Top 10 J. Cole Songs

In the future, when we look back at this decade in music, it will largely be remembered for the dominance of hip-hop. A handful of artists will come to mind when we think of who helped push the genre into such massive commercial relevancy: Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper, Future and many others.

At the heart of this discussion belongs J. Cole, the North Carolina rapper-producer who first burst onto the scene with a series of fiery mixtapes in the late 2000s. Now with five successful studio albums under his belt, he’s undisputedly among the biggest names in hip-hop. At times, he’s drawn criticism for being a surface level storyteller and an unexciting rapper. Simultaneously, he’s frequently praised by both fans and elder hip-hop statesmen for his commitment to shedding light on important issues and relaying positive messages.

Regardless of where you find yourself on the J. Cole fan spectrum, over his career he’s come out with several great songs. Some have been hits, while others exist in the deeper pockets of his albums. Whether you’re a skeptic or a lifelong fan, revisit Cole’s most essential tracks with a list of his ten best songs, ranked.

Honorable Mentions: Farewell, G.O.M.D., She’s Mine Pt. 1, Window Pain – Outro, 1985 – The Intro to “The Fall Off”

10. Fire Squad

Album: Forest Hills Drive

Cole lets loose on this popular track from his commercial breakthrough album. He comes directly at the industry and any rapper who thinks he can hang beside him, referencing Ice Cube, 2 Live Crew, Spike Lee, Lil Wayne and Kevin Durant all in the span of 30 seconds.

Listen: “Fire Squad”

9. Immortal

Album: 4 Your Eyez Only

The second song from 4 Your Eyez Only features Cole at his most convicting. Over a minimal, rhythmic sample of Frank Duke’s “Pianoparts,” Cole conquers all and fears nothing. Many of his best songs are soft and contemplative, but this is a great exception.

Listen: “Immortal”

8. Lights Please

Album: The Warm Up

This classic Cole cut proved to be the deciding factor in Jay-Z pulling the trigger to sign a young and hungry J. Cole. It’s far more stripped down, even amateurish compared to the production his music usually features nowadays, but the simplistic, old school vibe of this track is both nostalgic and easy to vibe to.

7. Born Sinner

Album: Born Sinner

Vague religious themes have always woven their way into J. Cole’s music, but the title track from his second full length album dwells on the subject in a deeper tense. Complimented by the smooth vocals of James Fauntleroy, this song was a calm and poignant statement from the then 26-year old rapper.

Listen: “Born Sinner”

6. Neighbors

Album: 4 Your Eyez Only

This mellow cut from Cole’s fourth album 4 Your Eyez Only is among the most conceptual tracks in his canon. The real life portrayal of Cole’s house being raided by police in search of drugs added to the ongoing narrative of racial profiling by law enforcement. To top it off, he laced it with an extremely catchy hook to nail both the melody and the message.

5. Change

Album: 4 Your Eyez Only

One of the looser cuts from 4 Your Eyez Only, but don’t mistake the chill vibes for lack of subject matter. As he tends to do often, Cole encourages the listener to turn inward – specifically referring to the difficulties that face young black men stuck in the life cycle of crime, poverty and violence.

Listen: “Change”

4. Let Nas Down

Album: Born Sinner

After Nas disapproved of J. Cole’s sellout hit “Work Out,” the North Carolina MC returned on his second album not only to redeem himself in the eyes of the Queens legend, but also many other hip-hop heads. Remorseful and determined, Cole reflects on the struggles of facing record label pressure to make a hit song and vows to never abandon lyricism again.

Listen: “Let Nas Down”

3. High For Hours

Album: High For Hours (Single)

A loosie that packs a sizeable punch. Released on MLK Day in 2017, Cole slips through three deep verses, covering everything from the parodies of religion, police brutality, sitting face to face with Obama and American attitudes at large.

2. Lost Ones

Album: Cole World: The Sideline Story

Throughout his career, Cole has written from the position of numerous different individuals, many of whom he is very close to. Perhaps his most impressive narration in this style, this track from his debut album sees him switching back and forth between a young boy and girl who are expecting a child – one being the voice of reason, the other the voice of morality. The stripped back demo version hits a lot harder than the over produced album cut.

Listen: “Lost Ones”

1. 4 Your Eyez Only

Album: 4 Your Eyez Only

J. Cole comes across as a thinker, and the title track off his fourth LP is undoubtedly the most thoughtful and well written song he has ever performed. A swooning bassline and chippy snare drums lay the foundation for his magnum opus, an eight-minute meditation rapped from the perspective of a childhood friend trying to turn his troubled life around for his newborn daughter.

Listen: “4 Your Eyez Only”

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