J. Cole gets in the driver’s seat alongside Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the cover of ESPN The Magazine. The rapper and NASCAR driver come together for the annual music issue—and it all started over a shoutout.
At the end of the last track on J. Cole’s album 2014 Forest Hills Drive, Cole shouts out Dale Jr., whom he’d never met until now. “Dale Earnhardt Jr. … That shit you said to me changed my life,” says Cole on “Note to Self.”
Cole heard Dale mention his song in an interview and decided to include him in his thank yous. “There was an interview Dale Jr. did that asked him what he plays before races, and he said ‘J. Cole ‘Power Trip,” which freaked me out! What is Dale Earnhardt Jr. doing playing my shit? How did he even find out about it?” said Cole.
“You don’t think somebody on that level would ever hear your stuff. From there, I never forgot. I was always like, ‘Yo, I ride with Dale Earnhardt Jr.’ So when I was picking a name, I chose his. And it worked out crazy. Everywhere I go now—the airport, the store—people say, ‘Yo, Cole, I love that album, bro, it’s a classic!’ And Dale Earnhardt Jr., it’s the first thing they bring up! It’s already a thing in hip-hop, already an inside joke that’s going to live forever.”
After hearing “Power Trip” on Pandora, Dale Jr. discovered that he and Cole were both from North Carolina. “I heard he had a new album, and it started popping up on my Twitter timeline that there was this shoutout. I was like, ‘Oh shit, what’s happening here?’ So I went and listened to it, and it was funny as hell! So I tweeted to him, ‘Man, that shit’s funny!’ And he retweeted it and thought it was cool.”
The two bonded over their North Carolina roots. “It’s a connection, a North Carolina connection, and he reps North Carolina in his music, and he’s proud of where he’s from and bringing recognition to Fayetteville. I’m proud of North Carolina too,” added Dale Jr.
But the two have more in common than you’d think. “NASCAR represents working-class people. It gives them something to tune in to every week and dream about. It’s not a bougie sport by any means. It’s not a rich sport by any means,” said Cole. “[Rap] culture has a lot in common with this culture and doesn’t know it. And this culture doesn’t know it either. It could change the world if they were to ever merge and really become friends.”
For the rest of the interview, visit ESPN.com.