For most American rappers, being born in Frankfurt, Germany isn’t usually where their story starts. But this is just one of many places where J-Cole, or Jermaine Lamarr Cole, has laid his head for bed. Cole’s father was in the military at the time of his son’s birth, and the rapper’s mother was German.
But before you assume that J-Cole learned to speak German as his first language in school, recognize that he only actually lived in the European country for eight months of his life, until he moved with his mother to North Carolina. Other than that, Cole didn’t end up traveling all over the place. His mother had decided to separate from his father. And his father, now apart from the family, had also decided to leave the military.
This led to a culturally mixed upbringing. When North Carolina rapper J-Cole spoke to NPR, he talked about how he lived an extremely diverse life, both culturally and geographically. He detailed that before moving, he first lived on a military base. After that and his parent’s separation, he then moved to a trailer park, which he describes as one of the scariest places he has lived.
He claimed that he always worried about his mother. By the time he reached the sixth grade, he was living in a much nicer home. Ultimately, he claims that he knows what it is like to live and see life through a variety of vantage points: half-black, half-white, poor, single-mother home, and family home that was in-tact.
Let’s take a look at where J-Cole is from, which has made him into the man he is today.
Fayetteville, North Carolina
If you have heard J-Cole refer to being from “The Ville” in his music, it is because the raper was raised in a very small town in North Carolina called Fayetteville, or Fayettenam because of its military connections and close proximity to the Fort Bragg base and a reputation for crime. J-Cole shared a fact about the place where he grew up:
“In the middle of downtown is a place called the Market House,” he says. “They used to sell slaves right in that spot. But it’s the only landmark we really have in Fayetteville, so when you Google it, that’s what comes up.”
As a family, there was quite a bit of moving around for Cole as a child. Until Cole turned 11, he lived in several small houses in neighborhoods and trailer parks, including one house on Lewis Street, which was a tiny two-bedroom home that J-Cole and his brother Zach squeezed into with their mother doing the best she could with limited income.
There was much more home improvement when J-Cole’s mother got remarried, and she decided to move the family into a much better property on Forest Hills Drive, which is not just part of the title of the popular third studio album in J. Cole’s catalog, but he is actually sitting on the roof of it for the album artwork.
This three-bedroom home has a large front lawn and back garden surrounding it. Cole actually earned the Best Rap Album award at 2015’s Billboard Awards for that album 2014 Forest Hills Drive. That number wasn’t just the year that the album was released, it was also the physical address of the house too.
Cole has talked about the importance of transitioning into this home as a kid. He claimed that they were able to get such a nice home because his step-father was in the army, and his mother had a fairly good job at the post office. Combined, the two parents made approximately $60,000 dollars a year.
How much of J-Cole’s like was spent at 2014 Forest Hills Drive?
He claims that he lived in that house for seven years – likely from age eleven to eighteen. That was the home that he started rapping in and making his first instrumentals. It was also the phone that he had his first girlfriend in, where he retained his first job, and where he eventually would make the school basketball team. He had fond memories of the home.
Unfortunately, after Cole had left to attend St. John’s University in New York City, his mother’s marriage fell apart and she was no longer able to afford to stay in the North Carolina house, bill collectors came knocking, and it was foreclosed upon. But with Cole’s later success as a celebrated voice in hip hop, he was able to redeem the situation:
“It was justice, me buying the house back on some justice shit, because I never liked the way that they took the house from us. I’ve never been a materialistic person, but I was caught up in my career and consumed with success. My happiness being based on my success level as opposed to just appreciating what I have, the relationships and family that I have. So, it’s a symbol for reconnecting with that s**t.”
Terry Sanford High School, Fayetteville, North Carolina (1999-2003)
J-Cole did a little bit of reminiscing about playing high school basketball while he attended Terry Sanford High School in Fayetteville, North Carolina, between 1999-2003. He talked to Sports Illustrated about the experience:
“That was the first time I started working like a real basketball player: A thousand shots a day, sprints, minute drills, one-on-one full court with the star player on the team, every day, literally, for the entire school year then the entire summer. Then I also sprouted up to 6’2″.”
Sports was also coupled with music, including that time when a teenaged J. Cole was playing violin at the Terry Sanford High School auditorium back on October 26, 1999, performing the theme songs from “Batman” and “Mission” Impossible” as the first-chair in the orchestra.
St. John’s University, New York City (2003-2007)
Basketball was a big part of J. Cole’s formative years in North Carolina, feeding his competitive drive. He has explained to NPR that this spark has been with him since childhood. He claimed that since first grade, he has been competitive with himself – even going so far as to ask his first-grade teacher what his average was!
J-Cole never made the St. John’s University basketball team because he didn’t bother to attend call-backs after being one of the ten chosen. Why did J pass on the chance to play college ball? He explained to Sports Illustrated his state of mind at the time:
“That was the moment where I decided that basketball was a pipe dream. And that music was absolutely what I wanted to do.”
St. Johns, J-Cole was originally a computer science major, but he made the academic switch to communications. When he graduated in 2007, he had a 3.8 grade-point average and earned Magna Cum Laude honors. However, Cole doesn’t seem satisfied with those results, on his song “Villuminati” he rapped the lines: “Couple more A’s I would have been a Summa Cuma Laude.”
From Germany to North Carolina to New York City, J-Cole’s journey has taken him to many places, but North Carolina, where he currently calls home, is where he claims the most. It has made him into the legendary artist that he is today going from mixtapes like “The Come Up,” “The Warm Up,” and “Friday Night Lights,” to being the first artist signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation record label) to creating Dreamville Records (under Interscope Records) alongside Ibrahim Hamad, releasing his studio albums including his debut album “Cole World: The Sideline Story,” “Born Sinner,” “2014 Forest Hills Drive,” “4 Your Eyez Only,” “KOD,” and his new album “The Fall Off” with a release date this year.
These albums include Billboard 200 hit songs like Work Out, Snow on tha Bluff, Power Trip, and No Role Modelz. Last year, he released a compilation album “Revenge of the Dreamers III” as a follow-up to “Revenge of the Dreamers II.” It was recorded in Atlanta and featured artists like Cozz, Bas, Ari Lennox, and Omen. The album was then nominated for a coveted Grammy award alongside his new song “Middle Child” that was nominated for best rap performance. Clearly, with all this success and accolades, J-Cole can stand amongst the hip-hop greats like Jay-Z, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and Eminem.