It's been less than a week since J. Cole dropped his latest album K.O.D. and broke streaming records on both Spotify and Apple Music, but aside from the LP's lyrics, we've yet to hear from the rapper directly—until now. J. Cole sat down with Vulture for a candid and in-depth conversation that not only revealed his alter-ego "Kill Edward" to be inspired by his stepfather of the same name who left in 2003, but also touched on critics, Soundcloud rappers, his roles as a husband and father, and the meaning behind K.O.D. Read excerpts below.
ON K.O.D.'S INSPIRATION: We live in a society where all this drug use is normalized, it's the norm, it's okay, it's fucking encouraged, it's fucking promoted. You turn on the TV—you feeling down? Of course I'm feeling down, I'm a fucking human being. Try this. Whatever this thing is. Like, nah, how about you actually feel sad and figure out what the fuck it is that got you feeling sad, so you can work on that?
ON THE DEATH OF LIL PEEP: The album is already a warning and this kid dies while I'm sitting in the studio mixing the shit — do you know how creepy that was? That shit was heavy.
ON EXPERIENCING MOUNTAIN VIEWS & CRITICS: You could see crazy landscapes, crazy mountains, and just how beautiful it was. And how impossible it was that this shit was created. It looked like folds; bunches in God's clothes. Seeing that shit at one time hit me like, damn, the audacity of humans. It made me feel like humans were trying to be God. Because everything we're doing is humans trying to prove we're greater than God. And it felt like, how dare you, bro? Just looking at mountain ranges, like, you could never do that. Now it's even clearer. You're a fucking idiot.
ON NEW RAPPERS AND THE MEANING OF TRACK "1985": It's really a 'shoe fits' situation — several people can wear that shoe. Why you yelling at your show? You must feel attacked in some kind of way, must feel offended, and if you feel offended, then that means something rings true, something struck a chord. That's cool with me. That's all I ever want to do. If you exclude the top three rappers in the game, the most popping rappers all are exaggerated versions of black stereotypes. Extremely tatted up. Colorful hair. Flamboyant. Brand names. It's caricatures, and still the dominant representation of black people, on the most popular entertainment format for black people, period.
ON HIS BORN SINNER ERA: In 2012, it was infuriating, it was mad hurtful, it felt more like I was a victim. Once I took control of my own shit, stopped giving power to other people for my happiness and success, it became like, Oh word, I'll show you how boring I am. And it became another person to prove wrong.
ON HIS 2014 FOREST HILLS DRIVE ERA: I didn't like how I felt about my life. I'd been depressed for like three years. And I realized I was putting too much importance on what other people thought about me. Also, my mom going through her shit had a traumatic impact on me, and I never had a chance to process that shit. I just put my head down. I wasn't having an honest conversation with myself.
ON BEING A HUSBAND AND FATHER: I'm a fucking successful rapper, who can literally at the drop of a hat go anywhere, do anything, have mad adventures. But there was no better decision I could have made than the discipline I put on myself of having responsibility, having another human being — my wife — that I have to answer to. Family can literally be the thing you always needed, bring balance and meaning and fuel your creativity, give you purpose. Dave Chappelle gave me some baby advice. He said: You'll hit another gear, you'll hit a gear that you never knew you had when you have kids. It actually proved to be true.