J. Cole famously became the first act signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation. After inking a deal with the company, Cole went on to release multiple Platinum-certified albums.
Apparently, J. Cole could have been part of another New York City-based record label. Tony Yayo, a member of 50 Cent’s G-Unit, spoke about backing the North Carolina native during the start of his career.
“I was on J. Cole early. When J. Cole was in 50’s crib, he was in the basement, playing ‘Simba’ before he was signed to Jay,” said Tony Yayo in an interview with VladTV.
In addition, Yayo mentioned being one of the earliest supporters of Max B, Danny Brown, and Nicki Minaj. The 44-year-old rapper also said, “That’s one of my talents is finding the next ones. It’s easy.”
J. Cole also shared his own version of the story about spending time at 50 Cent’s home. The Germany-born emcee previously discussed his pre-fame connection to G-Unit in a 2013 Vibe article.
“I ended up in Connecticut at 50’s crib and he wasn’t home that night but people [were] still in his crib,” said J. Cole at the time. He added, “Yayo was going nuts, like, ‘Son!’ When I see Tony Yayo today we still talk about that. It was a crazy night.”
J. Cole dropped “Simba” in 2007 as a track on The Come Up mixtape. He signed with Roc Nation in February 2009. Later that year, Cole showed up on “A Star Is Born” off Jay-Z’s The Blueprint 3.
Since 2009, J. Cole has released six studio LPs under the Roc Nation banner. All of his albums peaked at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart. 2014 Forest Hills Drive totaled 399 weeks on those rankings so far. The part-time pro basketball player won his first Grammy Award in 2020 for his featured verse on “A Lot” by 21 Savage.