J. Cole estimates he's written and recorded multiple full-length albums in the time since releasing his Number One debut album, Cole World: The Sideline Story, in 2011. "Honestly, I probably made four albums [since then]," he says. "But I don't think they would have been what the final album will be." It's the North Carolina-born MC's admitted perfectionism that resulted in Born Sinner, his second full-length LP for Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label.
The album, due June 25th, has not come without its share of setbacks: Cole initially announced it would be released in late January, only to pull back and continue recording. "I had the album, I had the title and I had what I thought was a concept," he tells Rolling Stone. "But I also had this itch in me that felt like 'Yo, I have way better stuff still in me.' It felt wrong to wrap up an album when I felt so full of ideas and full of this creative energy."
He's also heard the rumors that his relationship with Jay-Z is on the rocks, though Cole dismisses any rift between the two. "I've never been on bad terms with Jay-Z," he says. "I think people expect to see like, you know, how Lil Wayne is with Drake or how Kanye [West] is with Big Sean. People don't see that with Jay [and me], and they assume there's some kind of bad relationship. But man, there's never been any bad blood. I love that dude. He's clearly an icon, an idol. I've got so much respect for him."
Feeling strongly about his current work is something he was missing in the months leading up to the release of his debut album, Cole says. Specifically, the rapper was overwhelmed by the transition from recording mixtapes to a full-scale commercial release. "I was coming from a place where I was putting out free albums ,and I didn't even know they were albums," he says. "With the [debut] album it was like, 'Where's the single?' I'm like, I don't even know what the fuck a single is.
"I'm already an over-thinker," he continues. "I'm a super-duper over-analyzer. You mix that with self-doubt and pressure, and that's never healthy. I never want to go back to a place like that."
But working on Born Sinner, a process that started a week after releasing his debut, allowed Cole to reinvigorate himself both mentally and creatively. "I'm all the way inspired," he says. "I'm full of creative energy. I'm in that place where ideas flow out."
The rapper is keeping the sonic details of his new album close to the chest, though he says he's particularly satisfied with the album's first single, the Miguel-featuring banger "Power Trip," which currently sits at No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100.
"I made 'Power Trip' in my living room," he says proudly. "I made that beat, wrote that song, recorded the rough version of the vocals in my crib."
Cole adds that he hopes fans take particular notice of the fact that he self-produced a large portion of his new LP.
"I want people to know when they hear it – 'Yo, his two hands made that,'" he says. "That's something I think I didn't do on the first album, or even on my mixtapes. When you hear this, I want you to know who produced these. That's my main thing: watch out for the whole album, the concepts, the stories I'm telling. But really hear the production."