During a steamy and rain-soaked evening in the outdoor amphitheater of Jones Beach Theater, I remain standing to hear my favorite hip-hop artist’s last words before he disappears backstage.
Until next time, ladies and gentlemen. Peace and love!”
J. Cole is a modern-day St. Augustine. Like the Christian theologian and bishop, J. Cole is a seeker of truth, someone trying to be holy. Both men speak to the heart of the Christian message of grace—that everything we have is a gift from God that in turn gives us true joy and lasting satisfaction.
But I don’t look up to St. Augustine as much as I look up to J. Cole.
Yes, I prefer the guy who sports Air Jordans and dreadlocks. The dude who wears baseball jerseys, sweatshirts and baggy shorts. The man who raps about his deepest thoughts with soulful emotion and bursting energy. The artist who always enthralls me through his hip-hop music and life stories. And trust me, no one has watched more J. Cole interviews than I have.
Jermaine Cole is one of rap music’s biggest icons. Raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina, he sought to overcome a “small town mentality” by moving to New York City to attend college and ultimately pursue his dream of becoming the top artist in the rap industry. After graduating magna cum laude from St. John’s University, he struck it rich by signing a record deal at Jay Z’s label, Roc Nation. His latest album, “2014 Forest Hills Drive,” has sold over two million copies and was recently nominated for Best Rap Album at the 2016 Grammy Awards.
“2014 Forest Hills Drive” weaves intimate personal stories with deep spiritual truths. The album name refers to J. Cole’s childhood home in North Carolina that he repurchased in 2014. Cole plays the prodigal son who returns home as he finds his way back to what is most important to him.
He begins the album with a melodic and inquisitive song about happiness and freedom, and like most of the other songs, J. Cole not only speaks to his listeners but also to himself. He showcases his exceptional storytelling abilities in songs such as “0’3 Adolescence,” in which he narrates his teenage struggle with low self-esteem. He finishes the album with “Love Yourz,” in which he ties together his spiritual journey to conversion with the hook, “there’s no such thing as a life that’s better than yours.” That’s not far off what Augustine has in mind when he says, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
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