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Waiting for J. Cole to Become Great…Posted by Nathan S. on 11/13/12 | Filed under Top Stories, Opinion, J. Cole
Since I'm apparently incapable of thinking about hip-hop without making a sports analogy, let's start with the tweet in question and work backwards:
Starting to feel like J. Cole could end up as the Chris Webber of rap.— Refined Hype (@refinedhype) November 13, 2012
We live in a "First Take", era where everything is either the greatest or worst thing to EVER HAPPEN!!! You either hate a rapper with burning passion, or think he's the new GOAT. There's no other option.
But if I'm going to talk about Cole, I need another option, I need the Chris Webber option. Coming out of college (way back in '93) the consensus on Webber was that he had more talent and potential than nearly any NBA rookie in recent memory.
Sure enough Webber turned out to be one of the best players of his generation, a 5 time All-Star who proved he was capable of averaging over 20 points and 20 rebounds a game. It feels insane to say that Webber was a disappointment - how can you be disappointed by someone who for a solid decade was inarguably one of the league's best players? - but whether it was a lack of competitive fire, injury, or a combination of both, he never really became the dominant player fans expected him to become.
Of course, you could also argue that Webber didn't underachieve, he was overhyped, but Webber would have moments of transendant brilliance, moments that made you think, "This man has the potential to do things on a court than no one ever has before."
And it was those moments that kept fans hanging onto the hope that one year Webber would put it all together and seize his spot among basketball's elite. That hope never really materialized.
I feel about J. Cole like I feel about Chris Webber in 2001. There's absolutely no question that J. Cole is a rap all-star. Hip-hop is undoubtedly better off with him in it, but I also keep waiting for him to make that leap into the game's elite, and I'm still waiting. He's had moments of brilliance, I thought "Nobody's Perfect" was an excellent single, "Lost Ones" is one of the bravest songs I've ever heard, but he's been unable to put together a consistent run of undeniable dopeness, obviously including his underwhelming "Cole World" album.
Unlike sports though, hip-hop doesn't run on stats. This is art, and art is subjective. There are a lot of people I respect for whom Cole has made that transcendent leap into greatness, and I can't argue with them, but it just hasn't happened for me. You know when you hear a song and think "oh shit!!!"? You get that strange rumble in your chest and feel a compulsive need to play the song again? Those "oh shit!" moments are how I measure artists, and artists like Big K.R.I.T. and Kendrick Lamar have delivered far more "oh shit!" moments for me than Cole. He's given me plenty of "damn, that was nice" moments, but "oh shit!!" moments have been frustratingly few and far between. In fact, as much as I'd love to pretend otherwise, if I'm being completely honest I've had more of those moments listening to Drake. (Yes, I expect some jokes in the comments below over that last one, I'm making fun of me too.)
Cole is his 20s and has released exactly one album, it's far, far, far too early to start making any definitive pronouncements on his career. Remember, we waited nearly eight years for Lebron to realize his potential before he finally figured it all out last year and became easily the best player in the NBA. Maybe this "Born Sinner" album will be when Cole similarly figures everything out, when he becomes a transcendent emcee and doesn't just make dope hip-hop but changes hip-hop itself...
...or maybe it will never really happen and we'll have to live with J. Cole giving us dope and thoughtful music - your soul has to be a piece of charcoal to complain about something like that. But we're seemingly hard-wired to want true greatness. I see that greatness within Cole but I've yet to really get it; frankly, I don't know if I'll be able to stop hoping for it. Who would you want to watch? Jordan, or Chris Webber?
See Also: I Want More From J. Cole’s “Miss America” (Listen & Download)