown with his 1968 hit “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

From showing love to Black girls that rock and neighborhood hustlers who have upped it to boss status, classic songs and contemporary bops have spoken to the richness and diversity of Black culture. With statements like fuck the police and we gon’ be alright, leading musicians have straight up confronted the plethora of inequalities, injustices and other unjust realities that have plagued certain Americans since the birth of this nation.

In honor of Juneteenth, ONE37pm put together a playlist of songs that pay tribute to the resilience and creative spirit of the Black community. Our 2022 Juneteenth Playlist is comprised of anthems crafted by icons such as Nina Simone, Marvin Gay, Aretha Franklin and Jay-Z, as well as contemporary hit-makers like J. Cole, Polo G, Meek Mill, Joey Bada$$ and Kendrick Lamar.

Vibe out, turn up and reflect with this collection of songs celebrating Black history, Black culture and Black progression.

Happy Juneteenth!

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Music

The Five Best Moments From 2022 Governors Ball

With an uptick in concerts, albeit smaller, across New York City, the 2022 Governors Ball (June 10th-12th) represented a massive step up as far as attendance and expectations go. But if you had to ask any of the thousands of attendees who were present, the 11th annual Governors Ball at Citi Field in Queens, NY not only lived up to the hype but exceeded it.

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With great weather and beautiful sunsets curating the vibes this past weekend, the 2022 Gov Ball didn’t lack in star power or quality of music. As the trio of Kid Cudi, Halsey, and J. Cole headlined each of the nights (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday), attendees were first blessed to watch the day’s long performances by a who’s who of artists– Playboi Carti, Jack Harlow, Kaytranda, and Ashnikko amongst others– before or after enjoying an assortment of attractions and spaces on-site.

Even though music festivals are becoming an experience more targeted at younger fans, it still manages to unite fans of all ages and backgrounds. The sight of watching two generations of listeners rap or sing their favorite words alongside each other is a sight that can’t be lost; especially when they’re singing Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.”

Here are the five best moments from the 2022 Governors Ball Music Festival.

J. Cole, Halsey, and Kid Cudi’s superstardom is clear as day
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To some this talking point is obvious but that’s the beauty of attending performances like the Governors Ball— you’re reminded of that truth in the clearest way possible. Regardless of which stage these trio of superstars performed at (there’s a lot of space to cover in Citi Field’s parking lot, by the way), thousands of attendees sprinted their way there in order to find the best view of them.

For nearly an hour each night, J. Cole, Halsey, and Kid Cudi each effortlessly cruised through their sets; aided by a variety of their most popular songs, and new material. And if that wasn’t enough, we also watched Halsey perform a lovely rendition of “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush.

The Playboi Carti show is every bit as advertised
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The term “the ground was shaking” is often misused but in this case, it was beyond accurate. As Playboi Carti touched the stage at Citi Field, the ground was literally shaking as his rabid fanbase turned up in the night.

With the influential Atlanta, GA MC standing on top of a built-in hill and the lighting being mostly dark minus an occasional flash, his set was not only memorable but proved why he’s one of hip-hop’s most-watched performers. The energy and visual effects of Carti’s performance at Governors Ball were the talks of excited fans on the subway home.

Shaq + random kid = exciting DJing duo
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At the halfway point of Saturday’s action at Governors Ball, NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal AKA DJ Diesel, performed what some considered the best set that day. Having jumped into the world of DJing EDM, Diesel controlled the crowd with the same ease once exhibited on the basketball court. But you know it wouldn’t be a Diesel show without crowd participation.

At one point, Diesel brought a kid on stage, put him on his shoulders, and they DJed together. The Gov Ball faithful provided a loud ovation to the interaction and the fact that Diesel’s set was only getting better.

Plenty of upcoming artists shined on stage
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What makes Governors Ball a fun experience for music fans is the ability to discover more talent. This weekend, it was routine for attendees to watch new acts perform and immediately pull their phones out to download the songs they liked during their set (and trust me, it happened a lot).

As someone who is personally an avid new-music listener, I enjoyed OCTAVIO the Dweeb, Peach Tree Rascals, and Jax during their performances!

The weather and sunsets were beautiful to look at
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Seriously, it doesn’t get much better than that!

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Music

A Mother’s Day Playlist for All of the Best Moms Ever!

Don’t get it twisted, rappers know how to love, especially when it comes to their mothers. The phrase I’ll always love my mama, resonates with many of hip-hop’s finest. They can be extra affectionate when it pertains to the women that birthed them and their loved ones.

Rappers have given credit to the superwomen in their lives for being caregivers and bill-payers, as well as for nurturing and inspiring them. Throughout their careers, artists from Kanye West to Drake to Jay-Z to Lil B have rapped about the values their mothers have instilled in them and how those values have helped them become the bosses they are today.

Rap stars have created loving mother-themed songs showing the appreciation they have for the most important women in their lives. 2 Chainz, Ghostface Killah, Rick Ross, YG and so many other rappers have shown gratitude for the life lessons and the tough love they’ve received from their mothers with heartfelt songs.

It’s Mother’s Day! In honor of this very special occasion, ONE37pm put together a playlist for all of the amazing moms out there. To pay homage to these lovely ladies we’ve selected songs that celebrate motherhood and all that it entails. This very special playlist consists of some of our favorite hip-hop tracks that show love to Mommy dearest.

Whether the moms in your life are rap fans or not, this collection of songs has something for them. It features well-known classics from 2Pac and Ghostface Killah, as well as more recent tracks from 21 Savage, Kanye West, and Big Sean. There are songs to dance to as well as tracks that could make the moms in your life tear up. Celebrate the best moms ever this Mother’s Day by showering them with love and by also checking out this playlist we’ve put together for them. 

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Music

The 21 Best J. Cole Features

The J. Cole feature has been an interesting point of conversation over the years in hip-hop. Despite signing with Roc Nation in 2009, J. Cole was pretty independent with how he handled himself and that mentality seemingly shifted to how he handled appearing on other people’s songs. For years, there were just a few artists he’d collaborated with.

Now though, he’s branched out and collaborated with dozens and dozens of different artists. This change in mindset came because of an epiphany he had. He wanted to get out of his comfort zone. During his Applying Pressure documentary that came out before The Off-Season, he walked people through his process of thought. “Do you really wanna look back and be like ‘you didn’t work with nobody’? You didn’t have no songs with nobody, you just cool with that? No. Okay. So start saying yes to some features”

The result of that has been one of the better feature runs ever seen in the genre. As a result, the conversation has shifted from Cole never appearing on other people’s songs, to deciding which of his recent features are the best. We’ve decided to list out what we think the 20 best J. Cole features are, with songs with 21 Savage, Drake, Lil Wayne, Janet Jackson and more making the cut. Check it out below.

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1. “a lot”

One of the misconceptions about J. Cole for years, largely due to him not doing features and not asking for them on his own albums, was that he wasn’t a fan of some of the newer rappers who talked about more surface-level topics. He dispelled some of that myth by borrowing their flows on KOD and also hopping on their tracks. ‘a lot’ with 21 Savage was great because he brought his own flavor to 21’s record, showing support for 6ix9ine when everyone was clowning him. This song also got Cole his only Grammy to date.

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2. “American Dream”

When fans saw J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar featured on the same song on Jeezy’s Pressure album, they went berserk as expected. The result was disappointing for many, because Kendrick didn’t have a verse that many could compare to Cole’s. But when the hype died down and you got to appreciate the song for what it was, J. Cole’s verse stood out on the song. His flow changes every few bars and the multisyllabic rhyming is incredible.

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3. “Beautiful Bliss”

J. Cole had only been signed to Roc Nation for less than a year when Wale’s Attention Deficit dropped. The pair were both nowhere near the superstars they would become, but this collaboration gets credit for starting a career-long relationship. Despite a respectable effort from Wale, J. Cole takes the cake with some memorable punchlines. “Momma I ain’t done yet, kick back and watch your son rise, sit back and know your son set” he rapped. “Wale, good looking” he said at the end and he knew exactly what he’d done.

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4. “Boblo Boat”

When J. Cole had a Royce 5’9″ feature as an assignment, he knew he had to deliver. When he was young, the North Carolina rapper used to write up his favorite raps and put them up on his wall and Royce’s bars were amongst them. “Boblo Boat” sees both Royce and Cole reminiscing about their younger days and they paint pictures so well. Cole handles hook duty here too and holds some notes for it.

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5. “Green Ranger”

Interestingly, “Green Ranger” wasn’t J. Cole’s first attempt at appearing on Lil Wayne’s Dedication 4 mixtape. The first was a song that we now know as “Miss America Reprise”. JAY-Z heard it and told Cole to keep it, so Cole sent his verse over G. Dep’s “Special Delivery”. He killed it with a long verse, but unfortunately, Wayne didn’t like the beat so he half-assed his verse a little. It only made Cole’s verse, where he takes it back to his younger days stand out more though.

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6. “Jodeci Freestyle”

This song mostly gets remembered for a big misstep on Cole’s part, which he has since sincerely apologized for. Those lines are muted on the version of the song on Drake’s Care Package, but once you get around that, Cole’s verse is really special here. The occasion of a Drake and Cole collab was massive even in the summer of 2013 when this dropped and both rappers hit a home run. Cole’s verse is like a time capsule of the moment, where he references doing a show in Philly for a dollar, Born Sinner sales projections and competing with Kanye’s Yeezus.

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7. “Johnny P’s Caddy”

A lot of people might not have anticipated that Cole would fit on a song with anyone from Griselda, considering their content. Not only did he show up on “Johnny P’s Caddy”, but he showed out too. In fact, he used the opportunity of standing next to Benny The Butcher to call out rappers that stretch the truth when it comes to gun and drug bars. It’s still early, but this is a verse of the year candidate. One of our favorite lines? “Einstein on the brink of the theory of relativity, really, no MC equal”.

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8. “Just Begun”

This song doesn’t get talked about enough. It sees Cole trade verses with Talib Kweli, Jay Electronica and Mos Def over old school production. That’s a tough crowd to stand out amongst, but Cole does a great job of it. It doesn’t get as much love now because it’s from 2010, but it holds up 12 years later. In 2014, Jay Elect actually performed the record and brought Cole out, which is the only time he’s ever performed his verse.

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9. “Knock Tha Hustle (Remix)”

One of the main criticisms of J. Cole over the years has been that he’s boring to a lot of people. But you could never accuse him of that on this song. On the official remix of Cozz’s “Knock Tha Hustle”, Cole pours his heart out about harsh upbringings, his brother heading down a bad path and people from his hometown living a hopeless life. The verse sets the scene incredibly well for 2014 Forest Hills Drive.

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10. “LONDON”

When they were in the studio together, BIA played J. Cole her song “LONDON” and the one play was all it took for Cole to think about the song for the next month. When she asked if he wanted to hop on it, he was nervous because he didn’t know what to add to it. This kind of genuine care that Cole has for the music he makes is what makes these verses so incredible. As well as being a stellar verse, like BIA, he intersperses a London accent and slang, which makes for some funny moments.

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11. “Looking For Trouble”

To have the best verse on a song with Kanye West, Pusha T, Big Sean and CyHi The Prynce is an impressive feat. To do this in 2010 when all you have out is one mixtape is even crazier. This is considered somewhat of a breakout verse for Cole, with some killer lines like, “they say you are what you eat and I still ain’t pussy” and “ironic you been sleeping on the one that you been dreaming ‘bout”. When he toured his first album, Cole opened the show with this verse.

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12. “Mama Told Me”

On Omen’s “Mama Told Me” from his Afraid Of Heights mixtape, J. Cole is as honest and introspective as ever. He raps about the complexity of being Black with a White mother, then taking it further and contemplating how hard it must have been for his brother, who is black, but looks white. 

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13. “My Boy”

When rappers are having fun on a record, it really comes through to the listener. That’s exactly what happened here with Wale and J. Cole’s “My Boy”. The song sounds like something that was birthed organically from a great studio session, but the bars are there too. It’s hard not to switch between a smile and a screwface while listening to the Fayetteville MC on this one.

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14. “No Sleeep”

The original version of Janet Jackson’s “No Sleeep” was solo, but for the version that appeared on her 2015 project, Unbreakable, she grabbed a J. Cole verse for an unexpected, but welcomed link up. The song sees J. Cole talk about the contrast between his hectic lifestyle and his girl’s regular life. In the end, they meet in the middle with love that feels like it’s always in that honeymoon phase.

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15. Off Deez”

Over the years, East Atlanta rapper J.I.D. has proven to be a great commodity for Dreamville and one of the brightest young hip-hip stars. A couple of years ago, he made our list of the twenty best rappers from the ATL and he’s only showed out since then. “Off Deez” was a big moment for him because Cole hopped on the record. While J.I.D. certainly made an impact on the song, Cole stepped into his lane and held his own too, speeding up his flow and complimenting J.I.D. in the process (“J.I.D. the closest thing to me… Cole and J.I.D., what a tandem”).

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16. “Oh Wow… Swerve”

Thoughtful contributions to songs have become the marker of J. Cole verses and that’s exactly what he offers here on the “Oh Wow” portion of this track. He opens his verse contemplating the idea of hell and entertaining the thought of hell on earth and after taking it a few interesting places, he rounds it up by the end talking about the end of the world and how it being good or bad depends on you and your awareness.

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17. “Pray”

Since he emerged on the scene with The Warm Up, it was clear that storytelling was one of J. Cole’s biggest strengths as a rapper. That’s exactly what he displays here on The Game’s “Pray”, where he speaks of a fling he had with a woman who’s in a rough situation now, so he prays for her.

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18. “Pretty Little Fears”

The great thing about J. Cole features is that he has great range. We hear him on something like “Stick” from D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz mixtape and he fits right in with what J.I.D., Kenny Mason and Sheck Wes are doing. Then, he’ll appear on 6LACK’s “Pretty Little Fears” and kill that too. Here, he describes a romantic partner beautifully, likening them to a flower he has to protect. It’s a verse that comes round and ends the song perfectly.

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19. “Raggamuffin (Remix)”

From the late 2000s when he first started to make a name for himself, J. Cole was all about making the struggle seem beautiful and giving a voice to the voiceless. With his debut album Cole World: The Sideline Story, he continued to do that, but it was mixed with brags about Rolexes and having 150 women staring at him in the club, skewing the perception for a few somewhat. That’s what his pair of verses on Selah Sue’s “Raggamuffin” are about. He’s open about noticing a change in himself and is poetic in describing it.

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20. “Sacrifices”

During the sessions for Dreamville’s Revenge Of The Dreamers III, J. Cole sent out a rare tweet, where he revealed a verse of his had gotten him emotional. “Shed tears tonight writin a verse shit was beautiful.” Of course, over 100 songs got recorded in the sessions, so who knows if we’d ever hear it? Thankfully, “Sacrifices” did make an appearance and it saw Cole pen a tribute to his wife, in turn revealing that they had a child on the way. Cole’s mellow and melodic flow over the acoustic instrumental match up beautifully.

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21. “TKO (Remix)”

Kendrick Lamar’s “Control” verse still gets talked about today, nine years after it dropped. That type of impact doesn’t come often and naturally, it had ripple effects amongst rappers. The first rapper that Kendrick mentioned was Cole and he did so with his full name, which many perceived as more disrespectful. Cole and Kendrick were friendly, but that didn’t stop a fiery response from the North Carolina rapper on Justin Timberlake’s “TKO” remix. “In case this is war then I load up on all ammunition” he threatened, with emotion we hadn’t heard from him before.

Categories
Music

Hip-Hop Documentaries Worth Checking Out

Hip-hop is one of the most popular and respected genres of music in the world. So it’d be difficult to find someone who doesn’t know something about the musical and cultural art form. Some people have a deep knowledge of the culture as a whole. Others have a strong appreciation for the artists, their music and their style. No matter what level of hip-hop fandom you may identify with, you can further tap into hip-hop simply by checking out a documentary or two

Whether you are a diehard hip-hop head or just a casual listener, watching a documentary is a great way to learn more about the bars and the beats, the culture that surrounds the music and the artists who have helped shape the genre. Many of the top docs are informative, entertaining and inspiring all at once. These documentaries provide insight into the history and evolution of rap music, as well as its impact on pop culture as a whole. There are a lot of dope hip-hop-centric documentaries out there that offer a glimpse into the lives and come-ups of some of the biggest names in the world of rap. Here are several hip-hop docs worth checking out.

Fade to Black: Jay-Z is undisputedly hip-hop royalty. You rarely come across living artists who have left a Hov-level imprint on the business and creative worlds. His 2004 Fade to Black documentary was long sought after digitally, which led to the film being added to Tidal for streaming two years ago. People go crazy for any insight into the life and career of Jay-Z, and Fade to Black accomplishes just that. The film originated as a means to document Jay-Z’s farewell concert at Madison Square Garden, along with a peek at the process behind what was touted as his last album, The Black Album as he was ready to retire. Funny thing is, years later, this documentary serves more as a ‘Blueprint’ for artists than it does as a farewell to Hov’s music career.

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jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy: Ye’s history has long been misinterpreted and relatively unknown by many. Many people knew the highlights of his career such as  his top albums and songs, but not the obstacles the artist formerly known as Kanye West had to surmount in order to get where he is today. This recently released Netflix docuseries has shined a light on Kanye’s journey, and made Ye seem more human than he ever has. His branding has historically put him in a higher position than those around him, but Jeen-yuhs shows him at his lowest. Seeing the impact of Donda West on Kanye’s demeanor and awareness makes the title selection of his latest project make all the more sense.

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B.I.B.L.E.: Fivio Foreign has come a long way since his breakout single, “Big Drip.” He’s managed to level up on many occasions thereafter, like when Pop Smoke passed and the NY Drill scene was looking for a new leader in its infancy, or when he began working closely with Kanye West. That moment when fans first heard his verse on Kanye’s “Off The Grid” with Playboi Carti will never be forgotten. With Carti being arguably the most discussed rapper other than Kanye, the fact that Fivio was the star of the song says a lot. After getting a peek at what the next chapter of his career would sound like, Fivio’s fans were blessed with a documentary that shines a light on his bright future by exploring his past and present. Titled after his most recent album, this doc is a must-watch.

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Still Rolling Papers: Wiz Khalifa is a legend in the game. He’s always being himself, yet he finds a way to constantly evolve. Wiz’s Day Today series on YouTube proved to be a massive success, dating back to the spring of 2009. Alongside his music videos, this mini-doc series has helped score him 27 million subscribers on YouTube. Recently, Wiz linked with HipHopDX to bring a new take on documentary content: a 30-minute video that explores Wiz’s roots and the rise of his Taylor Gang crew. It’s a very thorough, yet concise film featuring Chevy Chase, Curren$y, Snoop Dogg, and other notable acts that were instrumental in Wiz Khalifa’s come-up.

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Pressure: The Off-Season: It’s hard to find a 12-minute documentary that tells a comprehensive story. J. Cole’s Applying Pressure: The Off-Season documentary somehow manages to do just that, melding conversation, storytelling, music, and visuals together in a way that’ll have you hypnotized. Over the past decade, J. Cole has transformed into one of the biggest names in hip-hop. On top of constantly bettering his sound, he’s mentored other artists who’ve gone on to accomplish major things. While his REVENGE documentary will forever be a classic, J. Cole’s Applying Pressure doc is a wildly simple, yet effective explanation of the rapper’s career and his platinum-selling Off-Season album.

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Preacherman: Three years ago, Lil Baby unveiled his Preacherman documentary, and in the time since, he’s racked up nearly seven million views on YouTube. That’s impressive for a music video, and is even more so for a documentary. Baby has had one of the most admirable come-ups in hip-hop, and has grown a brand centered around hard work and generational wealth. This QC-backed documentary runs 26 minutes long, and is a flawless presentation of Lil Baby’s story before the world knew him. From his humble beginnings to becoming a household name, Preacherman covers everything you need to really get to know Lil Baby.

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KING: Young Dolph tragically passed away last November, but his legacy lives on through his music, brand, and ever-growing fanbase. This Worldstar Hip-Hop documentary is part of the brand’s Enigma documentary series, and explores Young Dolph’s roots growing up in Memphis, Tennessee. The adversity he faced took a high level of strength to endure, and his positive reaction to these hurdles molded him into the star he became. Dolph grew to be well-known in the rap game for his impressive work ethic and business acumen, along with his trademark Memphis-derived sound. KING effectively tells the story of a hip-hop legend, which is no easy task.

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Categories
Sports Strength

Ranking The Ten Best NBA-Inspired Lyrics In Hip-Hop

If you’ve been around sports and hip-hop long enough, then you’ve come across this quote– “Rappers want to be like athletes, and the athletes want to be like rappers.” The two very influential entities, specifically basketball and hip hop, have a special chemistry. It has become familiar as the sunlight to find our favorite rappers sitting courtside at games or our favorite players quoting their lyrics. But their relationship is sustained by tributes (or plain disrespect); rappers pay homage to ballplayers in their songs, which sparks another round of conversations.

Down below are the ten best NBA-inspired lyrics from hip-hop.

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1. Ice Cube, “Today Was A Good Day,” 1992 –

“Get me on the court and I’m trouble.

Last week f—– around and got a triple-double.

Freaking n—– every way like MJ.

I can’t believe today was a good day.”

2. Jay-Z, “Encore,” 2003 –

“As fate would have it, Jay’s status appears.

To be at an all-time high, perfect time to say goodbye.

When I come back like Jordan, wearing the 4-5.

It ain’t to play games with you, it’s to aim at you, probably maim you.”

3. Drake, “Thank Me Now,” 2010 –

“I can relate to kids going straight to the league.

When they recognize that you got what it takes to succeed.

And that’s around the time that your idols become your rivals.

You make friends with Mike but got to ‘A.I.’ him for your survival.”

4. Lil Wayne, “Kobe Bryant,” 2009 –

“Kobe doin’ work, 2–4 on my shirt.

He the greatest on the court and I’m the greatest on the verse.

Going for the fourth ring like it was his first.

Gotta get the bling, do it for Kareem.”

5. Jay-Z, “Pump It Up (Remix),” 2003 –

“Go ahead, bug out, I’ll Raid, n—-, scurry.

Worry, I’m, not, the Mike Jordan of the mic recording.

It’s Hovi, baby, you Kobe, maybe; Tracy McGrady.

Matter-fact, you a Harold Miner.

J.R. Rider, washed up on marijuana.

Even worse, you a Pervis Ellis.

You worthless, fella; you ain’t no athlete, you Shawn Bradley.”

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6. Kendrick Lamar, “The Heart Part IV,” 2017 –

“Tables turned, lesson learned, my best look.

You jumped sides on me, now you ‘bout to meet Westbrook.

Go celebrate with your team and let victory vouch you.

Just know the next game played I might slap the s— out you.”

7. J. Cole, “Return of Simba,” 2011 –

Ced said, ‘Look, my n—–, we got a foot in’.

Being good is good, that’ll get you Drew Gooden.

But me, I want Jordan numbers, LeBron footin’.

Can’t guard me, Vince Lombardi, John Wooden.”

8. Jadakiss, “Put Your Hands Up,” 2001 –

“And y’all scared I can tell.

That I’ma get Bucks like Milwaukee, cause like Sam, I ca’ sell.”

9. Kanye West, “New God Flow,” 2012 –

“Went from most hated to the champion god flow.

I guess that’s a feeling only me and LeBron know.”

10. Drake, “0 to 100 / The Catch Up,” 2014 –

“I’ve been Steph Curry with the shot.

Been cooking with the sauce.

Chef Curry with the pot, boy… 360 with the wrist, boy!”




Categories
Culture Music

The 25 Best J. Cole Songs of All-Time

When JAY-Z started up Roc Nation in the late 2000s, his intention was for it to be a label full of Pop artists. That was until he heard J. Cole’s music through a friend and business partner. Cole ended up being the first rapper signed to the label in February of 2009 and in the decade-plus since then, he’s built for himself one of the more successful careers in Hip-Hop history.

The Fayetteville rapper has 6 solo albums, 3 label albums, 3 mixtapes, and bundles of other projects like the Any Given Sundays, the Truly Yours trilogy, and more. We scoured his entire discography, loosies and all, to pick out his 25 best songs. Check them out below and let us know if you feel we missed anything out.

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1. ‘03’ Adolescence’

On track four from album number three, J. Cole takes us back to his teen years, when he was 18-years-old to be exact. This song embodies part of what Cole does so well in stepping into other people’s shoes and giving their perspectives. The passion in his voice while he raps from his friend’s perspective, wondering why his parents bothered conceiving him if they didn’t want him anyway, is chilling.

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2. ‘2Face’

Although it didn’t come out until J. Cole was a couple of years into his Roc Nation deal, ‘2Face’ was recorded when Cole was 24 and there’s footage of it on YouTube. It’s a standout not only from Friday Night Lights, but from his entire body of work. The hunger is apparent in both his tone and aggressive flow. “Wrote this when I was broke, so hey, I guess we even” will also resonate, along with the outro which Cole has emotionally talked about before, saying he had no business being so hopeful in life.

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3. ‘4 Your Eyez Only’

This title track was the outro of Cole’s 2016 album, which came around as a result of him feeling like he was telling his story too much. To keep things fresh, he crafted the LP around a fictional story, although he did such a good job with this summation record that many believe it’s real. At nearly 9 minutes, Cole raps three verses from a friend who suffers from the “crooked ass system” and a final verse where he reveals that the album is for his friend’s daughter.

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4. ‘a m a r I’

When he released KOD, fans thought that J. Cole was mimicking the style of newer rappers as a mockery, but he was quick to correct them. On his latest album The Off-Season, there are more elements from the younger scene in Hip-Hop, particularly the guitar. ‘a m a r I’ is a great example of that. Cole’s melodies rival those that have made the style their signature and this song feels like a celebration of making it to where he made it from, from where he made it from.

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5. ‘Before I’m Gone’

The elements of this song are essentially what every J. Cole fan wants to hear from him. He speaks on the struggle as though he is currently in it, observes it in third person and then reminisces on his own life and journey to where he is now. ‘Before I’m Gone’ is a classic example of Cole’s ability to poetically put his thoughts down on paper.

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6. ‘BRACKETS’

‘BRACKETS’ of course refers to tax brackets, a topic which J. Cole attacks in a few different ways. He marvels at the amount of tax he’s paying, ponders where his money goes and then proposes that he should be able to pick what he funds with his taxes through an app. At the end, he ties it all together by talking about a company making guns with tax money, which end up circulating the hood, ending lives. The mother of a boy killed by one of those guns remembers on the day of his funeral that she needs to pay her taxes, thus adding to the cycle. From the Richard Prior sample to the Lil Cole cameo, this one is structured really well.

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7. ‘Can I Holla At Ya’

Released in 2013, ‘Can I Holla At Ya’ came out as part of the first Truly Yours. On each of the three verses over Lauryn Hill’s ‘To Zion’, Cole talks to three people from earlier in his life. A former partner, his stepfather and an old friend who is now on drugs and treats him differently due to his fame. The mellow instrumental that fades in and out makes for the perfect backdrop for Cole to pour his heart out over.

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8. ‘Can I Live’

Off the rapper’s 2009 mixtape The Warm Up, ‘Can I Live’ is a nod to the JAY-Z song of the same name, but isn’t over the same instrumental. He’s unapologetic about following his dreams in the first verse, but the standout moment of the track comes in verse number two when he tells the story of a murder of a 21-year-old. The beat gets stripped down so the focus is on Cole’s words, which are intentionally short and blunt to get the point across.

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9. ‘Hold It Down’

Towards the end of the 2009 mixtape The Warm Up comes ‘Hold It Down’, a record Cole penned about his own life and his relationships with an old friend of his and his then-girlfriend and now-wife. This one feels like a time capsule because of how honest the North Carolina rapper is, especially in the third verse when he wonders aloud about his own commitment to his girlfriend when the money and fame comes along. Hindsight with ‘She Knows’ and ‘Runaway’ (which appears later on this list) make the moment all the more impactful.

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10. ‘I Get Up’

‘I Get Up’ is about dreaming and perseverance, the type that people play in hard times to remind them about what they’re doing it all for. Released in 2009 as part of The Warm Up, it only gets more special to hear year after year as J. Cole becomes more and more successful, like proof that you can make it through. The trumpets and anthemic chorus give it a grand feel.

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11. ‘It Won’t Be Long’

This is a song that leaked in 2010 while J. Cole was working on his debut album. It was supposed to be on it, or at least the first version of it. He talked about the leak’s drums not hitting as hard as the final version, but we never ended up hearing it. Either way, this is the type of song that should have made the cut for the album instead of songs like ‘Cole World’.

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12. ‘Lil Ghetto N*gga’

Like the aforementioned ‘I Get Up’, this one feels like something out of a museum with what we know about how J. Cole’s career went. Released in 2007 when he was just 22, ‘Lil Ghetto N*gga’ covers the topics that Cole fans love, but with a much more aggressive, hungrier tone.

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13. ‘Losing My Balance’

A bonus track from The Warm Up, this song was so crucial for J. Cole because it was amplified by its context. At the time in Hip-Hop, something like ‘Losing My Balance’ was the last thing people expected to hear. It’s one of the main songs that made people compare Cole to Pac in his early years because it’s basically a women’s empowerment record. He also raps about seeing a woman first for her physical features, but then falling in love with her for he she is.

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14. ‘Lost Ones’

‘Lost Ones’ is such an important piece of J. Cole’s discography because it was a song he made back in 2007 that helped him get signed to JAY-Z. Before the song leaked in June of 2011, it was like a myth to J. Cole fans, who had heard about it in a small handful of interviews, and it still ended up living up to the hype. It tells the story of an early, unplanned pregnancy and potential abortion from the man and the woman’s perspective.

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15. ‘Love Yourz’

‘Love Yourz’ is the embodiment of 2014 Forest Hills Drive and the epiphany that J. Cole had that year about going home. On the track, he conveys how everyone has enough in their life that they can be grateful for right now, which is where true happiness comes from. He talks about the fact that he was happier when he was broke and uses that information to urge people to appreciate what they have. This is the type of song that Cole could close his live shows out with forever.

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16. ‘Ni**az Know’

A cut from Truly Yours 3, which was also the deluxe edition of Born Sinner, when it dropped, ‘Ni**az Know’ was a rare instance of J. Cole hitting the Hip-Hop cliché of bragging and he did it incredibly well. He incorporates Biggie’s flow and lyrics from ‘Notorious Thugs’ for a pair of his hardest verses.

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17. ‘Once An Addict (Interlude)’

It’s rare that an interlude is one of the better songs on an album, but that was the case here with ‘Once An Addict’ on J. Cole’s 2018 album KOD. The entire album is about addiction, but this is the most personal example on the album, with Cole talking about his mother’s drug addiction and how it affected him as a child. The rapper revealed that there was a longer version of this initially, but the shorter version was as impactful. We’d still love to hear it uncut.

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18. ‘Premeditated Murder’

Just like ‘It Won’t Be Long’, ‘Premeditated Murder’ probably should have been on J. Cole’s first album, but its delays meant that he felt he had to put out Friday Night Lights in the meanwhile. The second verse is a classic example of Cole talking to his girlfriend with lines that could be interpreted as being towards his original fans, which he has confirmed before.

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19. ‘Return Of Simba’

This context of this song is so key. It dropped when Cole was a few weeks away from releasing his debut album after nearly two years of delays, when many were saying the album would never drop at all. The song itself felt like a triumph. It completed the trilogy that started with ‘Simba’ and continued with ‘Grown Simba’ and for our money, is the best of the three. “Cole under pressure, what that make? Diamonds”

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20. ‘Revenge Of The Dreamers’

This is the title track of the label project that was released to celebrate Dreamville Records signing with Interscope. It was the standout of the body of work. The beat itself feels reflective, which makes for a pair of vintage J. Cole verses where he ponders feeling guilty about his success and talks to a woman about their potential.

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21. ‘Runaway’

This song boasts a couple of the best verses of J. Cole’s career. On ‘Runaway’, he discusses some of the evils of the world, including his own infidelity, although he does it vaguely enough that it’s almost like he hasn’t come to terms with it himself, which is likely intentional. He also tells a story about a manager of his that was racist, then linking it back to slavery which his own grandmother was directly affected by.

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22. ‘Show Me Something’

The majority of ‘Show Me Something’ sees Cole pleading with God for a sign and some guidance while his faith is being tested. It’s hard not to hear this song and feel inspired on whatever journey you might be on. 

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23. ‘Song For The Ville’

When people talk about J. Cole making the struggle seem beautiful and being relatable, this is a key example. It’s a shame that something of this calibre was left off of an official album or mixtape, but we’re grateful to have heard it anyway. ‘Song For The Ville’ is J. Cole being aspirational whilst also seeming thankful to just be alive when so many others aren’t. And of course, it’s dedicated to his hometown.

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24. ‘Too Deep For The Intro’

J. Cole was once asked what some of the best verses he’d ever written were and he referred to this song, but wasn’t able to pick one of the two verses. ‘Too Deep For The Intro’ is a song that you could play for a random stranger on the street and by the end, they’d feel like they knew J. Cole personally. 

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25. ‘Unabomber’

This song, recorded in 2010, originally surfaced on the internet before an official release, but J. Cole ended up putting it at the end of the first Any Given Sunday release. The title is a reference to Ted Kaczynski, a serial killer who sent multiple mail bombs over a couple of decades. Cole uses it as a pun to say he’s “blowing up overnight”, but the real story of the song is how it feels like he’s having a conversation with the listener and just happens to be rhyming.