UPDATE: the J. Cole show has been postponed to Wednesday, July 19.
While internet fiends may know the rapper for the now infamous meme “J. Cole went platinum with no features”—which, by the way, is true—it’s the performer’s jazz inspired beats and straight-talking bars that have led him to headline Rogers Arena on Tuesday (July 18). Despite his penchant for truth, however, there’s plenty about Cole that slips under the radar.
1. It’s a good thing you don’t need academic bona fides to become a successful rapper. J. Cole definitely has those—he graduated magna cum laude from New York’s St. John’s University in 2007—but he didn’t have a piece of paper proving it. The university didn’t actually give Cole his diploma until he played a homecoming concert there in 2015. Why the delay? Seems Cole owed the institution’s library some money for an unreturned book, but they decided to give him amnesty eight years later. Let this be a lesson to you, kids: become a famous rapper and you’ll never have to pay an overdue fine again.
2. Despite his sometime bad-boy lyrics (“I’m the Man”, anyone?), Cole is a good guy at heart. Starting his own non-profit organization six years ago in his hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina, the rapper continues to help urban youth to set and achieve their goals. Naming it the Dreamville Foundation, Cole and the group have started projects including book club initiatives and back-to-school giveaways of over 500 backpacks for youngsters—and he also purchased his childhood home to let a single mother and her family live rent free for two years at a time. Which, if you ask us, is a way better investment than Lil Wayne’s diamond teeth.
3. A teenaged Cole once stood outside of Jay Z’s studio for three hours in hopes of giving the hip-hop elder statesman a beat he had made. When Jay Z finally emerged, he wouldn’t give the aspiring rapper-producer the time of day. Cole eventually got his future mentor’s attention, though, becoming the first artist signed to Jay Z’s Roc Nation label in 2009 and appearing on his album The Blueprint III that same year.
4. Before settling on J. Cole, the rapper first started spitting bars under the name Blaza—even though he doesn’t smoke weed. Admitting that he only partook during a short period in college, the rapper told Noisey that he now only tokes a few times a year, suggesting that his “mind is already on one thousand and that shit takes it to one million.” Know thyself, friends.
5. The rapper cut his teeth in the world of employment at the Fayetteville skating rink. According to Complex Music, the then-teenager had to dress up as the business’ mascot—a kangaroo—and bounce around to amuse guests. Before making it big, Cole briefly held a job as an ad salesman at a newspaper, and a debt collector. Unlike other performers who couldn’t wait to leave their small-town homes behind, however, Cole’s first show after inking a contract with Roc Nation was back in Fayetteville, where the rapper still makes regular appearances.