A History of J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar’s Musical Relationship
Cole (XXL Freshman Class of 2010) and Kendrick (XXL Freshman Class of 2011) are arguably this decade’s Rakim and Big Daddy Kane, or Jay-Z and Nas—two true MCs at the heights of their powers existing in the same musical space. But unlike the aforementioned G.O.A.T.-level contemporaries, Jermaine and K. Dot have never had beef. If fact, they’ve quietly been good friends since the early parts of their careers.
“That's my man first and foremost and I just feel proud because I seen it,” Cole said about Lamar all the way back in 2010. “I tried to tell people early and I never really even stamped nobody before. And before my album was even out, before he even had a deal, I was making sure to stamp him.”
The two rappers initially met at an album listening for a Los Angeles-based group called U-N-I around 2010. It was there that Cole got his first earful of Kenny from Compton.
"As soon as he started rapping I’m like ‘What the fuck?’” Cole recalled. “This nigga’s hungry. Hungry.’ You know what I mean… So, as soon as it’s over, I’m the type of person if I’m feeling something, if I feel a certain way, I’m gonna let you know immediately.”
That was their first meeting, but it wouldn’t be their last. The two rappers have been on separate musical thoroughfares to greatness ever since, but they’ve crossed paths dozens of times over the years, collaborating on tracks and sharing stages on tour. And, of course, there is the joint album they’ve been teasing for close to 10 years now, which would surely break the internet upon its release.
As the world continues to wait for this fabled Cole and Kenny album, XXL chronicles J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar’s musical relationship.
After meeting on that fateful night at the aforementioned U-N-I album listening party, J. Cole and Kendrick later link up together in the studio. The session(s) prove to be fruitful. They will go on to call what they were working on “top-secret shit.”
In an interview with Vibe, Kendrick expounds slightly on what he and Cole recently cooked up in the studio.
“It's a lot of music, I'ma put it to you that way,” he reveals. “It might not be just one song."
During a listening for his debut indie album Section. 80 in Carson, Calif., K. Dot previews cuts off the upcoming project as well as other music he’s been working on. During the event, he debuts a J. Cole duet that turned out to be “Temptation.”
With more anticipation growing for a joint project, Kendrick speaks with XXL and divulges a few more details:
We don’t have a title or release date yet but J. Cole got like 90 percent of the production so far. One of my favorite songs of the project is a song called ‘Shock the World,’ Cole laid the first verse and set the tone for the whole record. It’s going to shake up a lot of people.”
A week later, “Temptation” leaks onto the internet. The smooth J. Cole-produced track also features Javonte and finds the rappers spitting about life’s allures. The song is never officially released.
Another Cole and Kendrick collab leaks. This time, it’s the previously mentioned “Shock the World.” The track features BJ The Chicago Kid. It's another slow burn with the rappers flowing about pre-fame days. It is also never officially released.
Kendrick Lamar tells MeetThaDealer the joint album has been put on the back burner so the rappers can focus on their early solo careers.
“It’s still moving, we just getting the music right," Kendrick reveals. "[Cole] got a situation with his album coming out, his single. I got my situation coming out. We just really wanted to focus on that. Especially me just coming off the XXL [Freshman cover]. I just really wanted to make my own entity instead of coming out with a collaboration or mixtape with another artist. I wanted to stamp myself. We just getting the music right. We still got them records in the cut. Everybody asking for it. We gon’ put it out.”
Kendrick Lamar releases his debut indie album Section. 80. The album’s final track, "HiiiPower," is produced by J. Cole.
With his album out and making noise, the questions about the joint project with Cole persist. Kendrick spoke with XXL about it in December 2011:
“We’re still trying to formulate it and sit down in a neutral zone, where either one of us is moving and doing shows, interviews and press all the time. We want to lock ourselves in the studio and make it right. We got songs where we can actually formulate something, but we want it to be right.”
J. Cole tells Bootleg Kev he recently worked with Kendrick in the studio and the joint project is progressing.
"I just started working with Kendrick the other day. We got it in, finally, again,” Cole reveals. “We working on that [album]… We got back in. That was the first time we got back in in a while. We actually got in the other night and actually worked, bouncing ideas, which was so great. The vibes was so good.”
Both Kendrick and Cole appear on DJ Khaled’s Kiss the Ring single “They Ready” alongside Big K.R.I.T. Cole co-produces the beat along with Khaled and Canei Finch, and the young gunners prove they are ready to be put in the starting lineup.
Kendrick and Cole again appear on the same track, this time joining forces on the Trae Tha Truth all-star record “I’m On 2.0” alongside Big K.R.I.T., Tyga, Mark Morrison, Jadakiss, B.o.B, Gudda Gudda and Bun B.
Kendrick Lamar has a tour stop in North Carolina. So, he fittingly brings out the hometown hero J. Cole to perform “Nobody’s Perfect” and more off his debut album, Cole World: The Sideline Story, which was released one year earlier.
Kendrick Lamar releases the loose track “The Jig Is Up (Dump’n).” J. Cole produces the track. He also contributes vocals on the bridge.
J. Cole releases his sophomore album Born Sinner, which features a guest appearance from K. Dot on the single “Forbidden Fruit.” The song serves as a bit of an updated version of the unreleased “Temptation” track from 2011.
In the spirit of competition, Kung-Fu Kenny puts out one of the most memorable verses of 2013 on Big Sean’s “Control” track. In it, he calls out a number of rappers including his buddy Cole.
“I'm usually homeboys with the same niggas I'm rhymin' with/But this is hip-hop, and them niggas should know what time it is,” Kendrick snaps. “And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big K.R.I.T., Wale/Pusha-T, Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky, Drake/Big Sean, Jay Electron', Tyler, Mac Miller/I got love for you all, but I'm tryna murder you niggas.”
J. Cole takes his time to respond to Kendrick's “Control” verse, but does so on Justin Timberlake’s "TKO (Black Friday Remix)," also featuring A$AP Rocky and Pusha-T. Cole mentions the song by name and references the "long-ass verse" without saying Kendrick's name.
“Everybody and their momma gassed/Even my momma asked what I'ma do,” Cole spits. “Decisions, decisions/In case this is war, then I load up on all ammunition/If a nigga want problems, my trigger's on auto/I'll make sure that nobody miss him.”
On the night he was gifted his Roc-A-Fella chain, J. Cole surprises the crowd at Madison Square Garden by bringing out Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar on his Dreams May Come True Tour stop in NYC. Cole and Kendrick perform “Forbidden Fruit” and Kenny also gives the crowd “Backseat Freestyle.”
Eminem handpicks Cole and Kendrick to join his 2014 Rapture Tour. Along with Action Bronson and Jacob Linsley, the artists play eight stadium shows in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and England.
Cole sits down for an interview with the late Combat Jack on The Combat Jack Show and recounts first meeting Kendrick in 2010 and wanting to sign him to Dreamville.
“I actually wanted to sign him but I didn't have my business right and I didn't know he was with Top," explains Cole. "In my mind, he was the first person I ever found that I was like, 'Yo, I'm tellin' everybody I wanna sign this kid cause this nigga's nasty!”
He continues: “From that night we clicked and he sent me some records. He sent me these songs ‘Pussy and Patron’ and ‘Cut You Off.’ And I was like, 'Yo, I'm fuckin' with this nigga. I wanna sign this nigga!' From there, I felt compelled to always give him any jewels I could... When I was in the studio with Dre, I had to tell Dre like, 'Yo, you ain't never heard of Kendrick?' And he was like, 'Oh, Kendrick? Yeah, I'm supposed to be meeting with him soon.' And I was giving him the crazy co-sign like, 'You gotta fuck with Kendrick!'"
Kendrick and Cole again get fans excited about a joint project when they remix each other’s songs for Black Friday 2015. In this exchange, dubbed Black Friday, Cole tackles K Dot's "Alright" while the TDE rapper spits over the Jermaine's "Tale of 2 Cities."
Cole alludes to the long-awaited collaboration album at the end of his rhyme: "'When you and K. Dot shit drop?'/Bitch never/They can’t handle two Black niggas this clever."
During an interview on The Breakfast Club, Ab-Soul breathes life back into the project when he reveals the Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole joint album is back on and being worked on by the two rappers.
"There is [an album]," Soulo tells DJ Envy, Angela Yee and Charlamagne Tha God. "They got it. They got something in the works. They been working on that motherfucker for a while."
Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. Tour rolls through Detroit and features a cameo from J. Cole. Cole comes out and performs his 4 Your Eyez Only cut "Déjà Vu” as well as tracks like "No Role Modelz" and "A Tale of 2 Citiez."
After another period of dormancy, Top Dawg Ent. exec Terrence “Punch” Henderson reminds everyone that maybe, just maybe, the joint album with Cole and Kendrick is still on.
On Twitter, Punch responds to a fan's query of "When Cole And Kdot dropping that joint project[?]" with the ant-climactic reply of "probably never."
He later backtracks but still admits he doesn’t have the answers. "I was just playing about that dot and cole joint,” he tweets. “It's coming for sure maybe. I don't know it might happen. Probably. Actually hit them.”
Jeezy taps Cole and Kendrick on the track “American Dream” from his 2017 album Pressure. All three rappers spit politically charged verses over the Y-Not track.
Kendrick Lamar shows up with an uncredited contribution to J. Cole and Dreamville’s Revenge of the Dreamers III track “Under the Sun,” on which he provides the chorus.
Cole’s manager Ibrahim Hamad later reveals how the small collaboration came about, tweeting, “Big shout out to my bro @kendricklamar man. Pulled up on me to hear the project and just chop it up and ended up giving us a fire hook. That’s my bro, always love.”