“Keep grinding, boy. Your life can change in one year. And even when it’s dark out, the sun is shining somewhere.”
– J. Cole, “Premeditated Murder”
As 2013 nears its closing moments, it’s safe to say that a good number of us will take the time to reflect on the year as a whole. Between a spoonful of black eyed peas and a big sip of your cider of choice, chances are your thoughts may drift to become those of an introspective nature. Before the dust settles, you will analyze, pick apart, compare, and contrast your year to years previous, as well as the years of others. The resulting thought pattern almost always consists of us identifying at least one area in which we are willing to commit to improving – commonly referred to as a resolution. Giving up soda and fried foods. Losing the extra inches off of your waist. Committing more time to your loved ones. Is anything ringing a bell? If so, then you probably catch my drift. While resolutions are necessary tools that are utilized to influence growth in human beings, we can usually count on a stumble or two on the path to self-improvement. As creatures of habit, the concept of resolutions almost directly works against our basic nature. In any event, each of us struggles to maintain the will to hold true to the new and improved self.
Each of us, including Jermaine Lamarr Cole, an emcee hailing from Fayetteville, North Carolina, whom you may have heard of once or twice before. Cole’s initial music releases focused heavily on the aforementioned subject matter from a general, everyday life perspective. The hunger that J. Cole possessed in his earlier works (The Come Up, 2008, and The Warm Up, 2009) is simply undeniable, and is most evident on tracks like “Simba”, “Dolla & A Dream”, and “I Get Up”. This is most likely due to the freshness of the struggles that plagued Cole, a small town biracial kid who clawed his way from poverty to becoming a magna cum laude college graduate and the first artist on hip hop mogul Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label. What captivated Cole’s fan base was his ability to use his lyricism to paint a dangerously accurate portrait of his trials and tribulations, yet simultaneously create music that served to inspire the individuals that could relate to his hardships. A fan favorite, Cole’s underdog approach made him one of the up-and-comers that you had no choice but to root for. Cole harnessed that combination of hunger, potential, and support following his first two releases and went on to craft what is arguably his most cohesive, quality project to date. Friday Night Lights, 2010, saw Cole make the transition from an emcee who mostly relied on his raw lyrical ability to an artist who crafted structured songs for the length of a project. In addition, Cole nearly produced the entire mixtape on his own, showing the level of investment he had in making his dream a reality. He was able to tap into his full range of talents as an artist, crafting songs that had mainstream appeal (“In The Morning” featuring Drake), records that explored his introspective side (“Too Deep For The Intro”), and tracks that exemplified both his hunger and new found level of confidence (“Blow Up”). The project was critically acclaimed, and set the standard for what to expect from Roc Nation’s first artist on his future full-length studio albums. While Cole has gone on to release two studio albums, garner massive amounts of airplay, and receive countless award nominations, Friday Night Lights is the project that saw him take that next step – the same step that we all think about taking every year.
So, here we are – awaiting the ball to drop in Times Square the same way that it does every year. As you identify the changes that you wish to make to your lifestyle for this upcoming year, find inspiration in J. Cole’s story. Search within yourself to find the same level of hunger, harness it to maximize your capabilities, and remain strong enough to follow through with it all. By committing to and investing in yourself, you are sure to attain everything you are worthy of in the next 365 days.