Photo: Taylor Hill(Getty Images)
It’s probably the hardest time ever to be a rap fan, the once inspiring, socially relevant genre has been reduced to 20,000 twerk songs and similarly numbered ones about getting fucked up at parties, or that’s at least what’s popular. Luckily we have a handful of guys like J. Cole who got our back, someone we can point to when asked “: Why do you listen to that trash?”. There is only one Tupac, and no one can be like him, but J. Cole is the closest thing we came to Makaveli in terms of socially conscious topics, burning energy, and motivation for his rapping.
Yes, Jermaine Lamarr Cole, which is J. Cole’s real name, is about making a positive impact on the listener, but that doesn’t mean he does that monotonously with a preaching tone, the North Carolina artist is pure fire. Here we have his best songs ranked, which was a difficult job due to the quality and volume of his work.
J. Cole Songs Ranked
10. Ville Mentality (4 Your Eyez Only)
Switching between smooth rapping and singing to spitting hard is done effortlessly in Ville Mentality with an unusual break separating the instances. One of the strong messages Cole wanted to send out with this song is also seen on the cover of his fourth studio album. The classical music sounding instrumental could only be made to work by J. Cole in the current state of the industry, and the ending is in-your-face powerful.
9. Deja Vu (4 Your Eyez Only)
An absolute banger from Cole’s last album, and the first single for it, reaching the number 7 on the US Billboard Hot 100 list. The mellow instrumental survives Cole’s onslaught, both lyrical and energetic, from the start, and it fires back at the chorus with one of the best usages of basses in modern rap. The complexity of the track is what separates Deja Vu from the flock and it’s secured in the end with gentle singing, a great contrast from the rest of the track.
8. Crooked Smile ft. TLC (Born Sinner)
J. Cole’s teeth have been the target of his haters when he hit stardom, and Cole tackled their shoutouts and empowered his female audience yet again with the help of TLC in Crooked Smile. The beautiful chorus ties in Cole’s preaching throughout the song and the choir ending gives the track another kind of layer, elegant and inspiring on a more subconscious level.
7. Work Out (Cole World: The Sideline Story)
The bonus track of Cole’s best album is the reason why the Let Nas Down was written, and while a lot of people have criticized Cole for making it, it’s still a jam and his biggest hit. Disregarded by the more message-oriented J. Cole fans, Work Out was definitely a needed track as it turned a lot of heads towards his music, and it was done with style and some of the slickest flows of the Fayetteville rapper.
6. No Role Modelz (2014 Forest Hills Drive)
Arguably the best beat of Cole’s repertoire, and it’s certified by some of the truest lines in contemporary rap. Basically, Cole rapped the opposite of what every other is doing in his track about females, calling out the shallowness and simplicity of the girls he encounters. Yet, admitting to his actions, making the song play out like you’re listening to a J. Cole interview.
5. She Knows ft. Amber Coffman, Cults (Born Sinner)
J. Cole and Drake are the most emotional rappers ever, but Cole doesn’t come off as mopey and sad as the Canadian rapper, and he also isn’t a meme god and a funny gifs mine. Incredible performances by the featuring artists round up this highly uncommon-sounding track, while the music video is another proof that Cole is not lazy with the visual representation of his art.
4. Who Dat (Cole World: The Sideline Story)
J. Cole’s Sideline Story is his best album, proved by the fact that this juggernaut of a song was only a bonus track on the album. It’s incredible what the 32-year old managed to do with a pure hype up track that every rapper is almost obligated to have, as he literally and figuratively spits fire with Who Dat. Even when bigging himself up on the unique beat, Cole manages to drop bits of wisdom and to exceed expectations.
3. Can’t Get Enough ft. Trey Songz (Cole World: The Sideline Story)
While most of other J. Cole songs are amazing due to his lyrical genius, it’s the vibe that carried this track so high up in the ranking. But it’s never style over substance for J. Cole, it’s just that the beat takes you away somewhere else from the very get-go. Arguably the best track of the best J. Cole album. Trey Songz shines as well and his contribution to this instant classic of a track shouldn’t go unnoticed.
2. Wet Dreamz (2014 Forest Hills Drive)
Cole is at his best storytelling here, while the beat and the complex flow make the listener come back to this, probably, sweetest rap track ever. The music video is in a class of its own, not just in the rap genre, as it is wickedly charming and smart. Yet another time that Cole did something truly unexpected in the genre, and the result is one of the most genuine and relatable tracks in modern music. As he says himself, he might not be on your list of the greatest, but he has the clock set.
1. Lost Ones (Cole World: The Sideline Story)
This is the track that made the comparison with Tupac viable, it’s the socially conscious, socially relevant lyrics and the genuine compassion to the everyday problems people face in the community that made J. Cole stand out from the herd of chain wearing rappers. The title is deeper than the albums of the other “rappers” out there. Brilliantly, Cole does the both sides of the relatable and important argument, creating a documentary movie with his song.
The greatness of J. Cole lays in that probably no two persons will have the same top 10 list of his tracks, but feel free to leave your favorites in the comments.