Congrats on officially signing with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation. First off, how did that deal come about?
Thanks a lot. How it came about, I want to say this – I know it’s easy for the outsiders looking in and the people who don’t know me, which is damn-near everybody reading this. It’s easy to say this shit came out of nowhere and I got lucky but the truth is, I came to New York for this. Years ago, I left my city for this. I’ve been working and trying to get my foot in the industry for a long time. Slowly but surely I was working my way into the game. Fast forward to meetings with executives and A&Rs and a meeting with Jay-Z. I think he heard the music in October of ’08. He heard one song that I had and he was just like, ‘Bring him in here. Who is this kid? Can I meet him?’ Three weeks later I was in his office and having an incredible meeting, a three hour meeting with good vibes and a good energy so I really felt good about that. A few weeks later I learned he wanted to do the deal. It was a blessing, man.
How much did the fact that it was Jay-Z offering you the deal play into you accepting it?
It honestly had a lot to do with it but not as much as you may think. It was really the vibe of the meeting. Just because it was Jay-Z, if anything, that’s what made me almost hesitate to do it because in my mind, anybody that knows me knows what I’m aspiring to be and where I eventually want to be. I want to be Jay-Z, if not bigger, so for me to sign to him, it was kind of a little hesitation like, ‘Damn, how am I gonna try to be the best when if through my whole career everybody is saying that Jay-Z made him?’ It was hesitation more so because of that but it was more the vibe and the energy I got from that situation. I’ve been in meetings with executives from this label and that label and it just didn’t feel that good. This situation felt right. That really had the most to do with it. Of course I was a little gassed, actually a lot of gassed, that it was Jay-Z (laughs), but if the vibe wasn’t right I wouldn’t have did it.
A lot of artists that Jay has signed recently haven’t gone on to great success. Are you worried at all about your career when you look at Jay’s track record of signing artists?
I’m honestly not worried, not even a half a percent. I don’t know those other guys and what the truth was behind it but I know that Jay-Z can only help me. All I can do is use that name to my advantage. Everything else is me. It’s all determined by me. If I fail it’s not going to be because Jay made the wrong decisions. It’s because I made the wrong decisions. All Jay-Z is doing is allowing me to use that Roc brand and that cosign. The rest is up to me. So if anybody else failed, I don’t think you can blame Jay for that. I mean, I look at something that Kanye did. He created his destiny and I don’t even think…He almost made Jay fuck with him more because of how successful he was and that’s what I want to do. I don’t want to have to rely on that name and I don’t want to be needy asking Jay for verses and all that. I want to be independent and for him to see that. I want to do that because I believe in myself.
Have you gotten a chance to work with Jay-Z yet?
Nah. Actually I haven’t gotten in the studio with him yet, but when that day comes, it’s going to be incredible. I honestly can’t wait for that shit, when I get that call. But I'm just working on my shit right now any laying my groundwork down. It’s something that I’m not even stressing. It’s like, if I was signed to Def Jam I wouldn’t worry about getting into the studio with L.A. Reid. This is the owner of the label. I’m not looking like I’m signed to a hot-ass rapper. I’m looking at it like I’m signed to the owner of the label. If I could get him to hop on one of my songs that would be great but if I could produce for him, that would be another story.
When do you see your project actually coming out?
I’m in no rush, man. I actually have a lot of material. Before I got signed I was always working on an album and now that I’m signed I’m looking at some of that material. I think I can put out a record in a month because I have a lot of quality material. I know that I have to establish my presence and my foundation of fans. How long can that take? That can take up to a year so I’m in no rush. My only concern is that some of these songs that I’ve done, I don’t want them to leak. There’s four or five that I want to hold on to, regardless of when my album drops.
And Roc Nation is a beautiful situation. There’s no pressure. They’re not telling me I have to have a single out by this date. They’re telling me to do my thing and that they believe in me. It’s good, man.
So you have enough creative control.
Hell yeah, man, because my manager is Mark Pitts and his team. The relationship that Mark Pitts and Jay have is strong. That gives me a lot of control in the fact that Mark Pitts trusts me because he sees what I’ve done as a producer and rapper and therefore Jay trusts him. I don’t think they would have signed me…I don’t even think they would have signed somebody that they would have had to nurture and work with. If I wasn’t already ready to go and they didn’t trust where I was going, I don’t think they would have signed me because they don’t want to do rap like that. They’re not making me work with this person and get this person on the hook. They’re more like, ‘What do you want to do? Do you want to produce your album? Okay, cool.’ It’s 100% creative control and this is what I dreamed about and this is what I prayed for so I’m just glad it worked out like that with that type of deal. I always told myself that I would never be in a situation where if I got a deal I would never have to make a certain type of song. I wanted that type of control.
Will you be able to produce most of your music as well?
Yes. Definitely. I’m growing out of it but I always envisioned myself producing my whole album. But the more I meet people, like I was in the studio with Green Lantern last week. The more I hear what they got, I think, Do I want to be this stubborn and block a hot beat? If I don’t do my whole album then I definitely want to do 80%. I’ve always envisioned myself doing that and there’s only been a few producers that I can actually vibe with.
Going back to the Roc Nation deal, how did you get Jay to listen to your music?
It was basically a long, long journey and it wasn’t overnight. It was years of me thinking that getting signed and getting on was right around the corner. For years I truly believed in my heart that I could do it and I knew what I had. I knew my talent and I felt like it was close, even when it was so far away, I felt like it was right there. My advice to anybody out there is that if you truly believe, and I know rappers who have quit and gave up and there’s young rappers my age that did that. They’re broke and they’re tired of sending niggas messages on MySpace and nobody getting back, but how could you quit if you truly believe in yourself? You can’t fail until you quit. Just believe in yourself and know that it’s right around the corner and one day it will really be right around the corner and it’ll be there. It took years of me believing that that finally got me to Jay-Z. Sometimes I think that me freestyling with my homeboys and working on songs with my best friend that I would ever be signed to Jay-Z.
Would any of this happened if you never made the trip to New York?
It’s crazy because I had this conversation the other day and honestly, the real answer is back then, no, because I didn’t believe that. I think that what you believe is what’s true and back then I believed that I had to leave. I had to come to the Mecca in order to be signed and get noticed. It’s the old “going to Hollywood” story. I believed I had to do that but now, knowing that I’m older and knowing what I know now, if I had just concentrated on making hot music back home and concentrated on hot music and letting work its way out there and don’t hold onto it so much, I think I could have did it from back home but I like the way I did it. It adds to my story and it adds to my life. I love New York.
Have you seen the love you’ve been getting from DJs and media outlets increasing since the announcement of your deal?
Yeah, to a degree, but not even really. Honestly, it was happening most before the deal. Before I met with Jay, I would say for the past eight months, when I was going into these meetings, it was starting to catch on. Instead of them trying to sign me, they were trying to link up with my business partners. I’ve been dealing with that for months. They would hear the material and know that I was about to get the deal and they wanted to jump on when they could. Before I had to deal with that and now my team is solidified. I am managed my Mark Pitts and signed to Jay-Z and I have my own business and there’s no way for people to get in. There’s no way for people to infiltrate my team now but I definitely felt that before the deal.
For those who don’t know, what is Roc Nation?
For me, first and foremost it’s my label. That’s the part that I really care about. They’re a record label. That’s what they do. I don’t know, I’m not really familiar with the other acts that they signed. But they’re a label and on top of that they’re a management company. They manage Wale and Melanie Fiona and some other people on top of that. They have a writing and publishing arm where they have writers and producers under them with publishing deals.
I think their future is limitless. They definitely have a future business model mind. They’re open to any ideas t hat’s going to generate revenue in a new way. Basically I don’t know because I haven’t been signed before but I can picture them being everything that the old labels aren’t. I don’t have an A&R on top of me telling me I gotta do this song and I gotta do this and I gotta be in the studio with T-Pain and Swizz Beats. It’s not like that. Maybe I’m blessed and I have a unique situation but I definitely feel a unique energy with them.
And they’re the ones releasing my music. But I’m not signed to them as management. That’s like Wale and Melanie Fiona. That’s something totally different. But I’m signed to the actual label.
Wale’s already congratulated you on Twitter about your recent deal. Do you think you’ll work with him in the future?
Yeah, as long as the vibe is there. Wale and Currency are very cool and I’m fresh in the game in terms of actually being in for real. I haven’t met a whole lot of rappers but I got no chip on my shoulder, man. I’m just a down to earth dude. Any rapper that I meet, I’m cool. I want to have rapper friends. To me, that’s what was missing from hip-hop. So yeah, I’m down to build relationships with these rappers and I’m fans of them on the low. Some of these guys are incredible with the shit that they’re putting out.
How long is it going to take for you to become a household name?
Give me a couple of years, man, and I’ll be a household name. I don’t want to speak and sound crazy but you give me a year and I’ll be a big force in hip-hop when it comes to rapping and when it comes to production. But as far as being a household names, give me a few years and let me do a movie and show my whole personality and the fact that I can speak universally to a lot of different people in a lot of different places, I think that’s what’s going to take me over the top and make me a household name. I want to be a staple, a force to be reckoned with. For that, give me a year, man.
Obviously when I interviewed you a few weeks ago you were holding back on me about the Roc Nation deal.
(laughs) Yeah, man, sorry about that. The deal was already signed but I didn’t know how it was going to be announced and I didn’t have the okay. Then they told me I could go ahead and let it out. Now the news is out there and it’s official. J. Cole is signed to Roc Nation and The Warm-Up is on the way, man. I’m excited.
You could probably make up for that by doing another HipHopGame freestyle.
(laughs) Yeah. Y'all held me down, man. And I loved the actual first HipHopGame freestyle. I love that shit. I’m actually thinking about putting it on The Warm-Up because it feels so good. I was always a fan of that beat and when I went to do the freestyle, I picked the beat up and I knew I was going to murder that shit. Yeah, man. That was fun.
How hard was it to hang onto that news when you knew it could have changed your current situation?
It was harder to hang onto it when I knew I was going to sign but I didn’t sign yet. I had to wait for the lawyers and the negotiations. I wanted to tell people but I didn’t want to jinx it and have something bad happen. That was hard but after I signed and I had to hold onto the news, it wasn’t that hard because I knew that you had to do everything strategically. So it wasn’t that hard.
What should we be expecting from you in the next couple of months?
Next month, actually the end of this month, expect The Warm-Up, which is my second mixtape and is the follow up to The Come Up, which people are actually starting to check for now. I hope this is something that people talk about and that they love it. After that you can check me on Wale’s new mixtape on a joint with me, him and Currency. That’s dropping in April and check for me on Wale’s album. I don’t know when that’s coming out but I got a joint on there with Wale, which is incredible. I love that shit. And other than that, man, just try to catch me on as many features as I can do with rappers that I vibe with. I’m managed by Mark Pitts so I’m trying to use that to produce for some of these incredible rappers. I would love to produce for Nas and to produce for Jay. Just look for everything on both sides. And the shows. Next year I’m trying to get my name up. I’m trying to hit colleges and club scenes that rappers might not go, the country towns that kind of get looked over. I definitely want to hit those.