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So I was having a conversation with the highly entertaining @Catf1sh where the birds congregate to converse, and he posed the question, “What’s with J. Cole’s fascination with calling himself Simba?” He continued, “So, I’m guessing that makes Jay-Z Mufasa and J. Cole Simba. Right?” Catf1sh would go on to proffer the idea that J. Cole calling himself Simba is not a good look because Jay-Z is the one signing his checks. I joined in on the convo suggesting that since the J. Cole Simba song series (sorry if your internal reading voice has a lisp) started way before being on Jay-Z’s radar it really isn’t pertinent, but still a great comparison to make. After that it diverged to naming obscure rappers random Lion King characters, but it got me thinking… “What if Jay Cole really WERE Simba and the rap game was the plot of the Lion King? Who would play what role?”
I brought down my old Lion King VHS from the attic, went to a pawn shop and traded a (twice) used shaved ice machine for a VCR, came home, hooked that ish up to my TV via composite cables and took notes in my zebra-print Mead journal while wearing my Cincinnati Bengals Zubaz pants.
NOTE: For the purposes of this article, we will not be strictly adhering to the plot of the Lion King (ie: Simba left because he thought his father’s death was his fault/J. Cole didn’t do that so the author is an idiot.) This is way too narrow of an interpretation. I am proposing similarities between J. Cole’s life and career and supplanting them into a Lion King allegory.
J. Cole dropped the first installment of the Simba series on “The Come-Up” with accompanying music video (which would serve as the inspiration for the “Who Dat” Music Video). At the time, it probably wasn’t planned as a serial series, but the meaning is clear and fits in with J. Cole’s favorite subject matter: “I’m the next big thing.” But at this point in his career, he isn’t quite poised yet to take over; he still has a lot of maturing/practice/grinding to do. Besides, this is his first official mixtape.
He would later put the follow-up track “Grown Simba” on “The Warm-Up” a year later. Grown Simba in the Lion King plot has no desire to return to his tribe because he feels as though it was his fault for why his Father died. That is, until other characters convince him to return. At this point in his some-what buzzing career, J. Cole feels he is almost there, but needs the push (a deal) for him to become King.
Return of Simba
The presumably last song in the series (unless he does some weird “Flashback to Simba’s Puberty in Lion King 1 ½” song), “Return of Simba” marks J. Cole’s now readiness and willingness to assume control of the Rap Game. It should be noted that J. Cole quite literally returned to the States after his European tour with Unibrow McWheelChairJimmy, and then proceeded to barrage us with songs after his drought.
His eagerness to drop and show the (Cole) world that he’s the best has certainly made him hungry, which most likely is the reason he created this third track.
Simba: J. Cole
Word on the streets is I'm the prince nigga, check the splendor
And I can't wait to be the King, nigga: young Simba!
Word on the streets is I'm the Prince nigga, check the splendor
And I can't wait to be the king, nigga: young Simba!
Pretty obvious, right? J. Cole explicitly casts himself as the young protagonist destined for greatness, and to make sure we get it he says it twice. The character actually fits him quite perfectly though. If you’ve ever listened to more than one J. Cole song you know he has a propensity for talking about “blowing up.” (See: Examples 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) In fact, in the first four bars of “Simba” he tells us that he’s “finna blow.”
In The Lion King, “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” is sung specifically so that Simba and Nala can escape Zazu’s watchful eye and get to the Elephant Graveyard. It should be noted that the aspirations of both Simba, at this moment in the movie, and J. Cole, at this point in his rap career, far outweigh their maturity/ability to actually become King. Simba must go through years of life lessons and J. Cole must go through three other mixtapes.
Sarabi: J. Cole's Mother
J. Cole has stated that his biggest non-musical influence in life is his mother. Born in Frankfurt, Germany, he would soon after move to Fayetteville, North Carolina to be raised by his mother. She bought Cole his first drum machine to make beats when he was 15 years old. In the movie, Sarabi is the leader of the lioness hunting party (You did know that female lions were the hunters, right?) that obtains the food for the Pride Rock residents. It’s interesting to note the correlation between the two. In both instances, it is the female providing for the child and family, a reversal of normal gender roles, especially mammals.
“Probably my mom. Rap and just life-on some life influence. I think she the reason why I came out as good as I did, 'cause I could have easily gone another way like all kids, basically. I think the way I was raised and the shit she put me in kind of got me where I'm at; the morals she gave me allowed me to even pursue some shit like this."
I grew up with nothin, it hurt me to see my mother poor
The only pops a nigga ever seen around was Huxstable
J. Cole’s real-life father was absent all of his life. With no father figure, he naturally adopted musicians to fill that void. (Perhaps he had Pac’s pictures on his wall?). Cole has cited Eminem, Nas and Tupac (among others) as influences, but Tupac is the most prominent, by far. Through countless hours of listening and mimicking, Tupac, much like a father, showed Cole the finer points of rapping, setting him up with the skills/genetics to go after throne. Tracks like “Little Ghetto Nigga,” “Lights Please” and “Lost Ones” evoke Pac’s storytelling prowess. For those who would argue Nas or some other rapper, I would direct your attention to this Tupac cover, this video of J. Cole Praising Makaveli Album, this video of J. Cole recounting how he studyied Tupac as a kid, the video below of J. Cole doing his “I Ain’t Mad At Cha” cover again at Bonnaroo, and THIS TWEET.
Zazu: Mark Pitts
Mufasa’s feisty avian majordomo (add that to your vocab). Zazu is present throughout the movie trying to keep Simba in line (His first act is to escort them to the watering hole safely). When Simba runs away, Zazu is no longer there to guide Simba (he’s trapped in the rib cage jail, remember?), but he returns to his side at the end of the movie when Simba ascends the throne and Rafiki presents Simba and Nala’s newborn cub.
Mark Pitts, former manager of Notorious B.I.G., is J. Cole’s manager. He was the person who played the Fayettenam Don’s music for Shawn Carter, which got him signed shortly after. As a manager his role is similar to Zazu’s: steer him in the right direction and watch out for him. However, Mark can’t be there for Cole every step up the way. He can only offer the best advice possible and suggest the best courses of action for Cole’s career and pray that he listens. Whether J. Cole listens or not is another story.
I’ve had limited experience with bestiality, and though I’m no Mr. Hands, I would make delicate, yet life-threatening, love to that lioness above… But, I digress. Nala and Simba are in the same tribe much like how J. Cole and Rihanna are in the same “tribe”: Roc Nation. If we disregard Nala and Simba’s love interest in the movie, they are at the core best friends. Though J and Rhi-Rhi probably aren’t besties like Drake and Nicki, Rihanna did ask J. Cole to open up for her Loud Tour and Cole has even lent a verse for the “S&M Remix.” And much like Simba, J. Cole would not have any qualms about playing Rock ‘Em Cock Em’ Robots against Rihanna’s lady parts:
I’m picturing that body like a camera phone would
Something like Rihanna while I’m up in that vagina -- J. Cole on "Back To the Topic"
They would make beautiful light-skinnuhnend babies.
Oh, Rafiki, you baobab tree-dwelling, mandrill-baboon hybrid Shaman, you. In what is the most recognizable scene from a Disney movie, Rafiki hoists baby Simba up for all the animal kingdom to see atop Pride Rock, solidifying his “heir to the throne” status. When Jay-Z left Def Jam and created Roc Nation J. Cole was his first signee. Do you see what you type of message that sends? “This guy will be the next big thing.” Hov created a dynasty with Roc-A-Fella over at Def Jam; now that he has started over he has picked J. Cole to be the franchise player, the anchor. That’s a lot of pressure and a lot of expectations to live up to. This hype was created simply signing J. Cole and thrusting him into the starlight by including him on the highly anticipated Blueprint 3. I mean, for crying out loud, the song J. Cole is on is called “A Star is Born.” –_______– Talk about building up expectations.
Timon and Pumbaa: Wale & Drake
In the movie, Timon and Pumbaa essentially raise Simba, and become his closest comrades. They are also responsible for probably the most iconic song off The Lion King’s soundtrack: “Hakuna Matata”… to this day still a wonderful phrase and definitely not a passing craze… Wale was the first artist to give J. Cole a “big break” (his first mainstream feature) by giving him a guest spot on the audible heat rock “Beautiful Bliss,” which made an iconic statement for the relatively unknown Cole. According to J., he wanted to come as hard as possible (No Peter North), and he certainly made a statement with his 16.
Sidenote: Popular belief holds that J. Cole killed Wale on this song. However, this just seems to be the same situation as Jay-Z’s “Renegade” on which Eminem was featured. Like Eminem, J. Cole brings that standout, impeccable flow and delivery with hit-you-in-the-face punchlines. And like Jay-Z, Wale brings that highly introspective, multiple entendre filled flow, that can only be appreciated by taking a closer look. Wale played a huge role in J. Cole’s early career. It is obvious through their freestyling at a Denny’s and with alternating features on various songs, that they have maintained a lasting appreciation for each other’s work.
But Back to the Topic…
When J. Cole was making splashes and building a bigger cult following, the comparisons between him and Drake (at this point Drake had yet to drop that “album” of his). Their content was certainly different but people love comparing and saying who is better. Drake would eventually invite J. Cole to join his European Tour, turning them from would-be beefers to buddy-buddy (Here’s a pic of them acting the latter). Drake actually asked J. Cole to “save [him] a 16 on the song” for him when he found out that Cole wanted to re-do his vagina-moistening, ode to morning sex song, “In The Morning.” That song ended up being probably the most known/remixed/quoted/shared song off Friday Night Lights. There is no denying these two have a respect for each other. I’m sure they text each other all the time.
In the Lion King while the trio sings “Hakuna Matata,” Simba goes from a cub to a grown lion (at the 3:00 mark). This is important to note because between J. Cole’s verse on “Beautiful Bliss” and the dropping of Friday Night Lights, was almost a year apart save 2 days. (AD: 11/10/09; FNL: 11/12/10). In that year’s time, J. Cole would certainly have “grown up” professionally, physically and mentally. Still though… he still isn’t ready to take control of the throne though he may feel that he is.
Shenzi, Banzai & Ed: Wiz, Wayne, Ye
Shenzi, Banzai and Ed—Scar’s henchman. They attempt to make Lean Cuisine’s out of Young Simba and Nala, and do everything in their power to assist him in stopping Simba from taking control of the throne.
Right now, the “it” rappers of the moment are Wiz Khalifa, Wayne and Mr. West Mr. West. Agreed, at the time of this post these artists are between albums and singles, but you certainly could not turn the radio on a few months ago and listen to three songs in a row before one of these giants' tracks coursed through your Toyota Camry’s OEM system with 2 12" Alpines in the trunk. Their influence is not undeniable. Any of these artists could record themselves reenacting Hamlet, taking a juicy bowel movement or pontificating on the importance of spyware software and the radio would play it. You can’t argue that; so don’t try. Seriously, don’t… I see you thinking about it.
In The Lion King, when Simba returns to overthrow Scar, he has to fight his way through the hyena gauntlet consisting of Shenzai, Bonzai, Ed and copious amounts of unimportant/talentless/annoying hyenas. In the real world, J. Cole will certainly have to combat Lil Wayne’s mind-fucking single (and any subsequent Carter IV tracks), plus whatever Wayne or Wiz decide to ruin radio with, in addition to the ubiquitous Pitbull, Black Eyed Peas, Skylar Grey, Bruno Mars and Britney Spears “tunes.”
Scar: Roc Nation
J. Cole has the lyrical ability, the musical sense to craft a song and the mass appeal to succeed. Really, the only thing standing in his way from becoming king is his promotion and backing. Dealing with a label with mismatched expectations of you is detrimental for artists. They are initially allured by a large advance only to be worn down by expectations and ultimatums. These problems are real, and almost every one of our favorite rappers have had a problem with a label (Lupe Fiasco being the most recent). People are even quick to point out that Jay-Z had a habit of shelving artists when he was at Def Jam. This may or not be true, but one thing for certain are the following facts:
His Album Still Has No Release Date.
According to Jermaine everything is done. So what’s the problem? Over the last month he’s had a slew of songs that have leaked, both intentionally by him and against his wishes (Lost Ones). We can contribute this to two factors: records he recorded during his tour/off-time and tracks that are supposed to be on his album, which is good and bad. Sure, we are eating these leaks up, but all its doing is affecting the impact his album will have.
J. Cole Was the First Roc Nation Signee... 2 Years Ago.
This is like the L.A. Clippers drafting Blake Griffin and then benching him. It’s almost as if Jay-Z wanted to sign him to hold on to him so no one else could have J. Cole (which is what he probably would have done with Odd Future had he got his camel toes on them). Roc Nation artists Hugo Chakrabongse and Alexis Jordan have dropped albums prior to Cole despite being signed for less time. At this point there isn’t much more grooming you can do to J. Cole. Sure, you could keep putting him on tours to gain fans, but you can only do that so long until their relevance/newness wears off.
J. Cole has a 360 deal.
Speaking of infinite touring! Did you know J. Cole has a 360 Deal? Here’s J. Cole speaking about it during an interview with Complex magazine:
Complex: With the industry the way it is, it seems everyone's been getting 360 deals. Is that what you got?
J. Cole: Yeah, it's a 360 deal. Which is a bitch, but it is necessary.
Complex: Why is it necessary for you? Can you tell us about it?
J. Cole: Basically, 360 deals mean the label gets a piece of everything. Back in the days, it was sacred that a label could not touch your show money. Worst things worst, if a label wasn't putting you out, you could always eat off your show money, your merchandising, anything that your name is on, they couldn't touch. But now that albums aren't selling, labels need a way to make money, cause they're losing money.
J. Cole: So how do they do that? Now they get a cut of their artists show money, they get a cut of their artists merchandising, some labels, not mine, get a cut of their artists publishing, that's a big no no. I'm not getting raped, but it's a 360 deal.
So let’s see what we’ve got: an artist with a 360 deal going on Fall Tours, Drake Tours, Festivals, and then he gets put on another Roc Nationer’s Loud Tour? And the label get paid off of all of that…. Seems like they are more interested in how long they can milk him for show money (so when they spend the money to promote him they are still in the black).
The perfect time to release a J. Cole album would have been just after Friday Night Lights. J. Cole recently told Billboard that the album should be shipping “late Summer” after he gets the sample cleared for his single. A few days ago J. Cole let us know via twitter that sample in question had been cleared:
Perhaps J. Cole is closer to Tim McVeighing than we thought. But then again, haven’t us fans heard this rhetoric before?
Bonus: Subliminal Disses
Disney has been known to put hidden adult content into their movies (Examples 1, 2 and 3). While some are blatant, the most in dispute topic is the appearance of the word “SEX” in various forms (leaves, dust, water, stars) throughout the Lion King. It should be noted that the company who did the animation for The Lion King has stated that it is “SFX” (an abbreviation for special effects)… Hmmm… interesting.
J. Cole and Drake’s “rivalry,” though denied by the two artists, was trumped up by fans stating that the two had beef with each other. Eventually they would work it out and become BFFAEAEAE… But for “In The Morning” and the European tour, you could definitely make the argument they had beef with Cole’s somewhat close-to-home hitting 3rd verse on Who Dat and Drake’s first bar off Right Above it. Were they really dissing each other? Was it playful competition? Much like how many licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie pop (or Lil Kim’s uterus), the world may never know.
I am proud of you for making it all the way through this (even if you just looked at the photos). Leave some comments with any thoughts you may have. Was I dead wrong? Who would you change? Should Pretty Ricky be in here somewhere? Should I do a Young Money as the cast of Land Before Time? Which was the best picture? Thanks in advance and Hakuna Matata, bitches.
Written in syndication for Mostly Junkfood and Rap Genius.