When it comes to hip-hop, I think there are few artists as respected and revered as J. Cole. His songs have been featured on just about every mixtape or radio station in the last decade.
J. Cole is known for his deep lyrics, his personal storytelling and, on my books, is one of the best rappers in hip-hop today. But which of his tracks are the best? Below is a list of what I consider are the best 21 J. Cole songs that have been recorded.
Best J. Cole Songs
“No Role Modelz”
“No Role Modelz” is one of many of the best J. Cole songs that are best described as bangers, with a prominent place on his 2014 album “Forest Hills Drive.”
The track brings awareness that though there are many challenges in growing up without role models, one should be encouraged to find happiness in the positives they can take away from their childhood.
“Fire Squad” is the second track on J. Cole’s “2014 Forest Hills Drive.” The song discusses how far hip-hop has strayed from its origin.
It also talks about important issues such as American slavery and how the youth of today are numb to them. It’s a thought provoking song that is as much an ode to hip-hop’s history as it is a wake-up call for its future.
The song has remained popular with fans thanks to its catchy hook as well as one of J. Cole’s more lighthearted verses that he delivers in his trademark syllable-bending rap style.
With a smooth beat and the artist’s trademark storytelling, “Three Wishes” is one of the best J. Cole songs on his second studio album Born Sinner that features TLC member Rozonda ‘Chilli’ Thomas.
The song tells three stories from different perspectives about people who are making wishes while in relationships with their significant others.
“1985 (Intro to ‘The Fall Off’)”
One of the best J. Cole songs on his most recent album “4 Your Eyez Only” that has received critical acclaim from fans and music critics alike, “1985 (Intro to ‘The Fall Off’)” tells a story about how some young hip-hop artists have forgotten where they come from, referring to other rappers who began making music in 2014.
“Power Trip” Featuring Miguel
The lead single from J. Cole’s “Born Sinner” album, “Power Trip” is a love song that features vocals by R&B singer Miguel.
The track samples the classic soul song of the same name by Luther Vandross and has since become one of the biggest hits in J. Cole’s career as well as one of his most well-known songs.
“Dollar and a Dream II”
“Dollar and a Dream II” is the second track on J. Cole’s “4 Your Eyez Only.”
The song discusses how far the world has come since Martin Luther King Jr.’s death as well as America’s history of racial tensions with its black citizens.
“4 Your Eyez Only”
The title track from the artist’s fourth studio album, “For Your Eyez Only” is arguably one of the best J. Cole songs on the project thanks to its soft beat and personal lyrics about life as a black man in America.
The song reflects his growth over the years both musically and personally while remaining one of his most popular songs among fans who love it for its unapologetic lyrics.
“Lights Please” shows why Jermaine Cole’s Warm-Up album is so good. Not only are the beats catchy, but his verses about women he has met along the way to fame have a very strong sense of personality and presence.
This song acts as both an ode to those types of people who take advantage of him during this time in his life, while also serving as a metaphor for rap itself—which can be cutthroat at times with all its rivalries between artists and genres alike.
Before his rise to fame, Cole’s debut single “Wet Dreamz” didn’t get much attention, but it is nonetheless a powerful song about losing one’s virginity.
The track has been criticized by some fans over the years due to its explicit lyrics but remains popular with others who love that he chose not only to rap about sex and but about losing his virginity as well.
“p r i d e . i s . t h e . d e v i l” ft Lil Baby
This collaboration with Lil Baby elaborates on the expression “pride comes before a fall”. Lamenting on the mistakes he himself has made due to pride, J. Cole also asserts that pride has been the cause of problems in his own family and many others, due to members being too proud to apologise to each other.
He also explains how pride can do far worse than cause fallouts, sometimes leading to injury and even death. It’s a powerful, urgent examination of one of the deadly sins and for that reason it really is one of the best J. Cole songs ever.
“Nobody’s Perfect” ft Missy Elliott
J. Cole recruits Missy Elliott to help him let the world know how much his life has changed for the better since breaking into music in “Nobody’s Perfect”. Cole had recently signed to Jay-Z’s label, Roc Nation, when he penned the track.
The name of the track is an ode to an Aaliyah track, since J. Cole felt the chorus sounded like something Aaliyah would sing. Having been made aware of Missy’s vocals recently, he felt that she would be able to do it justice and invited her to collaborate with him on the track.
“In The Morning” ft Drake
Cole originally recorded “In The Morning” from his bedroom in 2007. When it was released online, it caught the attention of none other than Drake, who texted Cole expressing his admiration and asking to appear on the remix that Cole was working on. The new version featuring Drake ended up on Cole’s debut album, Cole World: The Sideline Story.
“In The Morning” is a classic tale of lust. J. Cole expresses his admiration and desire for the girl in his bed and asks her if she might want to try for round two in the morning.
Cole expresses his disillusionment in this track after seeing some of his role models fall from grace. Describing how he idolised other rappers after listening to their music, he is disappointed to learn that some of them don’t actually write all their lyrics, that some of them aren’t great people behind the scenes, and that some are even going off the rails and ruining their legacy. “Somebody should have told me it would be like this,” he repeats.
Cole has said that he wasn’t taking shots at any particular rappers in the track, despite speculation. In fact, he insisted that the fact the lyrics applied so well to particular situations and people showed how spot on he was about what the industry was doing to his fellow artists.
“Crooked Smile” ft TLC
Cole teams up with girl group TLC to talk about the expectations placed on him now that he’s making money. He’s been told by others to fix his ‘crooked smile’ since he can now afford it, but he doesn’t want to pass on unrealistic expectations to the kids looking up to him. He’d prefer to look like himself and let them know that it’s okay not to be perfect.
He then moves quickly into explaining how his perspective on womanhood has changed – he expresses that if he feels these pressures, he knows how much greater that pressure to look perfect must be on the women around him. The empowering track perfectly combines his style with that of TLC.
This powerful track gives the listener a fascinating insight into where J. Cole feels he stands in rap history. He explains that he is caught between an old and new generation of rappers, playing older brother to those coming up whilst feeling like a little brother to the rap greats that came before him.
Cole is not a middle child in real life, with only one older brother. However, the metaphor perfectly encapsulates the duel role he feels he has to play in the industry. He references the mentor-esque role he plays for 21 Savage whilst thanking Jay-Z for his guidance.
“Lost Ones” is one of the best J. Cole songs – a standout amongst the artist’s discography in terms of storytelling.. It wrestles with the difficult topic of abortion from the perspective of someone experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, taking the form of a monologue as a young man talks to his girlfriend how stressed he is at the prospect of bringing a child into the world when they are unprepared. He suggests an abortion.
The voice then flips to the girl, who asserts that it is her body and her choice to make. She wants to keep the baby and doesn’t appreciate her boyfriend suggesting that she should get rid of the child, or that he wouldn’t be able to be there for his kid. It’s a deeply powerful listen.
“Let Nas Down”
Cole looks back in this track, recalling how much he struggled to produce the perfect lead single to his debut album. When he produced “Work Out”, criticism from his idol Nas left him spiralling. Eventually “Work Out” was a successful radio hit, but Cole still found it hard to bounce back from the initially negative reception.
The dramatic “Villuminati” sees Cole mouthing off with no restraint, playing up a hyper-confrontational version of his rap persona. He takes shots at Rick James and explains how his childhood love for Tupac saw him hating Jay-Z and the Notorious B.I.G. He goes on to describe himself as a sinner and plead for his soul back from the devil.
“Born Sinner” ft. James Fauntleroy
Cole spins an existential picture of his life in “Born Sinner”. The main tension in the track comes from the dualities in the music industry – Cole considers music a gift and his own relationship with it priceless, but acknowledges how the industry is full of corruption and temptation. He explains struggles to stay on the right path in his incredibly raw and honest verses.
J. Cole is grateful for his mother in this self-reflective track. Although he feels that he has often lost his way in life and veered from the path he wants to be on, he thanks her for always rooting for him despite the mistakes he has made. “I need to treat you better/Wish you could live forever,” he raps.
The 21 best J. Cole songs are a testament to his immense talent and diversity in style, with each song providing something different for me and other listeners of all tastes. You may have listened to some or many of these already, but if not then I urge you – now is the time! Listen today and enjoy what this hip-hop legend has created just for us, his fans.
You May Also Like
Caitlin Devlin is a music, entertainment and lifestyle writer based in London. When she’s not creating playlists for Repeat Replay, she’s reviewing gigs and interviewing artists for Ticketmaster UK and thinking about what her Spotify Wrapped will look like this year.