J. Cole was on a lyrical rampage in 2023. The Dreamville boss, who confessed to having thoughts of retirement after facing writer’s block, bounced back with a vengeance and delivered some of his best verses on other artists’ tracks. Cole wasn’t just guest-featuring; he was taking over, hijacking tracks and leaving listeners in awe.
He provided soulful solace on Summer Walker’s “To Summer, From Cole,” went toe-to-toe with Drake on “First Person Shooter,” and infused Gucci Mane‘s “There I Go” with his signature flow. Each verse was a masterclass in versatility, showcasing his razor-sharp wordplay, effortless delivery, and ability to switch between introspective reflection and venomous bars.
As the year draws to a close, we revisit J. Cole’s impressive features of 2023 and rank them from our least favorite to favorite. Here is our list:
- Passport Bros – Bas
In this upbeat track, J. Cole and Bas pay tribute to their bond and their travels around the world. They rap about enjoying the nightlife, meeting women, and spending money in different countries. Despite the fun nature of the song, some fans felt it was too generic and lacked the original meaning of the “passport bro” movement. This movement is a term used to describe men who seek romantic relationships with foreign women, often from less developed or conservative cultures, because they believe they are more loyal, feminine, and respectful than Western women.
- Thanks – Burna Boy
While Cole’s verse adds weight to the track, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of his other features this year. Still, his boastful bars about success and dominance offer a thoughtful contrast to Burna Boy‘s simmering frustration with under-appreciation.
- There I Go – Gucci Mane x Mike Will Made-It
Although Cole is often depicted as a conscious emcee, the rapper lets loose and have fun on Gucci Mane’s playful “There I Go.” He raps about not judging people’s illicit activities and encourages fans to live life to the fullest.
- On the Street – J-Hope
J. Cole teamed up with BTS member J-Hope for this tribute to hip-hop culture, where J-Hope’s dream of becoming an artist started. The song tells a beautiful story, with J-Hope rising from the underground to the rooftop, where he meets J. Cole, his idol and muse. Cole’s verse reflects on the challenges of fame and the importance of staying grounded.
- Let Me Calm Down – Nicki Minaj
Nicki Minaj may be the queen of rap, but she knows how to acknowledge a superior performance. She admitted Cole had the better verse on the song and was appreciative of his contribution. On the song, which appears on Nicki Minaj’s Pink Friday 2, Cole explores the difficulties and frustrations of a romantic relationship. His verse seems to offer advice and support for men who are in high-profile relationships with famous women. He talks about the challenge of maintaining love and patience in these situations, where other people’s envy can often turn into hateful attacks.
- Evil Ways – Drake
Following the success of First Person Shooter, Drake and J. Cole reunite to trade bars on “Evil Ways.” Both rappers take turns sharing their respective journeys to the top of the rap game. Cole asserts his GOAT status, reminding everyone he climbed to the top without playing the Hollywood game.
- To Summer, From Cole (Audio Hug) – Summer Walker
J. Cole surprised fans with this feature on R&B star Summer Walker’s album, where he delivers a heartfelt and poetic audio hug to the singer. J. Cole’s verse is soothing and comforting, but also honest and realistic. He praises Summer’s talent and beauty, but also acknowledges her pain and challenges.
- All My Life – Lil Durk
J. Cole and Lil Durk created a smash hit with this track, which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed in the top 15 for three months. The song talks about growing up in hardships and having the perseverance to overcome societal challenges. Cole complements the positive meaning behind the track and sheds light on street violence, which continues to cut short the lives and careers of young rappers.
- First Person Shooter – Drake
J. Cole and Drake delivered a masterpiece with this track, where they showcase their lyrical prowess and competitive spirit. Both rappers talk about their mammoth status in the industry, but Cole effortlessly outshines Drake here. He delivers a verse that’s both technically impressive and emotionally resonant. He uses the verse to promote his long-awaited The Fall Off album while simultaneously staking his claim as the undisputed “numero uno” amongst his peers, including Drake and Kendrick Lamar.
- The Secret Recipe – Lil Yachty
J. Cole and Lil Yachty shocked the rap world with their unexpected collaboration, where they confidently share the secret recipe to their achievements and ask for recognition for their influence on the rap culture. J. Cole’s verse is relaxed and clever, but also smart and meaningful. He expresses his discontent with the hip hop scene, especially targeting fake activists who exploit social issues to get attention.