J. Cole is secretly one of the most stylish rap artists
Before launching its currently in progress Out of season tour, J. Cole made a statement with his performance at the iHeartRadio Festival. It wasn’t a political statement, or even an announcement, however. It was a fashion statement. Wearing a tie-dye shirt, sweatpants and black Crocs, Cole gained social media attention. While he’s far from the only rapper to endorse the effortless big clogs of shoe brand Broomfield, Colorado, it’s noteworthy that he did so in such a high-profile performance. However, this shouldn’t be surprising; J. Cole has always been secretly one of the most stylish rap artists.
I know what you are thinking: “J. Cole? Sleek ?? “And I get it. If you’re online in any way you’ve probably seen the rapper from Fayetteville, NC get roasted for seemingly putting minimal effort into his performances – see the aforementioned Crocs example. He’s never been one to scream famous brands or build elaborate ensembles with sparkly accessories that hang from his neck or wrists. He’s the ultra-regular rapper whose almost extreme relatability makes him play the clown so as not to be flashy enough neither in the content nor in the presentation.
Let’s get a few things straight, though. Fashion and style are two different things. As Cole’s mentor Jay-Z once said, “I can’t teach you my loot / You can pay for school but you can’t buy lessons.” Just pulling on a stack of expensive items bearing Italian designer labels doesn’t mean looking stylish; anyone can acquire the status of a fashion icon with enough money. Having style means having a signature look, a philosophy behind what you wear in addition to showing off your bank account. It’s about showing people who you are. Many rappers are arguably more fashionable than J. Cole, but while the names of the creators stand out from individual pieces, their ensembles often appear to have dressed in the dark with their stunning undertones.
Cole knows exactly what he wants to do with his look, going for comfort over name recognition. And yes, it too has set rules about color matching and fit, it usually turns out to be right ahead of an upcoming trend rather than dated. Consider her ultra casual looks lately. Some may see them as goofy or lazy, but who among us didn’t ditch jeans during the pandemic in favor of relaxed fits better suited to our new work-from-home lifestyles (I mean, those of you? who have not previously worked from home)? Even its adoption of Crocs as performance clothing reflects the new popularity and cultural cachet of foam clogs. Industry peers like Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj and Post Malone have collaborated with the brand with pieces so in demand they sold out within minutes of availability.
Maybe Cole hasn’t become a fashion icon because her simple, comfy cuts reflect her down-to-earth personality a little too much. Just look at Kanye West, who got away with leather kilts, retro quilted jackets, cultural appropriation (didn’t those keffiyehs bother anyone else?) – inspired by the Yeezy brand – almost only because that he presents himself as a fashion expert, going to designer shows and making presentations (no pun intended) about his perceived lack of support from industry players.
Say what you want about Cole’s love for tie-dyeing and baggy joggers, at least his looks have a lot of personality. Yeezy’s seasons 2-6 have been downright ridiculed for being bland and nonchalant, with Kanye seemingly repeating the same shapeless and earthy pieces year after year. Cole may not have his own brand, but his style has an identity; he doesn’t just mix up designer pieces for the sake of Frankenstein, the most expensive outfit for the sole purpose of flexing. You can even see how his respective influences – and Yeezy’s – started to spread. More and more celebrities like Bieber and Billie Eilish have already embraced the comfortable lifestyle for convenience. Vogue approval… And the fans naturally returned the favor. Being outside after the year has passed is anxiety-provoking enough; why not at least be warm (or well ventilated), mobile and carefree to show off the quarantine that many of us have picked up after a year of UberEats (or Postmates, or DoorDash) and suspended subscriptions to the gym?
If you ask me, J. Cole has always had the right idea. He’s always dressed like him, even though he was striving to be a superstar rapper. If anything, this is the most hip-hop thing he could have done. Remember when the Beastie Boys tried to dress like rappers, with their matching Adidas tracksuits? Russell Simmons saw right through them; they looked ridiculous. Instead, he told them, they should be themselves – it would like them a lot more in the culture than looking like strangers trying to dress. It seemed like it would be the rule forever, but somewhere along the way, that rule got lost. Staying real was not enough; you had to look like you were rich – which for the newly rich artists of the platinum age meant carrying all the money they “made”, even if they were just wasting their money up front to look cool compared to someone else.
Upon arriving on the scene, J. Cole offered an antithesis to the money-hungry image often associated with major label rap groups. Of course, for a while he himself got caught up in the hype (hello, “Mr. Nice Watch”), but over time he grew in his status and adopted his own way of doing business. things. His style is a reflection of his music, which is a rejection of the rap status quo – or maybe just a recovery of his roots. Yes, the pioneers of culture wanted to fly, but they wanted to fly as they pleased, showing the world who they were with no frills or having to change codes to fit in. Cole doesn’t change for someone else’s approval, which is really what hip-hop is. For that alone, he should be seen not only as a style icon, but as one of rap’s role models to redefine the rules and show the world that style and substance don’t have to be pitted against each other. Like Cole’s intricate rhymes and his mainstream success, they can go together in counterintuitive ways.