An Avengers-style posse cut arrived today, unexpectedly. On it, J. Cole outrapped Young Thug. Merely looking at that sentence is painful. Up until this point, the only person to indisputably best Jeffery Lamar Williams on a song was Rich Homie Quan, about half a decade ago.
Then “The London” happened.
Produced by T-Minus and also featuring Travis Scott on moody chorus duties, the track is a prime example of how far Cole has ventured from his curmudgeonly comfort zone and into interesting stylistic territory. His single “Middle Child” is among the most commercially successful of the year, and he’s conducting rap camps, performing at NBA All Star games and gracing the cover of magazines. Long one of the technically most gifted rappers in the world, it seems like he’s finally having fun. The approach is paying off; during a verse that has a cringe-inducing and borderline offensive reference to the 2002 romantic comedy, Juwanna Man, Cole outraps the most thrilling figure of hip-hop’s last decade.
To his credit, Cole is an artist who knows how to make the most of a feature. He has a way of getting in quickly and (crucially) getting out memorably, leaving a slew of punchlines in his wake. At the verse’s peak, Jermaine sings through AutoTune, borrowing the tool Thug and Travis have helped elevate into its own modern artform. When Cole warbles through the assertion, “A verse from me is like I left a purge/I did the math it’s like 2000 dollars every word” a realization sets in: J. Cole sounds right at home.