For years, there have been whispers about J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar working on a joint project. They have turned into screams, yells, and even faux album covers being made. The waiting has only made the anticipation grow. 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 who everyone adores. He has charm, charisma, and is loved by all. As a lyricist, he’s straightforward, 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—they are but the two things every man, woman, and child seek in life. If Cole didn’t reject 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, 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 with his lyrics are dipped in allegories and metaphors; they can be delivered with strange voices and multiple characters, but he is rarely straightforward. Not everyone is a good kid from a maad city, and not everyone has witnessed the harsh realities of gang violence or struggles of suicide and survivors guilt. Even simple subjects are delivered with a twist of intricacy. Instead of simply telling you a dollar's worth, Kendrick will 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.
Kendrick seeks to drown you in the depth of his mind, whereas Cole is the ocean that you see your reflection on the surface.
When Kendrick and Cole completed their song swap for "Black Friday," it was like a metaphor for how both artists need their own space; a reminder one song isn’t big enough for them both. If Kendrick blacked out as he did on "A Tale of 2 Citiez," it would have completely ruined the original. Cole’s version of “Alright” is an admirable effort—his approach is enjoyable—but it lacks the electricity that flows through the original.
While these two artists are parallel in many ways, their differences are too large to overlook. Imagine if Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan played on the same basketball team—you could see victories, you could picture the NBA rings, you could hear the cheers every night that trampled another opponent. It would be complete domination. But while it’s a beautiful scenario to imagine, 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.
How do you merge their worlds in a way that doesn't seem forced? Unfortunately, our sample size thus far is minimal. The only song from the pair featuring only Kendrick and Cole is “Forbidden Fruit” from Born Sinner. While it isn’t a bad record, it’s a bit different than most of Cole’s more memorable records and Kendrick only appears on the hook.
On the other hand, J. Cole has produced two songs for Kendrick—that we've heard—and on each one, I can’t imagine him appearing as a featured guest. Can you imagine Cole on "HiiPower"? Or "Jig Is Up"? An 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 initially emerged, Kendrick and Cole were coming off two big mixtape release; Kendrick was receiving praise for Overly Dedicated and J. Cole was being anointed the people’s champ after Friday Night Lights broke the internet. During this time period, right before the release of 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 rappers slowly finding themselves as artists.
With each subsequent project and album release, however, Kendrick and Cole have moved 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, the album of our dreams will be a dud instead of an explosion.
Last week, I was walking through the gas station mart and saw a bag of chips that caught my attention. It was a special edition: Chicken and Waffle flavored Lays. Lays are good, and chicken with waffles is great, but that doesn’t mean putting them together is a good idea. It's actually a terrible one.
After hours of struggling with the thought, I’ve come to the conclusion Cole and Kendrick would be Chicken and Waffle flavored Lays. Just because they are both good separate doesn’t mean that they will be great together. 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