J. Cole Talks Life After College With Interview Magazine
High Fashion and Cultural magazine Interview Magazine takes a trip with the 27-year-old rapper at the American Museum of National History as they about Cole’s upcoming lecture at Harvard, College, and life after St. John’s. Check out highlights from the interview below.
DAVID SHAPIRO: You’re lecturing at Harvard on [February] 26th, right?
J. COLE: [excitedly] Yes!
SHAPIRO: How did that come about?
J. COLE: I’ve been planning to do a college tour since I came into the game about four years ago. I’ve always envisioned going out on the road and going to colleges, doing a half-show, half-forum type thing. We actually talked about doing a college tour as part of the campaign for this album, and right after that, Harvard asked me to speak.
SHAPIRO: What inspired your interest in going on a college tour?
J. COLE: It was inspired by, when I was in college, seeing some incredible speakers come to my school: Michael Eric Dyson, Spike Lee, Nikki Giovanni, and other poets and writers. I always loved that experience: going and sitting in an auditorium and listening to their opinions.
SHAPIRO: So how is your speaking event going to work?
J. COLE: We’re going to have students ask me questions first. I know they’ve got some fucking great questions. And then I’ve got some questions for them! I want to know how kids five or six years younger are thinking and feeling about music and about society. So at around noon we’re going to set up a table on campus where kids can come and hang out, talk, take pictures and get autographs, and then around 4:00 or 5:00 we’ll all meet in the auditorium and have a big-ass open forum and discussion. After that I’ll do a show. Depending on the college, it’ll be either an intimate show or a big-ass show.
SHAPIRO: That sounds fun. Tell me more about being in college.
J. COLE: Oh, man, it was dope. I’m from a small town, and I was going to college in New York! It was the first time I wasn’t living with my mom, and there were girls on the floors right above and below me.
SHAPIRO: What did you major in?
J. COLE: I actually started off majoring in computer science, but I knew right away I wasn’t going to stay with it. It was because I had this one professor who was the loneliest, saddest man I’ve ever known. He was a programmer, and I knew that I didn’t want to do whatever he did. So after that, I switched to Communications. I took some dope-ass classes: Poetry, History of Music, History of Film. We watched all these movies that wound up getting nominated for Oscars, like Slumdog Millionaire.
SHAPIRO: What did you do in the interim, before you got your deal? I know you graduated summa cum laude, so you probably had a bunch of options.
J. COLE: [laughs] Ah, man. Well, actually, I graduated magna cum laude. And after college, man, that was… Well, I was broke as hell. I was renting an apartment in Queens with my roommates during school, and after we graduated, they moved out and started their careers. I didn’t really have a career at that point.
SHAPIRO: What did they do?
J. COLE: One of them went to Complex, one of them started working at a PR company, one of them started producing TV. I was just waiting for my deal to come through.
SHAPIRO: So what did you do?
J. COLE: Well, I was hitting my mom up for money. I kept hitting other people up for money, too. I just felt like a bum. I owed thousands of dollars in rent and I was just waiting on my deal. My landlord was always letting me slide, but eventually I had to give him something, even just to show that I had income. So my homie hooked me up with this job at a newspaper.
SHAPIRO: Well, tell me about the job.
J. COLE: I worked in ad sales. I would call up local businesses and try to get them to buy ads in the paper. The whole time, I felt like I was just scamming people. I would call a plumber and be like, “Can we get $400 for an ad?” knowing that the actual ad wouldn’t do shit for his business.
SHAPIRO: Were you a successful ad salesman?
J. COLE: [laughs] Nope. I never sold an ad.
SHAPIRO: Not a single ad?
J. COLE: [shakes his head] My homie who got me the job used to throw me some of his sales so I could get my name up on the board so it would look like I was selling.
SHAPIRO: This is turning into a very recession-era tale.
J. COLE: Yeah. I saw, like, the prime recession. This was in ’08. It was the worst. The good part was that I had two friends who worked there, and there were mad cute girls. It was like 50 young people in the office. Everyone got a firsthand look at the worst of the recession. I would call people up to ask for money, and these people would tell me their life stories.
SHAPIRO: That sounds depressing.
J. COLE: Yeah; to be good at bill-collecting, you have to ignore your feelings. I remember sitting there on the phone, listening to people tell me that they’re losing their house, that their husband has cancer, and then I’m supposed to ask them if they have $50? I couldn’t do that shit. Sometimes I would just listen to their stories and then say, “I’m sorry, have a good day.” I couldn’t even ask them for the money! And if a person didn’t give you any money over the phone, you were supposed to schedule them back into the system so they would get another call in two weeks, but for a lot of people, like when you could really hear the pain in their voices, I would schedule them really far into the future. Months.
You can read the full interview at Interview Magazine .