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By: Tiffani Haynes & Chris Swails
TH: When it comes to the flow, J. Cole has Drake beat. Yeah, I said it. Drake might have the punch lines but his story-telling skills are subpar. J. Cole’s ability to tell a story from the first verse to the last has classic characteristics. He has the inherent ability to take you there, to the moment and feeling the song’s supposed to represent. Take “Dreams” of Cole’s Warm-Up tape, he builds up this anticipation about approaching and attempting to bag the girl of his dreams. Hell, even I get nervous on the verse where he approaches her, feels like I’m trying to holler.
“…I spot her walking in the mall/‘Ok, it’s time to grow some balls if she’s really gon’ be yours’/Oh my God, I’m walking towards her/My mind screaming “Stop” but my legs keep walking forward/‘Straighten up your face, nigga, she sees you coming for her’/My heartbeat racing and my hands keep shaking/‘Say something you shy motherf*ker she’s waiting’…”
You didn’t feel that? Yup, thought so.
CS: Not so fast, let’s not overlook the versatility factor. Drake can go from Birdman to Mary J. in a matter of seconds. Also, Drake is a better studio artist than J. Cole. If you leave Drizzy in the lab with the lights off, he’s going to make the magic happen. Furthermore, at any given moment Drake can hold the kind of note that begs the question, is he a singer or a rapper? His flow is a mixing bowl comprised of herbs and spices from different regions of the map. Through his flow the listener absorbs East Coast quality punch lines, a sprinkle of southern slang and a unique Toronto sound that’s all his own. My favorite thing about Drake’s flow is his cleverness, it puzzles me how simple but effective his lyrics are. While spitting over Kanye West’s “Say What’s Real”, Drake utters one of my favorite lines of last year.
“…and promoters try to get me out to they club/They said I had fun but I can’t imagine how/Cause I just seen my ex-girl, standing with my next-girl, standing with the girl that I’m f*cking right now…”
Body of Work
TH: Cole has released two mixtapes since his time in the rap game, The Come Up (2007) and The Warm Up (2009) with bangers on both. The first effort pales in comparison to his second, the time between the two allowed J. Cole to up the ante on the mixtape game.
The Warm Up has album potential. Aside from the radio spot (the Water Break interlude), the tape flows effortlessly. Few have been arranging albums lately with such thought that each song leads into the next, from one emotion to the next. Look at his 3-track melody of “Lights Please”, “Dead Presidents II” and “I Get Up.” He starts out talking about bettering the community, trying to spit knowledge in the midst of a money-hungry, power-driven world. But in “Dead Presidents II” and “I Get Up” he gives in to it. DP2 shows his focused money-mentality while “I Get Up” balances both. It focuses on the struggle of trying to get the money while still speaking about substance.
“Destined to shine I’ma find a way/ ‘Cause hey, damn it them jobs out there ain’t tryna pay/ Granted a Nine to Five is how you survive/I ain’t tryna survive/ I’m tryna throw my mama in rides…”
So while The Come Up is appreciated and respected, The Warm Up shut it down. Hands down.
CS: As far as material goes Drake is, So Far Gone…past J. Cole. Never before have I witnessed one piece of work do so much for an artist. Drake’s third mixtape, So Far Gone (2009) landed him with hit singles, a Grammy nomination and the arguably the biggest buzz of 2009, all without an album in stores. If that’s not enough, add Jay-Z on stage as Drake’s hype man. Many wonder was So Far Gone really a mixtape or an album.
The reaction from So Far Gone trumped that of his first two mixtapes: Room For Improvement (2006) and Comeback Season (2007). What many are unaware of is that the singles “Forever” and “Money to Blow” are old songs from the Drake archives. With his debut album, Thank Me Later due to hit stores on V-Day, fans are anxious to see how good Drake’s music really is…when it’s not free. Like Drizzy said on the Birdman track Mo Milly …“Thank Me Later first week I’m takin’ all bets/Cause a million copies really isn’t far fetched…”
TH: As an emerging artist, it doesn’t get much better than signing under Jay-Z and his new label, Roc Nation. Being the label’s first artist is an honor and a weight on the shoulders. J. Cole’s got to perform and represent the label well, he’s setting the standard. Yet, Cole’s wearing the responsibility well. J. Cole stands to fare better with Roc Nation than Drake will with Young Money. As the solo artist, Cole will be the main focus, whereas Drake’s sharing the spotlight with a whole group of people. Without going above and beyond to stand out, he could get lost in the mix, especially if the focus and promo switches to another group member. Not to mention that the tradition of the Roc has been to branch out and have multiple businesses and deals, all pots Cole could get his hands in. Roc Nation will only improve him and launch him into a bigger arena, approaching the rap game as a business.
CS: Pick your poison, would you rather be signed with Jay and not even have a single out or be signed with Wayne and be a part of the peanut gallery? Although I’m not a fan of him as a part of Young Money, I am glad to see that Drake is signed with a label that gives him artistic freedom. Besides, I’m a fan of The YM Triple-threat: Drizzy, Wayne and Nikki, 2010 should be a good year. But Drake, if you’re going to be with YM, get a chain or a tattoo…or something! How can you be in the video with “the #1 STUNNA” and you don’t even have on any jewelry? Another thing, somebody hurry up and get this man a stylist please, [minus the varsity jacket] he dresses like Al from Home Improvement.
TH: I’ve been trying to place J. Cole in category. He’s not like the conscious Common. He’s not the over-the-top arrogant ‘Ye. He’s not the catchy-cliché Wayne either. Guess he’s a little bit of them all. He can spit about the community, brag about chicks and hit a catchy one-liner with the all of them. His personal potential plus his Roc Nation family and big homie Jay makes for a scary combination. Jay’s already said he’ll teach them about fish scale but he won’t fish for them. If J. Cole’s smart he’ll take his fishing pole, get on a yacht and learn from the best. Under Jay’s tutelage, J. Cole could go far…around the moon and back.
CS: In the following months I predict that Drake will begin to disconnect himself from YM. I believe Drake sees the music business as the first day of high school; he is just trying to figure out where to sit at lunchtime. When Drake begins to grow as an artist he will realize that he does not need run in a ‘clique’ to be successful. The YM group thing is destined to fail…soon. I mean seriously Wayne, you want to be a Hot Boy that bad? If a group of 4 didn’t work, what makes you think a group of 20 will? Simply put, Drake will leave YM in 2010 because his work speaks for itself. No ad-libs.