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Producer and MC J. Cole was the first artist signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label. Born in Germany but raised in North Carolina, Cole grew up with a mother who loved rock and folk, while his father was a fan of hardcore hip-hop artists like 2Pac and Ice Cube. Graduating high school, his grades were good enough to earn a scholarship, but hip-hop had taken hold of his life. He quickly decided that N.Y.C. was where artists went to get signed. As such, he attended the city’s St. John's University on an academic scholarship. After numerous days standing outside Jay-Z’s office in hopes of giving him a demo, Cole finally ran into his idol, but the reception was well below chilly. He was shocked then when he received a call from the man weeks later, and even more shocked when he got a chance to contribute to Jay-Z’s 2009 effort The Blueprint 3. That same year he released the mixtape The Warm Up, while 2010 saw the appearance of the Friday Night Lights mixtape, with Cole handling most of the production. In 2011, Roc Nation released his official debut, Cole World: The Sideline Story, which debuted on top of the Billboard 200. Featuring the single "Power Trip," Born Sinner followed in 2013 with guest appearances from Miguel, TLC, and Kendrick Lamar. The title of his 2014 release, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, was the address of Cole's childhood home in North Carolina. ~ David Jeffries