J. Cole has shied away from social media and the press. But after some coaxing from his manager, the reclusive rapper agreed to a rare interview for the cover of Billboard‘s R&B/Hip-Hop Power Players issue.
During the wide-ranging Q&A, Cole discussed his aversion to fame (“I swear to God, I be thinking about how to get unfamous, but I know it’s impossible”), politics (“With Trump in office, I love that America gets to see the truth”), and his phone call with the late XXXTentacion (“It was a super-intense conversation. He left a mark on me, just as a person”).
He also addressed his idol Nas’ abuse allegations from ex-wife Kelis, which he has since denied. “I ain’t going to lie. That hurts,” said Cole. “I don’t fuck with people abusing women, and I don’t fuck with people not taking care of their kids.”
Cole is executive-producing Swizz Beatz’ upcoming album Poison, and plans to take a year off from touring to work on his next project The Off Season, which may be an EP or a full mixtape. He is also planning his next album, The Fall Off, and a side project for his alter-ego KiLL edward.
Plus, he continues to build his Dreamville empire and will host the first-ever Dreamville Festival in April in Raleigh, North Carolina.
On fame: “I live very low key but also accessible, so I can’t even speak for them. I go to the store, I go play ball. You wouldn’t know because it’s not anything newsworthy, but I see real people every day. When you mention celebrities, I view them as a fan who’s like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s Beyoncé. That’s Taylor Swift.’ And I don’t view myself in the same light.”
On avoiding social media: “But rarely do I feel the need to hop on Twitter or social media and chime in, especially on rap and music shit. This shit is not real. This shit is fucking fake. This shit is high school. This shit is fucking celebrity worship.”
On politics and pop culture: “We’re really silly. Human beings are easily manipulated and distracted. You couldn’t have told anybody 10 years ago that this would be the landscape of American discourse. That these would be the topics of conversation: fucking Kardashian drama and Trump drama.”
On why he didn’t vote in the 2016 election: “Because Hillary Clinton wasn’t somebody that was motivating me to go vote. If it was Bernie Sanders, I would’ve showed up and voted. I would’ve been the first one in line, no bullshit. No disrespect to Hillary.”
On Trump: “With Trump in office, I love that America gets to see the truth. If Hillary Clinton was in office, it would be the most fucking disingenuous shit because everybody would be thinking that everything’s cool because we got an incredibly qualified female president. Which would’ve been amazing on so many levels. But all the shit we see right now would’ve still existed; it would’ve just been quiet. And I prefer this shit to be out loud. I prefer an honest America. I prefer the world seeing that, yes, we’re a country that is dumb enough–no disrespect–[that] we got duped into electing Donald Trump.”
On “1985” criticism: “I don’t look at it as being harsh. I look at it as being a rap response record. It’s not even to someone [specific]; it’s a group of people who were on some ‘Fuck J. Cole’ shit, which, when I started peeking my head back into what was going on, was a shock. But even while I made the song, I was fucking with these kids. I was a fan. I was riding around playing Lil Pump just because I wanted to understand what it was, and the more I understood, it was like, ‘Damn.’ I was writing that song from a place of, like, smacking your little brother. I still love you, but I’ma smack you.”
On XXXTentacion: “I spoke to him on FaceTime one day in February for, like, three hours. His management reached out to [Cole’s manager Ibrahim Hamad] and asked if he could FaceTime me or call me. It was a super-intense conversation. He left a mark on me, just as a person.”
On Kelis’ abuse allegations against Nas: “Yeah, that hurt. I ain’t going to lie. That hurts. It feels weird because I fuck with Nas, but I just have to be honest. I came up seeing too much fucked-up shit for that to be acceptable. I don’t care who it is. I don’t fuck with people abusing women, and I don’t fuck with people not taking care of their kids.”
On being called the “Harry Belafonte of rap”: “I’m too selfish for that, and one day, I hope that I’m not. Right now, it’s about me, family and the music or any creative pursuits that I do. That’s selfish. I hope I do more for the community. People give me props now, but the truth is, I live my life very selfishly. The little shit I did today, that’s nothing. Harry Belafonte put his money where his mouth was and in the streets. I haven’t reached that point yet.”