J. Cole on Finding Happiness

It was during Jermaine Cole’s first semester at St. John’s University in New York that he received a message from his mom: she was four months behind on her mortgage payments for their house in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Cole’s stepfather was supposed to be handling them while stationed overseas with the army, but wasn’t.

“Thirty-two hundred dollars is like one million, no way she’s coming up with that type of money,” he said in an interview with NPR Music. “She panicked, left the house, and they came and foreclosed it. And all the time I was away in college, powerless.”

Now, J. Cole (his stage name) has bought that same house again, and the address serves as the title for his latest album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive. This is where he grew up as an adolescent. While living there, he made his first beats, wrote his first song, made his high school basketball team, learned to drive, and got his first job. Last summer, Jay-Z—who signed Cole to his Roc Nation label in 2009—honoured Cole by handing over his Roc-A-Fella chain.

But Cole believes his greatest accomplishment is buying this house back. In the latest Complex cover story, Cole tells the magazine why:

“Comfort and pride. I realized recently I’d never asked myself that question. When I’m home, I’m either stopping through to visit or I’m doing something for the [Dreamville] Foundation. I might get an extra day to see friends and family but then it’s off to the next thing. I’ve never been there long enough to feel comfortable and think, “This is home”—not until I was home doing a cover shoot for the album. I noticed I felt comfortable. Usually if there’s a camera rolling I’m anxious.”

This was important for Cole at this point in his career. He had two hit albums and is constantly approached for endorsements. He was making a living for himself that many can only dream of, but he wasn’t happy.

“I was unhappy when amazing things were happening, [career successes] that I should have been grateful for and super happy for. I didn’t feel I was getting the type of recognition I always wanted and that I felt you had to get to be considered at a certain level. Last year, I started to realize that means nothing. It’s all unattainable. You have no control over what somebody else feels about you, but you have 100 percent control over how you feel about yourself and how you feel about the people around you and how you handle life.”

So he came back to where it all started, where he could just focus on the craft of making music, because that’s when he’s at his happiest.

J. Cole shows us that to make any career leaps, you need to get out of your bubble. But you can’t throw it away, because it can provide a safe haven when you need to readjust your focus. Going back to that quiet space, throwing away all distractions and remembering why you started can be the best thing when you’re feeling burnt out or stuck.

Cole’s bubble was snatched from him and he worked to get it back, and it’s helped him make his most ambitious musical project to date.

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Further Reading:

Read J. Cole’s interview with Complex here and listen to his NPR interview below:

Image Credit: Roc Nation

About Cormac McGee

Cormac McGee is a journalism student at Ryerson University whose writing focuses on sports, business and hip hop. He’s currently the blog editor for the Ryerson Review of Journalism — Canada’s media watchdog — and hosts themasterKrates podcast. Also pursuing a minor in marketing, he has a keen interest in branding and is working towards pay, shade and a vacay. Holler at him on Twitter @cormacmcgee.