Awol Erizku/GQ

J. Cole Covers GQ: Talks Fatherhood, Reputation, & Bucking the System

J. Cole is ready for his close-up.

The reclusive rapper steps out of his comfort zone on the April issue of GQ. In the stylish cover shoot, photographed by Awol Erizku, a dapper Cole dons a Bally coat and Hermès sandals, while getting up close with a lynx. He also hits the backwoods in a $1200 Dries Van Noten coat and kurta, posing alongside a baby grand piano, and rocks a Isabel Marant sweater while sailing with a serval.

As he gears up for his sixth album this year, the Dreamville boss chopped it up with the magazine during NBA All-Star Weekend in his home state of North Carolina, where he performed at the halftime show. While he doesn’t like being the center of attention, he admits that he’s learning to embrace new experiences. “I realize, like, memories come from getting out of my comfort zone—great memories,” he says.

Recently, Cole has started to collaborate with more artists, including Offset and 21 Savage, and has become more active on social media. He even recently purchased a crib in New York City.

“I’ve reached a point in my life, where I’m like, ‘How long am I gonna be doing this for?'” says Cole. “I’m starting to realize like, oh shit—let’s say I stopped this year. I would feel like I missed out on certain experiences, you know? Working with certain artists, being more collaborative, making more friends out of peers, making certain memories that I feel like if I don’t, I’m gonna regret it one day.”

Cole, who is married with a toddler, also opens up about fatherhood and how it’s changed him. “I changed my life in order to get ready to have a family and to have a son,” he says. “I literally changed my life, where I was living, the things that I was doing. I changed. So because of that, when my son came, I was ready. I already made room.”

Plus, hip-hop’s “unorthodox” star discusses not winning any Grammys, Colin Kaepernick’s settlement with the NFL, and that infamous Versace sweater.

J. Cole Covers GQ

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J. Cole Covers GQ

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On the ‘J. Cole went platinum with no features’ slogan: “I was loving it. I was like, ‘Word up—this is funny as hell.’ But the second or third time, I was like, ‘All right, it’s almost embarrassing now.’ Like, ‘All right, man, y’all gonna make me put a feature on the album just so this shit can stop.'”

On losing Best New Artist at the 2012 Grammys: “It would’ve been disastrous for me, because subconsciously it would’ve been sending me a signal of like ‘Okay, I am supposed to be this guy.’ But I would’ve been the dude that had that one great album and then fizzled out.”

On not winning any Grammys: “I’m not supposed to have a Grammy, you know what I mean? At least not right now, and maybe never. And if that happens, then that’s just how it was supposed to be.”

On Colin Kapernick’s settlement with the NFL: “Listen, justice was served. This man got his money, know what I mean? Plus, he’ll probably play again.”

On the gaudy Versace sweater he wore to the 2013 BET Awards: “Man, look, no disrespect to French, but I feel like this some shit French Montana would have on. I’m like looking in the mirror like, ‘Who the fuck is this?'”

J. Cole

On fatherhood: “For a while, I felt a little weird about it. Like, nah. I felt, ‘Did I miss something?’ ‘Cause I didn’t feel the change that people talk about. And then I figured out what it was. I changed my life in order to get ready to have a family and to have a son. I literally changed my life, where I was living, the things that I was doing. I changed. So because of that, when my son came, I was ready. I already made room.”

On his 2018 interview with Lil Pump: “Honestly, my intention was to show the world how smart he was and to have a conversation that kind of reveals who this kid is. I don’t think that was the outcome, because I think he put a wall up. It doesn’t change the fact that he is a smart kid.”

On his reputation: “I’ve been so secluded within myself that people think I don’t like anybody, that I won’t work with anybody. It’s a reputation that’s been extending to my artists, too.”

On potential features on his album: “Well, I don’t have any right now that I really want to boast about. Not saying it’s impossible. It’s just about getting out of my comfort zone.”