The 50 Best J. Cole Songs

J. Cole
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J. Cole is one of the most potent young rappers in the game. Since becoming Roc Nation's first artist, Cole has released over 200 songs and bodied countless guest appearances. If you're new to his music, that's a hefty cache to wade through. No worries, I combed through his vast and varied catalog to find J. Cole's best songs ever.

Crank up the volume. Grab a snuggie. Welcome to Cole World.

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J. Cole kicked off his famous “Simba” series on with this backboard-shattering slam dunk from his 2007 mixtape, The Come Up. As far back as then, he was already full of confidence.

Quotable: "I’m something like a light-skinned version of the very baby that the Virgin Mary raised." (Tweet This

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“I'm a Fool”

Sampling Cee-Lo's Grammy-winning track "Fool for You," Cole hits on his personal life, larger social issues, and the foolish state of both.

Quotable: "Money talks and hoes say its an arousing point of view" (Tweet This

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"Mighty Crazy"

You have to be "Mighty Crazy" to jack Ghostface Killah’s “Mighty Healthy.” Thankfully, Cole does the beat justice with his workmanlike flow.

Quotable: “I could see through you niggas with cataracts, blindfolds.” (Tweet This)

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"Bun B for President"

J Cole tips his hat to the elder statesman of Southern rap on "Bun B for President." Now that's one rapper I'm willing to get behind.

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"Before I'm Gone"

A poignant song that finds J. Cole exorcising his demons right before painting a portrait of his hopeless city. It doesn’t come with a campfire, but it should.

Quotable: “Never sold a rock and look I made it, b” (Tweet This)

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"Grew Up Fast"

For four minutes, Young Simba hilariously totemizes modern rap tropes, taking fake thugs to task.

Quotable: "Okay, you killer right, and Miss Cleo is Jamaican/And Bob Marley is Haitian and me and Beyoncé datin'" (Tweet This)

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"Blow Up"

 Accompanied by a Hocus Pocus sample, Young Jermaine skillfully packs this early single with slick punchlines ("You bored her (border) like Mexico).

Quotable: “Got a degree, but what that cost you? You make a good salary just to pay Sallie Mae” (Tweet This)

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"Losing My Balance"

Picture Cole as a street poet perched on the rooftop. Here, he weaves three different tales about the struggle for balance and acceptance.

Quotable: "Hoping this will reach you and you understand / That your value ain't determined by another man (Tweet This)

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"Can't Get Enough"

After a couple misfires, J. Cole finally found a worthy single in the Latin-flavored "Can't Get Enough." The self-produced song is powered by a staccato drum blast and a cute Trey Songz cameo.

Quotable: "I love it when you give me head, I hate it when you give me headaches" (Tweet This)

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"Nobody's Perfect"

One of the best moments on , "Nobody's Perfect" is a lush, radio-ready, spine-tinglingly catchy ditty about the uncertainty of relationships. Missy's pristine vocals? Well, that's just icing on this rather perfect pastry.

Quotable: "They killin ni--as for J's, that's death over designer" (Tweet This)

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J. Cole ponders how we'll remember him when it's all said and done. Poignant. Emotive. Chilling. The realest sh-t he ever wrote.

Quotable: "Got good grades but age can't stop strays so pray for me" (Tweet This)

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"Home for the Holidays"

Polished to utmost luster, this mixtape song from Friday Night Lights genuinely sounds like an album cut. 

Quotable: "One year cost about the same as a Mercedes/
Four years cost wife, crib and a baby" (Tweet This)

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Layered atop a hissing record and that tinkly piano Cole loves so much, “Unabomber” is a one-man ventfest on life's randomness. You’re welcome to join him.

Quotable: "The fast lane makes me reminisce on slower life" (Tweet This)

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"Dollar and a Dream II"

Assorted tales of pain, hunger and passion synthesized into one tall bucket of ice.

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"Like a Star"

J. Cole shines like a beveled jewel on this cool summer song. He was saving this one for his second album, but couldn't use it "due to some other sh-t beyond my control." The song samples Corinne Bailey Rae's similarly-titled song. 

Quotable: "Hey, for you I always had an admiration/We lost touch but you never left my imagination" (Tweet This)

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"Too Deep for the Intro"

J. Cole kicks off his best mixtape, Friday Night Lights, with his signature blend of smart rhymes and naked anecdotes. The song gets its chipmunkfied backdrop from a J Dilla-produced Erykah Badu song, "Didn't Cha Know." 

Quotable: "These boys got them holsters and clips they pack like Lunchables" (Tweet This)

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"Crooked Smile"

Joined by TLC, Cole celebrates ladies who feel society's "pressure to look impressive." He also tackles personal insecurities like, well, his own "crooked smile."

Quotable: "I keep my twisted grill, just to show the kids it's real/We ain't picture perfect but we worth the picture still" (Tweet This)

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"Let Nas Down"

 Remember when you first heard "Work Out" and you wondered why J. Cole was rapping like that, and why he was T-Paining the song like that, and what the heck Paul Abdul was doing on a J. Cole song? You weren't alone. Nas wasn't feeling it, either.

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"Miss America"

 J. Cole puts the metaphorical "Miss America" under some harsh, unflattering lights. Hold the tiara.

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"I Get Up"

Well, you can never accuse J. Cole of not reppin' North Carolina enough:  "A fresh prince but yo my city aint no Bel-Air/F-ck if you excel Im worried bout' my welfare," he raps on this horn-backed narrative about survival in the streets.

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"Cole Summer"

Like his spiritual cousins Big K.R.I.T. and Freddie Gibbs, Cole has a reputation for putting his best material on mixtapes. This opener from his Truly Yours series continues the tradition. "Cole Summer" sports a sly Lauryn Hill sample and hilarious couplets about undertipping strippers.

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"Rags to Riches"

Cole samples Roy Ayers’ “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” on this laid back burner from his debut mixtape, The Come Up.

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The cinematic opening immediately grabs your attention and the movie-on-wax narrative that follows ensures time well-spent.

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"Who Dat"

In the music video for “Who Dat” the camera follows J. Cole as he strolls through the streets of North Carolina, leaving a trail of flames behind to indicate that he’s on fire. The song itself is certified: flames.

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"Never Told"

 Think Nas' "Poppa Was a Playa" with a little more emotion.

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"Dead Presidents II"

Unimpressed with his first shot at “Dead Presidents II,” J. Cole’s friends urged him to “go harder, son.” Turns out that was all the motivation he needed to do the Jay classic justice. Peep the clever juxtaposition of good vs. evil. Quotable: “Clever with it, my flow like a devil spit it and heaven sent it.”

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"Purple Rain"

On this pre-Friday Night Lights track, J. Cole offers some very revealing details about his tryst with a freaky college girl believed to be Vanessa Simmons.

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"How High"

This mid-tempo throwaway from

Any Given Sunday has Cole bullying a sample of J.O.B. Orquestra's "Govinda" while talking that talk.

has Cole bullying a sample of J.O.B. Orquestra's "Govinda" while talking that talk.

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“Return of Simba”

On the third chapter of the “Simba” series, Cole exudes confidence, reps his city, and proclaims his aspirations of rap supremacy.

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“Leave Me Alone” (p/k/a “Problems”)

Carolina’s favorite shows his conscious side on this one, rhyming about three different incidents that most can relate to.

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"Lil Ghetto Ni--a"

An early cut that hinted at Cole’s ability to blend singing and rapping beautifully, while pondering a world bigger than himself.

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A friend once said that J Cole is “more garbage than Nicki Minaj.” After picking my jaw off the floor, I shook my head, cued "Villematic" on the boombox I always carry with me and walked away. Needless to say, I’m no longer friends with that person. I have ZERO tolerance for people who use the “garbage” and “Nicki Minaj” in the same sentence.

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"Cost Me a Lot"

Cole is of the fringe conscious species, but he's still human. And on this bouncy cut, he tackles the pressure imposed on rappers to rock shiny diamonds that some can't really afford. "We rock a lot of ice 'cause we got a lot of pain" is his way of justifying the materialistic lifestyle synonymous with hip-hop.

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"Can I Holla at Ya"

Bad dads is a recurring theme in J. Cole's music. Here, he confronts his abusive step-father over a loop of Lauryn Hill's "To Zion."

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"Grown Simba"

Each subsequent installment of the Simba series has improved on the previous, and this one packs a ton of jewels.

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"Tears for ODB"

"Tears for ODB/Drug-induced poetry," Cole spits on this Truly Yours standout. The song doubles as a tribute to Dirt McGirt and a lamentation of the crack era.

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"Mo Money" (Interlude)

Beat recalls 90s east coast. Flow winks at 96' Jay-Z. One of the best songs on Born Sinner.

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I played this song for a friend who had never heard of J. Cole and he immediately requested a copy of Friday Night Lights. It’s a unique tale where the narrator puts you right on the scene with vivid portraits of horror.

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"In the Morning"

J. Cole and Drake take turns serenading the ladies on “In the Morning,” a standout from Friday Night Lights.

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"The Badness"

In which J. Cole wrestles with the vicissitudes of life: "I seen a baby cry then seconds later she laughed."

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He's hinted at the pain of not having a father around here and there, but "Breakdown" truly captures the raw emotion Cole is so generous to share. "Maybe I should be telling you 'F--k you' 'cause you selfish, but I want a father so bad," he raps. You gotta feel him. 

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"Water Break (Freestyle)"

A freestyle is the true test of an emcee and Cole passes with flying colors on this Warm Up standout. Quotable: “They light a fire under my ass nigga my shit hot/Even if you squatted under volcanoes niggas your shit not/I’m raw but I kid not”

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"See It to Believe It"

The year is 2011. The month is May. Temperature is rising, and J. Cole has practically turned the phrase "Cole Summer" into a household brand. But with no album in sight, Cole faithfuls are starting to wonder if Hov will ever let his horse out the stable. Cole drops this loosie about staying the course ("Won't stop, won't stop") and keeping faith in the unseen, unwittingly reassuring his patient fans in the process.

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"The Autograph"

Friday Night Lights was brimming with gems that it's easy to overlook this stellar cut. With the Class-set's "Julie" supplying the chilly backdrop, J. Cole's spins a web of confident lines about dreaming big. Every other line is a quotable, but this is the one that's now intanglio'd on my brain: "They say anything's possible / You gotta dream like you never seen obstacles."

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"Premeditated Murder"

Murder-as-metaphor rap is nothing new, but Cole makes it sound fresh by incorporating elements of crime (“witnesses,” “premeditation,” etc) and staying committed to the theme.

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"Can I Live"

Cole shows you can be inspired the greats and still display originality on this instabanger from his second mixtape. Quotable: “This is the Boondocks. I swear yo I’m like Huey mixed with Riley.”

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“Back to the Topic” Freestyle

Pure braggart rap with a hint of sarcasm. You might as well memorize this one if you plan to see Cole live, because they drop the beat a lot and you don’t want to be that guy.

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"Looking for Trouble"

Technically, this is a Kanye West song -- a highlight from his GOOD Friday series. But J. Cole totally overpowers West and everyone else who dared stand next to the metaphorical "Oprah's son," so that when you think of this song you inherently associate it with Cole. Kanye deserves some credit, though, for setting him up with the perfect alley-oop. Like a smart rookie, Cole takes advantage of the opportunity to send this one home. In. Yo. Face.

Quotable: “Ironic, you’ve been sleeping on the one that you been dreamin’ bout” (Tweet This)

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"Lost Ones"

J. Cole gets serious on this heavy track. It's starts with a drippy piano loop, which gradually widens like a midnight skirmish. Cole tells a heart-wrenching tale about abortion and responsibility. He presents the story from three different perspectives, imbuing the song with a movie-grade commitment worthy of applause.

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"Lights, Please"

This left an indelible impression on the Roc Nation team and eventually led to Cole’s signing. It perfectly captures Cole’s villain vs. hero M.O. If his logo (horns and halo) had its own theme song, it would be “Lights Please.”

Quotable:”I told her all about how we been livin’ a lie/And that they’d love to see us all go to prison or die/Like baby look at how they show us on the TV screen/But all she ever want me to do is unzip her jeans.”