For everyone who followed the trajectory of J. Cole over the last decade, you’ve witnessed his career grow from an undeniably gifted newcomer that was still finding his feet on Jay-Z‘s A Star Is Born, to becoming one of the greatest emcees of his generation. The Fayetteville rapper is one of the most celebrated names in music at this moment, with several platinum-selling albums (with no features, of course) and sold-out tours to his name.
Despite having preference for solo outings on most of his albums, The usually reclusive rapper has over the years shown he can spar with the best of ’em. His impressive display as a featured artist now seems to be his ace card. Cole briefly retired his impressive feature run in 2019, but now it looks like he’s back on his grind once again. In this featured article, we take a look at some of J. Cole’s hardest guest verses of his career.
Drake Feat. J. Cole “First Person Shooter” (2023)
Drake and J. Cole trade verses on “First Person Shooter,” a track from Drake’s eighth studio album, For All the Dogs. Over a subtle yet uplifting beat, J. Cole muses on his sustained success, comparing himself to the legendary Muhammad Ali.
“Love when they argue the hardest MC/Is it K-Dot? Is it Aubrey? Or me?/We the big three like we started a league, but right now, I feel like Muhammad Ali/Huh, yeah, yeah, huh-huh, yeah, Muhammad Ali,” Cole raps.
Lil Yachty Feat. J. Cole “The Secret Recipe” (2023)
J. Cole’s feature run in 2023 has been nothing short of stellar, and he’s keeping the momentum alive with an exceptional verse on Lil Yachty’s “The Secret Recipe.” Set against a percussion-heavy beat, the North Carolina rapper takes a moment to reflect on his esteemed position in the Hip-Hop realm. “Thanks to God, I made it out the city, most would say I’m blessed/ My greatest flex is that I made a milli’, feel like I’m Bangladesh/ I hate the press, refusin’ interviews whenever they request/ N***as fake-progressive and woke, I started sayin’ less,” he spits.
The verse is being hailed as one of the pinnacles of his career, though it remains to be seen how it measures up against his other standout performances.
BIA Feat. J. Cole “London” (2022)
J. Cole doesn’t offer up too many guest verses but he knows how to slide on beats when called upon. For one of his rare-guest appearances— and arguably his best of the year 2022, Light-skin Cole heads out to London to show the Mandem how n-ggas from the Ville [Fayetteville] move.
Benny The Butcher Feat. J. Cole “Johnny P’s Caddy” (2022)
This is one of those J. Cole verses I believe would eventually grow on you if you aren’t an habitual listener of the North Carolina native. His fans are all too familiar with his cadence, but for newcomers and self-professed haters, Cole articulates his truths, and offers them a brief update on his state of mind when it comes to features. Cole admits he goes for the kill every time, which he confesses could send him to hell because he won’t hold back if Jesus asked for a verse.
The Game Feat. J. Cole “Pray” (2012)
On “Pray,” a song featured on The Game’s 2012 album, Jesus Piece, Cole tells an interesting story about a sexual encounter with a woman “back home.” While speaking from his perspective as a rapper who’s garnered some success, the verse is a compelling one because it highlights the duality of life in many ways. The arrogant and selfish mindset that we all can have at times, but also the sympathy we feel for the unfortunate situations of others.
Wale Feat. J. Cole And Melanie Fiona “Beautiful Bliss” (2009)
This isn’t about who washed who but what Cole did to Wale on “Beautiful Bliss” was brutal. Wale was regarded as a much bigger prospect back in 2009, but Cole shuts down the show with an aggressive delivery that made people take notice. “Beautiful Bliss” can easily be pinpointed as the best feature verse of his career without much argument.
Royce Da’ 5’9 Feat. J. Cole “Boblo Boat” (2018)
J. Cole and Royce Da 5’9 teamed up for a track with a reminiscent and introspective theme, which allowed both rappers to offer verses with great substance, while still flexing as lyricists. The vibe on this one is timeless, as Cole gave Royce one of his better verses in recent years.
Drake x J. Cole “Jodeci (Freestyle)” (2013)
Drake and J. Cole are regarded as two of hip hop’s biggest names so when they combined talents for “Jodeci Freestyle” fans were eager to hear what the two would cook up. On this, Cole switches up his identity and delivers a swaggering bar session.
Wale Feat. J. Cole “My Boy” (2018)
With a title like “My Boy” you’d be forgiving for expecting to hear a track themed around love or heartbreak, but instead, we get a quintessential rap track. J. Cole really lets loose on this one, delivering non-stop bars and ominous wordplay.
“I got to black to make sure every dirty dollar stacked/Y’all aiming at the stars, bitch I’m aiming at your Starter cap/Run, nigga, run like a fucking black quarterback (uh)/Stereotypical, but to hear me is spiritual/I will bury you niggas and come and air out your funeral,” Cole raps.
“My Boy (Freestyle)” is lifted from Wale’s Free Lunch EP
Lil Durk Feat. J. Cole “All My Life”
J. Cole and Lil Durk is an unusual pairing but both rappers were able to find common ground on Durk’s new inspirational single “All My Life.”
Built around a chorale of children singing, All My Life finds Durk counting his blessings while reflecting on the tragedies he faced growing up in the trenches. J. Cole, who admits on the song’s intro that he just wants to “body” whatever song he’s on compliments Durk’s positive message without compromising on his decision to kill every feature. He alludes to battling retirement and admits he prefers venting on records rather than grant interviews.
Kanye West, Pusha T, Cyhi The Prince, Big Sean And J. Cole “Looking For Trouble” (2010)
Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Friday series helped usher in the release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The weekly series included some of the best music of his career, and featured contributions from a wide array of amazing artists. Cole’s verse on Looking For Trouble was quite possibly best feature performance of his career. His arrogance made for an epic finale to a track that was already stacked with great lyricists.
JAY-Z Feat. J. Cole “A Star Is Born” (2009)
In 2009 a relatively unknown J. Cole assisted Jay-Z on his Blueprint 3 track, “A Star Is Born.” Little did we know we were witnessing history unfold right before us. Cole took full advantage of the podium presented to him by Jay-Z to deliver a bold, charismatic verse that still stands out in his lengthy catalog of features. Let’s applaud Hov who gave him the platform.
21 Savage Feat. J. Cole “A Lot” (2018)
21 Savage and Cole used to be an odd pair, but they have somehow been able to make it work. Over a sample of “I Love You” by Soul Band East Of Underground, Jermaine showcased his lyrical dexterity and kicked some knowledge while at it.
“I’ll show up on everyone album / you know what the outcome will be / I’m batting a thousand / It’s got to the point that these rappers don’t even like rappin’ with me.”
DJ Khaled Feat. J. Cole “Jermaine’s Interlude” (2016)
“Jermaine Interlude” I feel is a track that will be most appreciated by day one J. Cole fans. Cole’s narrative abilities are his biggest attributes. On the Major Key album track, the rapper rhymes with so much detail about his dreams and nightmares.
Cozz Feat. J. Cole “Knock Tha Hustle” (Remix) (2014)
Over a sample of Michal Urbaniak’s “Love Away,” Cole delivered what I consider to be one of the most coveted lyrical outings of his career. His verse on this is very relatable and remains one of my favorite Cole verses. Don’t knock the hustle.
Joyner Lucas Feat. J. Cole “Your Heart” (2021)
Over a melancholic instrumental co-produced by Palaze, LC, and Hagan, J. Cole and Joyner Lucas serve up juxtaposed raps about overcoming heartbreaks and the relationship hardships they’ve endured.
Big Sean Feat. J. Cole “24k Of Gold” (2012)
J. Cole reflects on his come-up and celebrates his rags to riches story on “24k Of Gold,” from Big Sean’s Detroit mixtape.
Bas Feat. J. Cole “My Nigga Just Made Bail” (2014)
J. Cole and Bas have so many great tracks to choose from but this one stands out, particularly because Cole, may have unknowingly sparked the trend behind people selling online subscriptions of their unclad bodies with what he told that insecure girl.
“This for that insecure girl, your name I won’t mention/On Instagram straight flickin’
Bitch you a nipple slip away from strippin’
Might as well, get your clientele up, you a pioneer.”
I like to think this track birthed Only Fans.
Anderson .Paak Feat. J. Cole “Trippy” (2018)
“Trippy” marks the first collaboration between Anderson .Paak and the Dreamville rapper. The song, which samples The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson finds the two getting candid about love and intimacy with their respective partners. An underrated gem that sees Cole, once again serving up a storytelling masterclass.
Cozz Feat. J. Cole “Zendeya” (2018)
Music is my therapy. J. Cole lets the pen speak on Cozz’s Zendeya. On the somber track, the ”Middle Child” rapper touches on his influences and addresses hip hop’s obsession with drugs.
Reflection Eternal Feat Yasiin Bet, Jay Electronica And J. Cole “Just Begun (2017)
On a track with seasoned lyricists: Talib Kweli, Mos Def, and Jay Electronica, light-skinned Cole held his own and proved he was once again nice with the pen.
Rapsody Feat. J. Cole “Sojourner” (2018)
For their first-ever collaboration, North Carolina natives Rapsody and J. Cole rap introspectively about where they fit in, in today’s music industry, and the world at large.
“Just heard these kids don’t know about Malcolm / And I’m sorta heart broken / ‘Cause our elders lost hope in / Our youth, and here I sit dead in the middle / Not a little / Boy no more, but not quite old yet / Waking up in cold sweats / Scared that I’m too disconnected from the kids perspective / The world ain’t got no patience for some sh*t that’s introspective.”
Miguel Feat. J. Cole “All I Want Is You” (2010)
J. Cole’s Roc Nation career kicked off with a bevy of R&B collabs. His pairing with Miguel for “All I Want Is You” is an early favorite.
Gang Starr Feat. J. Cole “Family And Loyalty” (2019)
Before unofficially retiring from bodying his fellow rappers on their own records, Jermaine paid homage to the late Guru on “Family And Loyalty,” Gang Starr’s first new record in 16 years. The rapper contemplates an out-of-body experience and how it feels to rhyme alongside an artist who may no longer be with us in physical form; but (like diamonds) whose influence has no expiration date.
“J. Cole, who would’ve thought you woulda been rhyming with ghosts / Guru flows forever like a diamond and most / Could never afford the precious jewels,” raps the Dreamville boss.
Joey Badass Feat. J. Cole “Legendary” (2017)
“Legendary,” is a smooth and reflective stream-crossing moment between Badass and J. Cole. The “ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$” cut finds Jermaine battling with his spirituality and contentment. He basically wonders if losing his soul for material gains is worth it.
“I look at all I got like, “What’s missin’?”
God is my only guess, ’cause yes, faith relieve the stress,” raps Cole. “I find peace again when I find Him and see I’m blessed.”