How did J. Cole become the best rapper?

Alex Guanga
4 min readNov 23, 2016


“J. Cole went platinum with no features” — memes

There is no secret that I think J. Cole is the best rapper. I don’t look at sales, awards, or money. And no, I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say J. Cole is the best rapper right now. In my opinion, his overall concepts coupled with his unique beat selection is the driving force behind his success. I have a couple of real hip-hop friends, and every time we talk about who’s the best rapper right now, we tend to pick Cole over Kendrick. Drake isn’t even in our conversation (sorry Drake fans). I do know that the older generation enjoy Kendrick’s music over Cole’s music in every aspect. They enjoy his nostalgic vibe but J. Cole has endured a larger fanbase and I think it’s all because of the younger generation.

So why is J. Cole the best rapper right now?

Because it’s us, the younger generation, who will continue to push hip-hop. It will be up to us to play their songs in our cars with our children and grandchildren. As I research my history, many people and still do call Tupac the best rapper. I enjoy Tupac’s music but I don’t think he is better than Jay Z, Biggie or Nas. But it was his impact and the way he empowered people from low-income communities to believe he was their voice. He was the one who could be hip-hop’s thug yet also talk about police brutality, and the importance of a mother. In this same way, J. Cole is able to leverage this same human psychology to wider audience.

I think now hip-hop has branched out to a wider audience, obviously. I’m not talking about solemnly the mainstream radio. Back in the 90's, being a hip-hop head meant you were from the projects or have sold drugs or have been arrested. Television portrayed hip-hop as a thug influenced music which glorified violence. My parents, who are hispanics, believed that only criminals listened to hip-hop. And actually, some rappers benefited from these stereotypes. But now hip-hop has grown and everyone hears it. We are now all looking at hip-hop like a textbook and looking through the lyrics Nas wrote in Illmatic. At least I am. Professor in universities are using their lyrics to explain the plight of minorities. They are used as a way to protest. It’s different now. It has become our medium to not only hear music but learn in a unique platform.

I think time has changed.

It sucks that the media doesn’t do hip-hop justice. It only focuses on the negatives. If we dive into these records and break down the lyrics, we understand that everyone from Rakim to Most Def to Kendrick, talk about their lives. It’s not glorifying about a certain lifestyle but storytelling. But I think times are changing. We are witnessing a change in our country to some extend. Things are not perfect by any means. But we have continuously improve and grown as a society. Blacks and Hispanics are now enrolling into higher education at a higher rate. Top executives positions are slowly being occupied by Blacks and Hispanics. Ironically, in that transition, we didn’t that movement as something to talk about. I remember being in honor roll classes and hiding it to my peers because I would get ridiculed if they knew I was smart. We don’t see going to college as something cool to rap about. It’s not as interesting. And this is why I think Cole has changed that perspective. He is like that older brother who is smart, cool, and real. I remember hearing Friday Night Lights with my friend for the first time as a sophomore in highschool and being in complete awe. We have never heard songs like Farewell or 2Face. It was unique because we both could relate. We were smart kids who did well in school yet we wanted to smoke weed. We were in the smart honor roll classes yet our friends would never show up to school.

I think as the minorities are becoming more educated, entering highing paying jobs, and enjoying open-minded, we don’t find music about superficial things enjoyable. Also, I think Cole does a great job talking about poverty, inequality, and racism. It’s like when you are in a hot debate in a course in college about racism. It isn’t so much we don’t care, but more we weren’t educated properly. J. Cole can spread his message in few words but point out historical references or talk about the struggles of the double life smart student face.

Apart from the great songs he has created, there are other contributing factors that makes him our favorite rapper. His low profile heavily contributes to it. His great storytelling as well. His transparency. Sure, Kendrick has a lot of superb qualities. And his stories are for those who are part of the street life but also contains thought provoking messages. But there’s something missing. It might be that J. Cole has a better voice. Or that Kendrick’s lifestyle is very different than mine. But whatever the reason, I think hip-hop is a great place where the discussion of best rappers are J. Cole or Kendrick.



Alex Guanga

Data Engineer @ Cherre. Mets die-hard. Hip-hop junkie.