Complex Magazine: What do you feel when you go back to Fayetteville?
J.Cole: Comfort and pride. I realized recently I’d never asked myself that question. When I’m home, I’m either stopping through to visit or I’m doing something for the [Dreamville] Foundation. I might get an extra day to see friends and family but then it’s off to the next thing. I’ve never been there long enough to feel comfortable and think, “This is home”—not until I was home doing a cover shoot for the album. I noticed I felt comfortable. Usually if there’s a camera rolling I’m anxious; it doesn’t feel natural to have a camera on me.
How has the city changed since you left?
People I grew up with tell me it’s getting worse. I don’t know if that has to do with the economy or if the education is getting worse. On the flipside, Fayetteville has some heroes now—even if they’re rappers or athletes. We never even had that [when I was growing up]. You couldn’t go to Raleigh, Charlotte, or Atlanta and be proud of where you were from. The pride before was about coming from somewhere that had a reputation of being a hard place to make it. Now there’s a pride about accomplishment, whether it’s me, or Eric Maynor, who made it to the NBA, or Eric Curry, who was the No. 3 draft pick in the NFL Draft. It sucks that these things have to come from sports and entertainment, but it’s something for kids to look up to and say, “Somebody from here did something.” I don’t want to inspire kids to rap. I want to let them know that anything they want to do is possible. I come from here and did some shit that was impossible, so if you want to be an astronaut, lawyer, doctor, writer, journalist, or whatever, I want to inspire you to do that.
Coming from that, how does it feel that big companies are looking to work with you now?
It’s flattering that they would take notice, but it is fucking weird. I didn’t grow up wearing that shit and [fashion] is still a new thing for me. Years ago, we had conversations as a team, like, “Are we going to start a clothing label? Do we want to turn it into some exclusive shit and charge niggas this, that, and third?” That never felt right. I always liked accessibility. I loved the fact that I could attain Sean John, I could attain Rocawear, I could afford a $25 T-shirt. It might take my whole check to get those pieces but it was attainable. That was a struggle when we were considering a line: Do you want to separate yourself from who you are and the people who are where you just were?
You can read this interview in full on Complex Magazine!!!