For years it’s been whispered that J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar are working on a joint project, the original announcement came years ago during their raising domination when they were still newcomers gaining status and not yet the superstars that we see today. Fans rejoiced, there was this unanimous desire to hear this music, to know what these two could do together, a feeling that hasn’t suppressed despite the years of waiting.
The waiting has only made the anticipation grow. For years this idea has had time to cultivate as the artists have developed and now that Cole has hinted at something coming in February, the whispers have turned into screams, yells, even faux album covers are being made. The people are waiting with the anxious excitement that can be related to “Swagger Like Us” or Watch The Throne, two examples where the hype and expectation sunk after their releases. But what if Kendrick and Cole’s album is better as a figment of our imagination instead of an actual project that exists in reality?
I’m no longer illusioned by the possibility of this album, I’ve accepted that Cole and Kendrick might not be compatible as artists. Collaborating on an album isn’t simply fusing your talents, it’s attempting to make two different styles work in harmony. These are two artists who have made their way by taking two completely different paths, and while the outcome has been great separately, together they risk creating a catastrophe. While both artists deal with similar themes, their angles of approach couldn’t be more different.
J. Cole reminds me of the guy in school that everyone adores, he has charm, charisma, and is loved by all. As a lyricist he’s straightforward, while he is able to rap and flow at a high level, he is at his best when he paints his real life situations and turns them into inspiring narratives. Losing his virginity, staying up late writing love songs to a crush, having a dollar and a dream, he has a gift with words that makes him into not just a superstar but the kind of artist people look upon to relate to. They can see themselves in his words because he knows how to turn ordinary events into extraordinary music. A dollar and a dream is the perfect way to brand his music, two things that every man, woman, and child seek and are constantly striving for. If J. Cole didn’t reject the calls from Hollywood, he would risk losing his most compelling and valuable attribute, his connection to humanity.
With Kendrick, it’s much more complex. At times Kendrick raps like a man possessed, he reminds me of a warrior with a huge sword, superhuman strength, and only speaks in poetic parables. He is known for overwhelming his features, imagine trying to do an entire album with this guy?
The real life situations Kendrick paints are dipped in allegories and metaphors, they can be delivered with strange voices and multiple characters, he is rarely straightforward. Not everyone is a good kid from a mad city, not everyone has witnessed the harsh realities of gang violence or struggles of suicide and survivors guilt. While you can relate to these subjects, it’s more like empathy than staring into a mirror and seeing your own reflection. Even simple subjects are delivered with a twist of intricacy, instead of simply telling you a dollar's worth he’ll create a story about an old homeless man begging for change that turns out to be Jesus. When he wants to shed light on the evils of fame, he creates a devil-esque character that comes bearing gifts. It’s the creation of these worlds that make Kendrick Lamar one of the most compelling artists of our time.
He seeks to drown you in the depth of his mind, while Cole is the ocean that you see your reflection on the surface.
Even when the two did their song swap for "Black Friday," it was like a metaphor for how both artists need their own space. That one song isn’t big enough for them both. If Kendrick blacked out like he did on "A Tale of 2 Citiez," it would have completely ruined the original. Cole’s “Alright” is an admirable effort, his approach is enjoyable, but it lacks the electricity that flows through the original. While these two are parallel in many ways, the differences are also too large to overlook. Imagine if Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan played on the same basketball team, you can see victory, you can picture the NBA rings, you can hear the cheers every night that trampled another opponent, complete domination of the NBA. It’s a beautiful scenario to imagine, but in reality, there would be a power struggle that opens up a bigger possibility for disaster than success. Talents their size are bound to clash, there’s an incompatibility that would cause their team to suffer.
What A Time To Be Alive is a great example of a joint album where two big artists are able to coexist because one simply blends into the other’s surrounding. It’s Future’s homecourt, Drake follows his lead, from subject matter to flow, he completely amalgamates. Drake is a chameleon, he’s able to rap in any environment, be the center of attention, but without overextending his role. The flaw is the tape sounds more like Future featuring Drake than a collaboration but I believe that was the purpose. It lacked balance but Future entering into Drake’s lane is a far more difficult transition to imagine. What we love about Kendrick and Cole is they know their positions but haven’t been forced to change their approach for the betterment of someone else. Black Hippy is a group that has rappers that are very skilled and just as weird as Kendrick. Their styles are bizarre, which works well as a unit. The same can be said for Dreamville, every artist on Cole’s team raps rather straight forward, there’s no oddities or peculiar emcees, birds of a feather.
The artwork is also another great example of why these two might not work well together. When Future and Drake announced their mixtape, the internet was flooded with graphics that meshed their two aesthetics. It was effortless to blend Future’s affinity for lean and Drake’s odd fascination with owls, that’s why it was difficult to confirm what was real and what wasn’t. The artwork that came during the chattering of Kendrick and Cole is a bit harder on the eyes, even Photoshop doesn't believe these two can work as a union. Fans have attempted to blend their faces, crop pictures together, there’s even one where a dollar bill is burning that is very nice, but like all the rest they fail to really capture a look that says this is Kendrick meets J. Cole or vice versa.
How do you merge their two worlds in a way that doesn't seem forced? There's also a lack of music to help with painting this picture. The only song that we have from the two that features only Kendrick and Cole is “Forbidden Fruit” from Born Sinner. While it isn’t a bad song, it’s a bit different than most of Cole’s more memorable records and Kendrick only appears on the hook. J. Cole has produced two songs for Kendrick that have surfaced and on each one I can’t imagine him appearing as a feature. Can you imagine Cole on "HiiPower"? Or "Jig Is Up"? I think a small EP, completely produced by J. Cole and rapped completely by K. Dot could be something special. That’s where the two have chemistry.
When talks of a joint album first appeared, Kendrick and Cole were coming off two big mixtape releases. Kendrick was receiving praise for Overly Dedicated and J. Cole was being held as the people’s champ after Friday Night Lights broke the internet. I think during this time period, right before Section.80, Cole and Kendrick were at their most synced creatively. They were hungry lyricists with something to prove. Kendrick wasn’t experimenting as much, Cole was just discovering his passion for singing hooks and song structure. They were two good rappers slowly finding themselves as artists.
With each project and album after, the two started to move further and further away from each other. TDE's President Dave Free recently acknowledged the album's possibility and mentioned how creative space is a giant hump to get over when dealing with these two geniuses. Unless he's covering up a secret release, I agree that unless the two can tap into a similar creative frequency the album of our dreams will be a dud instead of an explosion. I've also read a lot about how a joint album will reveal who is the weaker rapper. I never understood why people would compare the two? They are literally rapping in two separate universes. Discussing these two is like trying to compare ice cream to lasagna. Their album wouldn’t be like the Justice League but more so Batman vs. Superman, and I don't know if I'm prepared for that neverending discussion.
I was walking through the gas station and saw a bag of chips that caught my attention, it was a special edition, Chicken and Waffle flavored Lays. Lays are good, chicken and waffles are good, but it doesn’t mean putting them together is a good idea. It's actually terrible. After hours of struggling with the thought, I’ve accepted that Cole and Kendrick might be Chicken and Waffle flavored Lays. Just because they are both good separate doesn’t mean that they will be great together and I wouldn't want anything less than great from these two.
This time, the greatness we imagine should be enough.
By Yoh, aka Yohville, aka @Yoh31