I took a train down memory lane
And watched little Jermaine do his thang before he made a name

from J. Cole – Rich Niggaz Lyrics on Rap Genius

Meaning

Well, before he was J. Cole…

…he was just little Jermaine

He listened to old Cole before he got a deal and realized he misses the hunger he had, like basquiat (that he mentions in the next lines), who didn’t paint the same when he got signed by Sony (well that’s a picture).

This could be a subtle reference to Nas' chorus from “Memory Lane (Sittin' in Da Park)", as we know in Let Nas Down that Nas deeply inspire him in his raps. At the time of Illmatic (1994), Cole was 9 so he was still a "Lil Jermaine.”

Hova also “took a trip down memory lane at the cemetery”, talking about the “Gift and the Curse” that Nas refers to in the Let Nas Down remix. That’s a big accumulation of references…

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