By Rob Markman
J. Cole is up against some pretty stiff competition in the the Grammy’s Best New Artist category, but if you ask his Roc Nation boss Jay-Z, Cole is already a winner. On November 30 it was announced that Cole will square off against The Band Perry, Bon Iver, Skrillex and Nicki Minaj for the coveted award. “I think it’s great for him, because I’m sure it’s a dream of his. We grew up seeing Michael Jackson, and I’m sure he grew up seeing whatever moment stuck in his mind, so I know it’s great for him to do that,” Hov told MTV News following a press conference announcing a pair of charitable shows at Carnegie Hall in New York. “I think he’s already won Best New Artist, to me. His journey is what I’m really excited about.”
Cole first broke out in 2009 after releasing The Warm Up mixtape online. Unlike most rap up-and-comers these days, Cole was actually signed before his breakout tape was released. After hearing his coming-of-age love story “Lights Please,” Jay signed the young rapper/producer to his Roc Nation label. Rather than commandeer the youngster’s project, Jigga let Cole find his own voice. Many, including Cole, expected his debut album to come out in 2010, but it didn’t — maybe for the best. When Cole World: The Sideline Story did drop in September, it sold more than 218,000 copies in its first week, hit #1 on the Billboard albums chart and is now certified gold.
“The person he is today is not who he was when he first walked in,” Jay said of Cole. “He got a chance to really go out, see what worked, see what people connect to, figure out how he was gonna tell his story.”
With Cole, and Roc Nation as a label, Jay is stressing artist development, an art that is seemingly lost in an industry constantly searching for the next big thing. “That artist-development thing, I think we need more of it,” Jay said about hip-hop in particular. “We need to ensure that this thing is around for future generations. This thing that fed our kids and our family and took us to these heights needs to be held intact by the people who are doing it.
“Whether he was nominated or not, he was the best new artist to me; sold 200-and-something-thousand records in his first week; he was the best new artist,” Hov added of Cole. “I’m sure it’s great for him.”
Do you think Cole will take home the Best New Artist Grammy? Let us know in the comments!