J. Cole, real name Jermaine Lamarr Cole, was born on a German military base in 1985, but raised in Fayetteville, N.C. As a kid, he gravitated toward basketball and music, and served as a first-chair violinist for the Terry Sanford Orchestra until 2003. J. Cole began rapping at just 12 years old and soon branched into production after his mother bought him an ASR-X sampler for Christmas. Upon high school graduation, he opted to move to New York City, accepting a scholarship to St. John’s University. He graduated magna cum laude in 2007 with a communications major as his passion for making music exploded.
That same year, J. Cole released his debut mixtape, The Come Up. Meanwhile, he’d been attempting to rub shoulders with Jay-Z, but was largely ignored by the Roc Nation mogul until 2009 when he not only inked a deal with the label, but also appeared on Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3 album. In 2010, J. Cole was named an XXL Freshman and his career began to take off. J. Cole’s inaugural album, Cole World: The Sideline Story, arrived in 2011 via Roc Nation/Columbia Records and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Each ensuing album, including the two-times platinum Born Sinner and three-times platinum 2014 Forest Hills Drive, has debuted atop the chart. Simultaneously, J. Cole found enormous success with his own imprint, Dreamville Records, which he established in 2007 alongside Ibrahim Hamad.
From the Revenge of the Dreamers compilation albums to a roster that boasts R&B singer Ari Lennox as well as rappers J.I.D, EarthGang, Bas and more, Dreamville has evolved from a tiny operation to an institution complete with the annual Dreamville Festival. J. Cole, who’s been exalted to one of hip-hop’s elite, has been nominated for a Grammy Award 16 times. In 2020, he took home the gilded trophy in the Best Rap Song category for “A Lot” featuring 21 Savage. He released The Off-Season in 2021, his seventh No. 1 album.