Posted: June 6th, 2017
About "Produced By J. Cole"
An Entry By Caleb J. Parker
In the Spring of 2010 during my Junior year of High School I spent many of my nights listening a mixtape entitled “The Come Up”, vibing to my newfound favorite rapper J. Cole. That tape acutely inspired me. As I sit here and type, I’m thinking to myself; “How exactly can I let you know what Cole means to me without sounding hella corny?". I’ve always preferred life bare, so I’ll cut to it. Like many of his die hard fans, I discovered Cole during one of the toughest parts of my life. I was Seventeen, and I was very uncertain about what I was going to do once high school finished. My Dad and Stepmom were getting a divorce after only Three and a-half years of marriage, and the house we were living in felt less like a home and more like an emotional prison. When they finally made the separation official, my stepmom took everything (the washer, the dryer, all of the furniture, tv’s etc.) to her new spot and left my dad and I in an empty crib. At one of my life’s more important stages, I felt trapped and defeated... Little did I know, that stage would offer up a life changing moment. One weekday while I was sitting in my “Life After High School” course I overheared my boy Ian Whittaker talking about this rapper named J. Cole. Ian was telling everyone about how this dude was gonna’ blow up soon and warning the entire class not to sleep. I was interested because I always liked to be receptive to new stuff. I learned early that being open-minded was a way to better understand the world. So, I made a mental note and told myself I would I check out this new rapper when I got to the house. The clock struck 3:04pm, the bell rung and I quickly packed up. I dapped up all of my friends, and began walking home down Calvine Road with a sense of purpose. The second I stepped into the house I shut the door and hustled to sit down in my dad’s computer chair. I logged into my WindowsXP profile, clicked the browser, and headed to YouTube….
*** searches “jay cole” (then immediately clicks the suggested search) ***
I proceeded to the first video I saw, and began to listen to this tape with called “The Warm Up” ...
FIRST TRACK : “Damn this is nice.... he is saying some real shit..... I FEEL it.”
TRACK TWO : “Damn, this beat is ill..... here we go...... ... Oh yeeeeah..... bruh is nice!!!!”
*** Pauses album ***
“ HOW MANY TAPES THIS DUDE GOT?”... WHO IS HE?... IS HE SIGNED? ... WHERE IS HE FROM?.... “YOOOOO???? HE NICE AS HELL!!!!!”
I needed more.
*** Youtube searches: “J cole first mixtape” ***
I saw the bold royal blue of the mixtape cover titled “The Come Up” and clicked it excitedly before my eyes allowed the view count to affect my opinions. I sat back... Not knowing what to expect. Just hoping it wasn't wack.
FIRST TRACK: “Damn another classic sample.... this dude is kinda tight.”
TRACK TWO: “Yo..... that DJ is loud....but this dude spitting tho. he kinda remind me of young Kanye but with a more skilled delivery.. he talkin’ some real shit on top of that. damn...”
***(@1:14) I paused the track***
I was feeling something special in that moment. I realized I actually needed that music. Not in the way that I needed something new to hold me over, but more like “damn I think this dude might be my new favorite artist”. I really fucked with the message, the hunger, and the rawness. I fell for that small town mid-major mentality because it was me. Within a week “The Come Up” was all I would play on my walks home from school and within a month I had a pen, and a college ruled notepad searching for “J. Cole type beats”. At 17, I began to write. I wrote about my hopes, my friends, my feelings, and my pain… I wrote to my mom, my dad, my siblings, shit. I even wrote to my crushes….
I understand now, that I was doing more more than just catching a vibe from a new dope rapper during those nights I would bump that tape in high school. I realize that I was learning. I was witnessing someone like myself who had beaten the odds. I was being showed that authenticity was all I really needed to survive and I saw that my life could be whatever I dreamt, as long as I was willing to fight hard enough for it.
I perched upon my failures one morning late in 2016. I stood with 23 years under my belt, walked outside and lit an L in sunny San Pablo, California. I closed my eyes and inhaled the weed smoke slowly. I felt the breeze whisk around my uncovered, stubbled head, and I thought about my life. I felt like a running back who had a chance to score after breaking tackles in the backfield. Just recently my dad had been jailed, and I had dropped out of college winning myself a whole new set of debt soaked problems. I knew it was crunch time, and that I needed to work harder if I didn't want my life to be a tragedy. I had a lot of improving to do, not just as a rapper but as a man. I decided that everyday (from January 1st 2017), I would write at least three 24 bar (or more) verses. I did this to strengthen my discipline. I told myself to stop accepting lukewarm local success, because my bank account wasn’t reflecting that choice positively. I disallowed trivial shit (like arguments with my aunt) to invade my creative space, and I made more room in my life for truth. I wanted to grow so much that it would feel like a crime not to sing my accomplishments, and I wanted to be so ill with my pen that my manager (and best friend Coach Nic) wouldn’t know what to do with me. Ultimately I wanted to pay my debts to the genre and to the people that helped me change my life.
The night I saw Cole making that loop on his HBO documentary with Ron Gilmore, I felt an elusive rush of inspiration. I immediately checked to see if he had rapped anything over the instrumental since the films release… he hadn't. I then excitedly searched to see if anyone had ripped the audio, “DanBeats” (on YouTube) had. I froze and told myself ; “if i’ma do this shit. its gotta be dope.” That moment felt like the perfect chance to show Cole how he influenced me. It felt like the perfect track to let the world know exactly where I was in life. It felt like my own personal track from him. It was as if he produced it and left it sitting up on that documentary for me. I witnessed the accuracy of my progression with every bar I connected that night, and I did not rest until I was sure I kilt the track. When I finished writing and rapped the verse over to myself a few times I knew it was special… I played the song on repeat for a bit as I wrote the second draft of this, and found myself doing much more than reminiscing about the way Cole’s lyrics lifted me years ago... I found peace, knowing that I now lift others just the same.