Thin Line Between Comfort and Growth For J. Cole

Stevenson Altidor

There is a strange beauty that complexity brings into a life that a daily routine simply cannot. Actions that are guaranteed to make ends meet are especially desirable, whatever those ends are. Yet, when a wrench disrupts that pipeline, we get uncomfortable. There’s a thin line between growth and comfort, and it occurs when goals are achieved. New perspectives dawn on us as our thought process becomes more flexible. It is never something you want, but always the thing you need.

In his Applying Pressure documentary, J. Cole spoke about some of his friends calling him out for his lack of work ethic. As if sitting on a goldmine of music and minimal industry connections made him big time. That intervention later pushed him to make The Warm-Up. Maybe not making five beats a day for three summers, but he invested himself more than ever before into a goal that was fading away before he even knew it. Never committing himself to anything, the discomfort of never giving his all into basketball raised this thought in his mind.

“Do you really wanna look back, 10, 20 years from now at this music shit and be like the reason you did not make it in music is because you did not put in the work?”

Twelve years later, we have a wiser, wealthier, more secure artist who is the crème de la crème of his profession. Returning with the same mindset, but the purpose is different. No, the meaning of this journey is the conclusion. An ending that lives up to his satisfaction. Where we, the fans, dictate if your jersey is up there in the rafters. You hear him lamenting on Joey Badass’s single “Legendary” on what else he needs, and the answer is what every good story needs… a good ending.

While boarding his private jet, Cole ironically speaks on the comfort of luxury. Some of our favorite rappers all reached a point where their success became their creative downfall. How does Cole plan to evade the fate of so many rappers like him? With Forest Hill Drive, he would move back to Mohammad’s crib in New York to keep himself grounded.

For The Off-Season,  production was the source of change this go around. He showcased his skills as an MC, something even his harshest critics will never dare to downplay. Nevertheless, here, he did so much more. Cole improved upon using his voice as an instrument, mix-matching flows and cadences like a master Rubik cube solver, all while singing better than he ever has.

However, he did all of these on beats that were not his own. On his breakout album, 2014 Forest Hill Drive, Cole is credited for producing ten of the thirteen tracks. For KOD, he solely produced 9 out of 12 songs. On his latest album, two out of twelve songs had J. Cole as its sole producer. Listening to The Off-Season and KOD is night and day once you focus on the music. Something sinister is lurking behind the triumphant veil.

So instead of waiting for the fans to trigger chaos, he pushed himself to the deep end and decided where he was after KOD just was not enough. While putting himself through seven min drills, he acknowledged that producers like Boi-1da Timberland, T-Minus, Jake One, and more should sketch out the aesthetic that draws us in. Fair or not, that revelation unlocked Cole’s greatest skill set.

No stone could be left unturned. It is not about the money or the reputation anymore. For Cole, he wants his best album is his last one. From playing basketball to Rwanda to finally having features on his album, this last Hoorah is Cole escaping from that satisfaction. Cole would not dare peek behind the curtain, but now, he has. Learning it was the best version of him yet that was behind the curtain is scary.

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