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Interview: J. Cole Talks Culture, Fame and More with Billboard

It’s very rare to see a J. Cole interview so when you do, you read it! The Dreamville boss sat down with Billboard in a new interview to talk about him being more involved in interviews and opening up to the media. Cole said for the sake of his artists, it’s important he become accessible. He touches on social media and it being ‘fake’ along with a bit of politics. He also talks about his encounter with the late XXXTentacion, take a look at some of what he had to say below and read the full article over at Billboard.

Billboard: Why have you opened up to more press recently?
J. Cole: You want to know the honest truth why I did this interview?

Billboard: Of course.
J. Cole: Ib [Ibrahim Hamad, Cole’s manager] and the team thought it would be good. No disrespect to Billboard, but I literally was not in the mood. I was fine.

Billboard: Fine how? Not needing this?
J. Cole: Just [not] having the desire to do it. And sometimes, when I do do [press], I end up feeling like it wasn’t fulfilling. But I also understand I’ve been stuck in my ways. 2014 was probably the year I decided, “Fuck it, I’m through trying to play whatever game is going on.” Then shit worked so well I fell all the way back. I’m on the other extreme now. I don’t want to be so stubborn where I don’t listen to people. I’m also building a company, a record label, with other artists. Their success, in some way, may depend on me being a little more present or accessible.

Billboard: Do you think it benefits celebrities to only engage with media on their terms?
J. Cole: It’s hard for me to answer. 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.

Billboard: What gets on your radar? How much media do you consume?
J. Cole: I’m in the Dreamville [group] chat on the executive side, and in there, there are updates about such-and-such dropped an album. Then I’m in the sports chat, which also bleeds over into everything. There’s not many big things that miss me.

Billboard: What keeps you from sharing your opinions on Twitter?
J. Cole: If I’m in a conversation with somebody and it’s natural and it’s organic, I’m going to speak freely. 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. In college, we had this running joke that all our meetings of the Black Student Union — that I ended up becoming president of, but I was just a member my freshman and sophomore years — always eventually ended up talking about Jay-Z. No matter what black topic, social issue or community shit we was talking about, somebody brought up fucking Jay-Z. It never failed.

Billboard: Because you’re quiet on social media, no one knows where your mind is. It leads to misunderstandings about you.
J. Cole: Yeah, and they paint the narrative. That’s real. “Finger wagging,” that’s a phrase that clearly gets shared around. I’m like, “Y’all don’t even understand.” This happened when [2014 album] Forest Hills Drive came out, and I saw someone review it. It was this white girl — no disrespect to white girls, that’s just what she was — and she pinpointed a few lines and tried to make it sound like that’s what I was saying. I’m like, “Damn, you really missed what I was attempting to do.” I saw that with “1985,” too. I would just chalk it up to, they’re not rap fans. They don’t understand subtlety and nuance in the genre. But what you just said is way more of an on-point reasoning. I made that song a year before, and so much shit happened, mentally, leading up to the song and after it. And it’s like people never even get a chance to hear that side of me. But I don’t care to correct it. I don’t have an urge or a desire to be like, “Hey, y’all, you know when I did ‘1985,’ I wasn’t really finger wagging.” It’s not my job to correct the narrative.

Billboard: When XXXTentacion died, you tweeted that he had “a strong desire to be a better person.” Did you know him?
J. Cole: I spoke to him on FaceTime one day in February for, like, three hours. His management reached out to Ib 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.

Billboard: What did he want to talk about?
J. Cole: Pssht. He started off the conversation literally on some, like — he didn’t even say hello. He started off basically saying, “I’m not on your level yet.” He was talking about spiritually and mentally, and that was intense because I was like, “Huh? I’m not on no level.” He was praising me while also saying he was going to achieve whatever it is he felt that I had. I’ve dealt with mentally ill people in my life before, many of them. And right away, I notice that this kid is super passionate and smart, but I could also see that he was so deep in his mind.

When I found out [about the abuse allegations against him], my first response was, “Man, I hope maybe one day I’ll get a chance to talk to this kid and figure out if there’s any place that I can help.” Because anybody who would do the shit that he did… Hurt people hurt people. I’ve walked through prisons and talked to these dudes who got life. They took someone’s life at 16 or 17 years old. You haven’t had the chance to process your trauma at that age. I’ma be sympathetic to a kid who has clearly been through so much fucked-up shit that he inflicted this on someone else.