J. Cole Talks Letterman, Being “Free,” Ferguson, Kendrick Lamar & More

blame it on Shake December 12, 2014

With 2014 Forest Hills Drive out this week, it’s quite obvious we’ll be getting hit with an onslaught of interview footage in the days and week to come. And in the latest pair of sit downs, we’ve got J. Cole speaking with NPR and Angie Martinez.

Up top, Cole speaks with Angie about his powerful performance of “Be Free” on Letterman, breaks down the “Fire Squad” lyrics referencing Eminem and Macklemore, the album, and more.

Below, he spoke with NPR Mic Check hosts Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley about returning home for the new album, Ferguson, being “free,” drawing inspiration from Bob Marley, and his relationship with Kendrick.

On the first time he realized he was “free.”

That’s a loaded question, cause I don’t feel that I’m all the way free. I don’t feel like any of us are, unless we’re super evolved and super spiritually evolved and you just live in the — a Buddhist monk and you don’t really need, you know — those guys are free. But in terms of when did I realize I was free?

I know your question, your question is basically when did I let go, of whatever it was I was holding onto in the past. And it’s when I realized that the way I was feeling, during the last five years when I should’ve been very happy and very appreciative and very on cloud nine because I was literally living out my dreams, I was realizing that I wasn’t liking how I was feeling. You can listen to Born Sinner. You can listen to Sideline Story and hear it, coming out. I wasn’t liking — I wasn’t happy, you know what I mean? And I had to take a step back, or take a step inside, take a look inside, and be like, “Why is that? Why don’t I feel good? Why am I anxious all the time and stressed when I should be feeling blessed?” And I realized it was the things I was holding on to.

2014FHD was originally intended to be a double album.

People don’t understand the decisions that go into making the album. You know what I mean? Like, the scenes I had to cut to make this album. At one point this was a double album, and making those cuts was sooooo hard. And certain decisions like that are so hard to do.

On the grand jury choosing not to indict Darren Wilson.

When the Darren Wilson non-indictment came. That was the biggest slap in the face, that I feel like we needed, actually. America needed that. Black America needed that smack in the face, so we could see what it really is.”

The beat for “St. Tropez” was given to Kendrick—then taken back.

I did that beat early in the year, like maybe February. I didn’t know what to do with the beat. I sent it to Kendrick. Like, “Here man. Take this for your album.” No, matter of fact, I sat on it for a while. That particular song, I sat on it for a while. Made the album in L.A. Came back to New York to just finish up the album, tweak the album. And while I was in New York I sent Kendrick the beat like, “Yo. I got something for your album here.” He hit me back like, “Yo.” He was loving it like, “Yo. It’s perfect, classic. Thank you.”

And then, a week later I’m on the plane — or in my hotel room, and I got shuffle on my Logic. I got a Logic folder, basically, a Logic playlist that plays all my beats, so I was just going through it randomly and that beat came up and that day I had melodies. “Roll up and smoke my sins away / I’d like to go St. Tropez / Maybe I go maybe I stay.” I had that. So I record on my laptop. And I’m thinking to myself, “Oh, no.” Cause I’m in love with it, but I just sent it –- mind you, I just sent it to Dot. I just sent him this joint. So I’m like, “Oh my god. I don’t want to make that phone call.” But I couldn’t help it.

So when I got back to the studio maybe four days later, I just recorded it and I just called him, like, “Yo, please tell me you didn’t record to that beat yet.” Like, “Please tell me you don’t have a classic song sitting on that beat. Cause I’m about to —” Cause if he had song I wouldn’t even have took it — I wouldn’t have took it back. So I was praying that he didn’t cause I really loved it and I knew what it was on the album — I knew the scene that it was and I needed it to be. And he was like, “Nah, it’s cool. I only got like a verse on it.” I was like, “Are you in love with it?” And he was like, “Eh. I ain’t in love with it. I’m just playing around.” So he let me get that back. He was like, “You owe me though.” So that was a cool moment.

If you’ve only got time for one interview, I highly suggest you press play on the NPR joint. A really, really solid discussion.

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