Jermaine Cole, better known as J. Cole, made his music debut with his mixtape The Come Up in early 2007 and instantly captured the attention of Hip Hop fans worldwide. Standing out in a genre where consciousness often took a backseat to flash and bravado, the star's lyricism and authenticity caught the ears of many. By 2009, he inked a deal with Roc Nation, and unleashed the explosive The Warm Up and Friday Night Lights, igniting the Hip Hop world and establishing himself as a dangerous lyricist.

While his mixtapes received praise and earned him the title of a modern-day bard, Cole's album discography is where he truly shines. He always delivers a treasure trove of musical genius. In the ongoing debate over who reigns supreme in the realm of conscious rap, he has consistently proven himself a worthy contender.

Below, take a nostalgic journey through the rapper's illustrious career by revisiting his discography and ranking his albums from his introspective beginnings to the soaring heights of his artistic development. It's time to honor the legendary emcee, a storyteller whose words ring true far beyond the studio walls.

7. Might Delete Later

The surprise release of Might Delete Later was his first full-length project since 2021. It featured contributions from a diverse lineup of artists including Ari Lennox, Gucci Mane, Young Dro, T-Minus, Cam’ron, Bas, the Alchemist, Ab-Soul, Charlie Heat, Mike Will Made-It, Conductor Williams, Central Cee, and more. While the North Carolina native typically doesn’t indulge in rap beef, on the track “7 Minute Drill,” he addressed Kendrick Lamar's remarks about him from the song “Like That.” In Cole’s bars, you can tell that he didn’t completely empty the clip, but he did display another level of competitiveness while demanding respect be put on his name and his art.

6. Cole World: The Sideline Story

Cole World: The Sideline Story is the artist’s seminal debut album, a watershed moment that forever changed the course of his career. With this release, he masterfully demonstrated his duality by seamlessly transitioning between the personas of radio-friendly Cole and conscious Cole. Doing this, he erased every preconceived barrier that confined him and his distinct brand of rap.

Anthems like “Who Dat” and “Can't Get Enough” illustrated his ability to revel in his own talents while seamlessly immersing himself in the glitz, glamor and allure of fame. However, tracks like “Lost Ones” and “Breakdown” revealed the breadth of Cole's artistry, as he skillfully channeled pain into purpose, and transformed personal struggles into powerful stories of resilience and redemption. With superb collaborations with icons such as JAY-Z and Missy Elliott, Cole World: The Sideline Story was destined for greatness long before its official release date.

5. KOD

Cole's fifth studio album, KOD, was released on April 20, 2018, barely two weeks after his electrifying duet with Kendrick Lamar on the “DAMN Tour” — a performance that etched itself into Hip Hop history. When asked about the enigmatic acronym, the New York MC revealed its multiple meanings: Kids on Drugs, Kill Our Demons and King Overdosed. He dug deeply into each dimension using KOD's lyrical lens by offering profound reflections on his upbringing, battles with addiction, toxic behaviors and the allure of materialism — a mirror to the struggles many people face on a daily basis.

Despite the album's weighty subject matter, it broke streaming records on the first day of its release. It also demonstrated a powerful truth: Conscious rap not only resonates but commands commercial success. KOD exemplified Cole's unwavering commitment to authenticity and introspection, while proving that profound artistry had no boundaries and could captivate audiences while sparking meaningful conversations.

4. Born Sinner

The wordsmith's sophomore effort not only met but exceeded the lofty expectations set by his debut. Collaborations with heavyweights such as 50 Cent, Kendrick Lamar, TLC and Miguel spoke volumes about his artistry and career trajectory. What truly distinguishes this album, however, are the subtle yet impactful R&B influences that appear throughout. Tracks like “Sparks Will Fly” on the deluxe edition and “Crooked Smile” show off a softer, more melodic side of him while maintaining the authenticity and purposeful messaging that have become synonymous with his brand.

3. 4 Your Eyez Only

In America's turbulent backdrop of racial injustice in 2016, J. Cole emerged as an image of both defiance and reflection with his groundbreaking album 4 Your Eyez Only. Using the political unrest as creative fuel, the rapper returned to his home by renting a house in a nice North Carolina neighborhood to create this raw and introspective project. In the evocative track "Neighbors," the Grammy Award-winning artist paints a vivid portrait of a Black man who endures discrimination by both neighbors and law enforcement in a wealthy area.

Cole's music and accompanying tour footage boldly confronted the sobering reality that even celebrities are not immune to the daily injustices that Black communities face. However, despite the weight of societal ills, 4 Your Eyez Only provided moments of respite and tenderness. Tracks like "Foldin’ Clothes" and "She's Mine, Pt. 2" provided glimpses into the star’s personal life.

2. The Off-Season

After signing with the Rwanda Patriots BBC of the Basketball Africa League, the multifaceted athlete and artist went straight to the studio to record The Off-Season. Fans had been waiting for new solo material from the artist since his 2018 release KOD, and these 12 tracks prove that the wait was well worth it.

In a departure from his usual solo endeavors, Cole embraced collaboration on this project enlisting the talents of 21 Savage, Bas, Lil Baby and 6LACK to bring some new melodious flair to this new era of his career. While collaboration is not typically his go-to, the results speak for themselves, with each track demonstrating a seamless fusion of styles and energy.

1. 2014 Forest Hills Drive

2014 Forest Hills Drive provided a profound insight into J. Cole's evolving psyche. He welcomed listeners into his world with a masterful sampling of old-school beats and candid revelations of life lessons learned and provided a deeper understanding of his upbringing.

Cole created this album less than a month before its release, illustrating his unrivaled creative abilities and unwavering commitment to his craft. The result? Over 3 million copies sold — a testament to the profound impact of his teachings on his devoted fan base. In essence, 2014 Forest Hills Drive went beyond mere musicality. It weaved a rich tapestry of introspection and storytelling that forged a deep connection with listeners around the world.