If the hip-hop world were a big family, J. Cole would fill the role of the still-young uncle who has had his fair share of experiences in the past, but today has gained enough authority and credibility to allow himself to lecture the rest of the relatives. Jermaine Lamarr Cole - black father, white mother, St. John University graduate, pro basketball player, Puma brand ambassador, producer, MC (do I forget something?) - has received 16 grammy nominations, 1 win and countless billboard charting singles. A deep dive into the best J. Cole songs is the least we can do to honor his career, 15 years after his debut mixtape The Come Up was released.

J. Cole is not just a household name in the hip hop scene, but he is the voice that reads the reality around him with a lens between educational and committed, but never verbose. In a musical industry where status, lyrics and personas have notoriously revolved around “money & fame”, J. Cole is an artist whose insights into our culture and hip hop industry as a whole have always resonated with his audience.

He isn’t one to stay too much under the limelights and behaves less like a celebrity compared to some of the rappers you might be accustomed to. Picking only 15 of the best J. Cole songs from a varied and rich discography like his is no easy feat. So If you don’t know much about him and his discography and need a shortcut to some of his best songs to date, this list is for you. For the die-hard fans instead, enjoy the trip down memory lane.

Check out the best J. Cole songs below.

15. Apparently

Released on the 9th of December 2014 as the lead single from his third studio album 2014 Forest Hills Drive, “Apparently” is J.Cole’s reflection on leaving his mother in North Carolina to follow his dreams of stardom in New York. No surprise it made the cut on this list as this Grammy-nominated track is a perfect example of how versatile J.Cole is in conveying an intimate message with skillful rhyming and a bouncy beat. On top of getting that catchy chorus stuck in our heads, the song also marked the beginning of him moving away from rapper and producer but to all-around star of the industry.

Best lines:

Aim for the stars and I shouldn't have missed

But I was riding on fumes, so I stopped by the moon

Now I'm sitting on the hood of this bitch

Like, "Thanks for the view"

14. Can’t get enough (feat. Trey Songz)

It doesn’t always have to be about conscious rap and tackling serious social issues, sometimes it can just be an unashamedly radio-friendly piece like “Can't Get Enough”, that makes the list. Featuring flickering guitars and catchy soul samples recycling the Latin sounds of the Guinean group Balla et ses Balladins, the track shows the playfully versatile side of Cole storytelling. With a young and lustful attitude the track is a straight up warning to all the ladies who are trying to chain the rapper into a relationship. Tell them Cole!

Best lines:

Straight sexing, no handcuff or arrestin'

And I ain't comin' off of my last name 'cause I really can't take no stressin'

About where I've been

Who I done hit

Your homegirl sayin', 'He a bad boy.'"

13. KOD

In this title-track, acronym for Kids On Drugs / King Overdosed / Kill Our Demons, Cole delivers an earworm of a hook with unique flows paired with heavy-hitting beat and recounting how he started smoking dope and drinking lean by linking his experience to that of a crack dealer friend.

Best lines:

Haven't you heard? I'm as cold as the tip

Tip of the iceberg that tipped the Titanic

No tip-toein' around it, my shit is gigantic

As big as the fuckin' Atlantic, I'm lit, bitch

12. 1985 and intro to The Fall Off

Despite not necessarily being one of J.Cole’s best songs in terms of chart success, the reason why it’s on this list is because it happens very rarely that Cole, amidst his poised, calculated and educational lyrics, takes time to personally respond to what is happening in the hip hop industry. It all stemmed from Lil Pump’s "Fuck J. Cole," a piece that Pump released to poke fun at the way he, Smokepurrp, and rappers of his generation are belittled by their older colleagues for the supposedly poor quality of their rap. Well, Cole took it seriously, and responded with a masterclass in dissing - a calm but sharp response to the point. He doesn’t belittle Pump but considers him his equal. He realizes how important his age is in going to judge him. But, more importantly, he tries to reason with him about the influence he has on youth culture. The final insult, measured just right, is the final brushstroke to an impeccable verse (and album).

Best Lines:

I'm just telling you what will probably happen when you rap

About the stuff you rap about.

It's just a way to get to the bottom quicker.

I wish you the best of luck,

I just hope for your sake you're not as stupid as you look.

11. Nobody’s Perfect (ft. Missy Elliott)

If Missy Elliott features in a song in which she slays a soulful hook like no other can do, then this song simply has to be on this list. The track is a little moody but it’s perfect to deliver an emotional and understated track, already a precursor for J. Cole’s signature mature lyrics of the future. If you want advice on how to enjoy this special duo to the fullest, turn on the song while riding in your car, move your head to the thumping beat and sing along. You’re welcome!

Best lines:

Your son out in Barbados

cheese, eggs, and potatoes

Smokin' weed on the beach as my mind workin' like Plato's

Analyzin' the world, fantasizin' 'bout girls

I'm handin' diamonds and pearls,

and vandalizin' her curls

Sweatin' her weave out, moans as she breathes out.

10. p r i d e . i s . t h e . d e v i l (ft. Lil Baby)

One of the standout songs from The Off-Season. As the title suggests, the track explores how when we are able to come out of low moments by ourselves, we might end up getting stuck in a false and negative sense of ego and pride. Taking a step back and giving the stage to Lil Baby, who discusses his fame, drug addiction, and responsibility to the people he grew up with, is just what the song needed to get an extra step as one the best songs in J.Cole’s entire discography.

Best lines:

Pride be the reason for the family dichotomy

Got uncles and some aunties that's too proud to give apologies

Slowly realizing what the root of all my problems be

It got me feeling different when somebody say they proud of me

9. ATM

It’s all about the flow and effortless bars here. Beneath the repetitive beat of “Count it up, Count it” - lies again another deeply meaningful song. With almost a trap flow to it, "ATM" focuses on the physical pleasure of wealth. Talking about fame and money are nothing new in rap culture, but Cole talks about it in exactly the way we would want him to. He joins the chorus of those who denounce the ambivalence of wealth, as for him it is a demonstration of social vindication, but also a way of conceit and excess that can result in full-blown addiction.

Best lines:

Proceed with caution

I heard if you chase it only results in

A hole in your heart

Fuck it, I take the whole cake and I won't leave a portion

It's only an organ

Thank God mama couldn't afford the abortion

The loneliest orphan

I flipped my misfortune and grown me a fortune

8. No Role Modelz

The importance of appearance. We are overcrowded with images of fake perfect people smearing their fake perfect lives on social media, all hidden behind fake filters and hiding an insecurity about themselves grown out of the lack of role models in their lives. Who suffers from this the most? According to Cole, it’s Hollywood's women. In the pervasive “fuck Hollywood” themed 2014 Forest Hills Drive album, certainly J.Cole would never have missed the opportunity to comment on the shallow and fake women he interacts with in LA. Even if, in a list full of J. Cole best songs, we have seen better from him when it comes to rhyming; through a very dynamic beat, a galloping flow, and the iconic “First thing first” opening line of the song, “No Role Modelz'' has become one of the most iconic songs of all his discography.

Best lines:

Prophecies that I made way back in the Ville

Fulfilled

Listen, even back when we was broke, my team ill

Martin Luther King woulda been on Dreamville

7. Heaven’s EP

Surprising all of us, just three days before starting the The Off-Season tour, J. Cole randomly dropped the music video for “Heaven’s EP” as a YouTube exclusive. Fueled by Drake’s soothing “Pipe Down” beat, “Heaven’s EP” hits us with quick-witted bars that show how hungry Cole has been able to remain, even after all the years and success. It’s a song about how rough his climb to the top was, and his approach on dealing with some of his often articulated self-doubts we have grown to relate to so much.

Best lines:

I'm the one and you can be sure, speakin' of beachfront

I'm kickin' my feet up while I write this in somewhere tropical

Supposed to be relaxin', this passion makes that impossible

6. 9 5 . s o u t h

Easily one of the most iconic and best J.Cole songs out there, the first track on his latest album The Off-Season couldn't have started any better. Recruiting legends like Cam’ron and Lil Jon (a little bit of a throwback, I know), J.Cole shows off all his mastery by progressively going from a tamed cadence and delivery to an ever more explosive one, and reminding all his competition who is the best in the world. In. Every. Single. Line.

Best lines:

I get up, dust my clothes off, sleep is the cousin of death

No plans to doze off, the streets, it don't come with a ref'

5. a m a r i

This is what happens when one of the rap GOATS collaborates with one of the GOAT producers in the game like Timbaland. The beat, the cadence, the fierce delivery of his ascent to greatness. Sometimes words are unnecessary. Just press play and you’ll know why this song is on this list.

Best lines:

How could you ever try to play me?

Kill 'em on a song, walk up out the booth, do the Westbrook rock-a-baby

4. MIDDLE CHILD

The loyal T-Minus throws an iconic horn-heavy beat off the backboard, and J.Cole slam dunks it like no other rapper in the game can. Always doubting about which place to take in the rap game, J.Cole always considered himself as the "middle children”, a kind of middle artist, between the old and the new generation. Just like the middle child of a family often feels neglected by the parents, he is afraid it might happen to his music, but through authenticity and hustle he will not allow this to happen . Don’t worry Cole, we are listening!

Best lines:

I copied your cadence, I mirrored your style

I studied the greats, I'm the greatest right now

3. my.life (ft. 21 Savage, Morray)

To put it mildly, this track is hotter than the hoop on the album cover. With the help of 21 Savage and Morray (making them the first occurrences of a guest verse on a Cole solo album since 2013’s Born Sinner), J.Cole asks himself the question of what his life would have been like if he didn't fight to make it out of his hometown in Fayetteville. The song gives us another glimpse into J.Cole’s upbringing filled with poverty and violence, but also masterfully illustrates how thankful Jermaine is now that he no longer lives in that environment. It shows a growing maturity in not caring anymore about what others think of him.

Best lines:

My life is all I have

My rhymes, my pen, my pad

And I done made it out the struggle, don't judge me

What you sayin' now won't budge me

2. punchin’.the. clock

Ever wondered what you can accomplish in less than 2 minutes? Well, in 1 minute and 53 seconds, J. Cole gives us one of the most dynamic flows and aggressive deliveries that will blow you away, and it’s all thanks to all the years he’s been putting in the work mastering the art of rap and storytelling. “Punchin’ the clock” is Cole’s reminder to everyone who’s listening that, even at the top, he is still grinding. Sampling Dame Lillard’s fitting words about dedication to the game and putting work in the off-seasos, both in the intro and ending of the song, is just the perfect analogy for a hooper like him.

Best lines:

Back on top, punchin' the clock, clutchin' sanity

I got more cribs than Habitat for Humanity

Shit profound, we propagating more profanity

Paid off collections from recollections of calamity

1. Love Yourz

The career of any artist has an end. Some are gifted and dedicated enough to be relevant until their old, others instead might enjoy their best work at the beginning of their career and slowly fade away, others again might need all their lifetime to finally gain recognition. A common thread however, is that their creations— their masterpieces, last for eternity.

Such is the case for "Love Yourz". If J. Cole’s career ends tomorrow, this song will live for eternity as the greatest masterpiece of his life. Forget allegories, metaphors, nicknames and subtleties, "Love Yourz" is one of Cole’s most direct teachings meant to make us reflect on how important it is to love oneself and find inner serenity before setting any goals in life. This, according to Cole, is in fact the quintessential goal of human existence.

From when he first started rapping Cole’s motivation was to become the best, chasing money and fame, but, after all of that was achieved, he still felt incomplete. "Love Yourz" is his attempt to unpack what happens when we accomplish all that we thought would bring us happiness, only to realize that it was all an illusion. It’s a song about the disconnect between our expectations and reality when we come to the realization that we "went the wrong way” chasing “the next best thing”, but we will never discover true happiness until we learn to appreciate what we already have.

Best Lines:

On the road to riches, listen, this is what you'll find

The good news is you came a long way

The bad news is you went the wrong way

Think being broke was better

A champion of conscious-rap since the promising autobiographical mixtape “The Come Up”, through the 15 years since its release, J.Cole has always shown a strong attachment to the art of storytelling, focusing his songs to narrate his own personal history as well as fearlessly addressing social issues close to him, his people and family. Selecting only 15 of the best J.Cole songs has been an arduous task, as many more are worthy of being dissected and praised. Producer and composer of almost every one of his musical works, J. Cole carved out his own place in the Olympus of hip hop by openly confronting his demons and inspiring others to change the world for the better, all the while giving us timeless beats and off the charts rapping skills that created the musical universe that is Cole’s world, and we are living in it.

Next up, have a look at our top lists of the best Rihanna, Kanye West, Drake and Eminem songs of all time.

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