Cole’s Road to Homecoming is a powerful documentary to say the least, especially for anyone who dreams of being major without selling out or compromising their values. Like with most Cole World related things I watch, I was endlessly inspired by this series.
An admirable journey unfolds over the course of the 5-episode docu-series, chronicling new peaks J. Cole reaches in his career: the creation of 2014 Forest Hills Drive, an album he had complete artistic control over; the continued development of his own conglomerate music label, Dreamville; and an epic sold out concert right in his hometown, Fayetteville, North Carolina, during which he surprised already-hype fans by bringing out Jay-Z and Drake.
We don’t just see these things taking place however, we feel them — we are there every step of the way, behind the scenes with the Dreamville team. We experience their family-like bond, their struggles with executing their exact vision, the bliss they feel witnessing years and years of putting in their all pay off tenfold, and the pure joy of J. Cole’s most loyal fans expressing how much of an impact the musician has made on them.
I admit, J. Cole’s albums don’t necessarily get blasted through my Beats as often as some of his peers’ in the current rap game — but when it comes to favorites, I just can’t help but to include Cole near the top of my list. His talent, story, humility, and authenticity touches people in palpable measures — no one can deny how truly special he is in his arena.
I picked up a lot of key gems while watching this that I think are crucial for any self-starter’s success in 2016 and beyond:
Everything starts with why you produce (the what comes next).
How many of us can name a musician who only seems to make music about the money, clothes, h*es (and cars, and ice, and how many bricks they sold… you get where I’m going)? How many of us actually know a rapper or 3 who started rhyming simply because being famous seems cool? Right, just about all of us.
Since the birth of Cole’s career, it was obvious he wasn’t one of those guys. He’s got a passion for the art and has only aimed to express his talent in a way that gets through to the world on a real-life level.
We know it’s near impossible to thrive in mainstream music without conforming to industry standards, but J.Cole has never faltered. Sure, he’s had radio hits and big names cosigns that helped him earn his spot in the limelight, but he never needed any gimmicks to get there. In an industry riddled with shenanigans, he’s always kept the music first: no techno club hits, no publicity drama, no corny stunts, no swerving into lanes he has no business in, just truth and talent. 100.
I guarantee he’ll continue to prosper for the long haul. He loves the art — the lyrical content, the production technique, the delivery to his audience — it’s crystal clear that his whole team does, really. Their level of detailed precision to the recording & performing processes affirms their dedication to their craft.
Let Passion & Purpose power you
There’s nothing quite as powerful as passion for what you do and a strong purpose behind why you do it. When on a platform where you’re using your ability to entertain, engage, and/or educate people — you’ve got to be rooted in your purpose.
Why? This is what guides you and keeps you on a clear path, even when the weather gets murky. Passion + Purpose together is the engine that fuels your influence and is ultimately what reaps the most fulfilling rewards.
I remember researching which career fields & positions in marketing made the most money, before I really had a grasp on what I wanted to do (and what was possible) with my passion. As I became more aware of what I actually value in life, I realized it would likely never align with becoming a corporate marketing executive, despite how nice the salary sounded.
Droning through life solely in search of the highest paycheck is a sure path to unhappiness.
It’s okay to want your passion to make you a healthy income — that’s ideal, right?
How else are we gonna get Sallie Mae off our backs and buy new new cribs for our mamas? Get the bills paid.
However, don’t just chase the money, chase what it means to you, whether it be the ability to create more and reach more people, more freedom to spend time with loved ones or travel the world, and/or the financial flexibility to provide for a large family.
With the right work ethic, it’s entirely possible for all of us to become successful & financially secure doing what we love.
As entrepreneurs and creatives, putting ourselves and our work out there is what we do. If there’s no passion behind it — people are discerning — they’ll be able to tell!
We’ve got to live and breathe our “why” to make a real different in the world. Even when we need to adjust our “how,” or the methods of obtaining what we’re after, we have our purpose to fall back on and always guide us to the same goal.
Make your why loud and clear.
Cole’s success demonstrates that everything becomes possible when you shape your decisions around passion.
Be People Focused & Keep it Genuine
Integrate people into your purpose and produce for the people. Produce for the people. Produce for the people. Produce for the people. Yes, produce for yourself, but produce for the people!
Episode 4 reveals how J. Cole’s team went from once struggling to fill 2,700 seats in a Seattle venue, to selling over 16,000 Forest Hills Drive concert tickets 2 years later in the same city.
In North Carolina, he went from being a kid who just wanted to make it out of the Ville, to a 30 year old hometown hero who fulfilled his wild dream of selling out the Crown Coliseum.
Cole was able to build a populous, raving fan base while staying true to himself and his craft. The series dispenses three important ingredients for how we too can garner meaningful connections with our audience and powerful brand loyalty as small business owners and creatives:
1) never compromise on delivering consistent quality, 2) be story-centered, and 3) go above and beyond for those that love what you do.
It’s clear why Jermaine deserves that loyalty; his formula has has always been based on doing it for the people before the profit. The art above the business.
Cole cares about his fans. He continues performing for $1 with his Dollar and a Dream tour, despite how logistically stressful it is for his team, despite how intensely he’s pushing himself having had only two weeks between the Forest Hill Drive tour legs, despite how much he could profit at this point from performing his breakthrough tape Friday Night Lights.
He’s visibly and vocally upset that the majority of people who stand in line won’t even be able to see him. He expresses his affinity for performing in small venues because he feels more connected with the audience. He does this all to nurture his fanbase.
Cole continues to change the game and exceed expectations by creating unforgettable experiences for people. He lets fans in on the vision, he interacts with them in ways we don’t see from global superstars artists everyday. We see him personally visit a young lady’s home to give her an exclusive pre-release listen to his new album while he chilled with her family. We see a diverse group of young fans be invited inside his childhood home to hear his album in the exact environment it was inspired by. For real, how dope is that!?
Seeing person after person proclaim how much Cole’s lyrics mean to them left me feeling so incredibly admired by his ability to reach people so eloquently. As they recount their first memories hearing his mixtapes and anticipate seeing him live, their elation is contagious. Jermaine does an amazing job of connecting on a personal level through his interactions and storytelling.
Creatives who seek to inspire and be for the people can follow J. Cole’s lead by being vulnerable, honest, and genuine. Influencers who make the greatest impacts are transparent about their strengths, weaknesses, successes, and failures. They’re irreplaceable, because they let their truth and their personality shine through to set them apart.
We can’t be afraid to expose our own emotions as well as our creative highs and lows.
Make your interactions with your audience special. Find creative ways to exchange your and their stories. Everybody has one – stories are what tap into those deeper, emotional strings that amass the kind of strong loyalty we see in .
Everything you produce should be designed and created for a specific group (or groups) of people. Consider who your personality speaks to best and then serve them in ways they won’t forget.
Don’t overlook even the seemingly small details — for small business owners, this could mean handwritten notes to your best customers, providing unexpected service extras, distinctive product packaging, fast & professional email responses, impressive branding/website/social media design, etc etc.
Add your own innovation and think outside of the box! Produce and provide what will get customers to ride for you and spread your movement, people who will buy tickets to all of your events, admirers who share your work on social media. And most importantly, make sure you get in front of the right audience.
Keep Good People Around
Throughout the documentary, we become familiar with the other players that have been essential to J. Cole’s growth over the past several years — his manager Ibrahim “Ib” Hamad, production manager Ray Rogers, band members, fellow Dreamville recording artists such as Omen, Bas, and Cozz, and many more.
When they speak of each other as family, it’s apparent that it’s not just a word that’s thrown around to sound good. It shows in the way they speak with one another, push each other to improve, and candidly laugh together. When they’re on tour, Ray jokes that for those 8 weeks, it’s like they’re all married to each other. If they didn’t like each other, well, that would suck.
Although J. Cole is, for audience-facing purposes, the frontrunner of his brand, there’s no superstar when it comes to getting the work done behind the scenes. Cole’s every day guy attitude communicates that he’s no more important than the rest of his crew. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in Dreamville’s core team who’s not pulling their weight.
Cultivate Your Family
Individually, we are responsible for our own success, but ultimately, NO ONE can reach that success alone. We absolutely need a legitimate squad of people to support us and help make the magic happen — people with similar goals who want to see us win, people who we actually enjoy being around. And it’s important that we reciprocate that support on the same level, if not, even more. Be giving.
Build a team. Collaborate with those who share your values. Share resources and help each other build. I can attest that it feels indescribable to link with people who have a similar long term vision and are also working towards exceptional lifestyles.
Don’t give up when times get tough. See it Through!
Homecoming shows Cole having elevated to a level where he was able to produce exactly what he wanted: an introspective album featuring only himself, created without question to whether it would achieve commercial success.
2014 Forest Hills Drives went on to sell over 350,000 copies in its first week out, without any prior singles, and very little PR and marketing. I’m still amazed at what he pulled off.
One simply doesn’t achieve this mastery overnight. In one episode, Dreamville players reflect on how when J. Cole got signed, he wasn’t able to record to an album right away. Instead, he was placed on the back burner while the label tried to figure out how to present him to the world — or in other words, while the label attempted to follow the the same exact strategies that it’d been used to for years with marketing artists.
Ib mentions the overlooked opportunities the label caused them to miss out on, yet it was obstacles like these that sparked an even stronger fire under Cole & his team. They used even harder, they continued to create without the financial backing. Cole gained an organic following by keeping the music first and letting his work speak for itself.
Perseverance and Success go hand in hand
The single most important thing you can do is to KEEP GOING. Persevere in spite of the hurdles you have to jump. Create even when perfection is not yet attainable. Stick to your mission day in and day out.
It’s easy to start something when feeling the rush of an idea and the initial motivation to act, but most people fail because they lack consistency. They don’t put in the required, continued effort to see it through.
Seeing Dreamville continue to push the envelope and flourish is awesome. They still endure battles, it’s still not easy, however they’ve formed such discipline that their consistent work ethic appears to be an intrinsic, second nature. This hustle isn’t often matched.
Discipline > motivation
Motivation can be short lived. It’s futile to rely solely on motivation to power our work ethic without forming habits and discipline. We have to condition ourselves to take action even when we’re not feeling motivated.
Eliminate distractions. Plan it out and schedule dedicated time to craft your empire. Execute, evolve, and repeat, again and again and again.
Much of J. Cole’s appeal comes from how down to earth he seems to be. Gratitude, humility, and appreciation radiate through his personality. He iterates being perpetually appreciative in his Angie Martinez interview, he displays it as he’s discovering the picturesque beauty of Switzerland and meeting fans all the way across the world.
In the post-Homecoming reflection video, he talks about how great it felt to take it all in during this tour and enjoy it. Before this point in his career, his mind had been busied wondering what legacy he’d leave and what would come next for him 5 years down the road.
Cole releases that pressure on himself and makes room to just cherish it, and it has a visibly positive affect.
I think it’s common for us entrepreneurs and creatives to be a little disappointed that we can’t do it all and do it all right now. To constantly anticipate what’s next, ponder how we can reach more people, how we can just create the most perfect _____.
It’s because we dream so vividly and we envision ourselves accomplishing so much. It’s not a bad thing to want to make a huge impact, but if we’re not having fun with it, what’s the point? How can we simultaneously get the most enjoyment from life and leave a positive effect if we’re never content?
I’m guilty of wishing I had more of an influence, more time, skills, and money to produce exactly what I feel is missing. There are moments I question whether I’m adequate. Then I always snap back and remind myself how grateful I am to be at this exact stage in my life at this moment. That I am equipped with all I need keep it pushing. I’m okay with being a long way from where I want to be, because I’m also so far removed from where I started.
On your worst days and your best — Soak up the memories you’ve made and the skills you’ve acquired and the milestones you’ve accomplished in your business and the places you’ve traveled to and the people whose life you improved with your presence.
Life is so damn beautiful when you allow it to be! Take moments out often to cherish it all; the roller coaster highs and lows and everything that has gotten you to where you are right NOW. In this wisely illustrated words of Jermaine himself, there’s beauty in the struggle.
Life pays off when you challenge the rules and remain consistent.
No matter what type of visionary we are, we can follow J. Cole’s successful model of rising to the top when the odds say we won’t. By adopting these ideas and adding our own one of a kind approaches, the only possible direction to go is up.
Be genuine. Follow your passion. Be relatable. Be personable. Be supportive. Be people-focused. Be innovative and do things differently. Create new norms. Do what others won’t! And finally, always operate with appreciation in your heart.
I could go on about this guy for days, but I want to hear your thoughts! What were your takeaways from J. Cole’s Road to Homecoming?
P.S. Check out Dreamville’s latest project Revenge of the Dreamers II if you haven’t already. This EP has been getting major bump from me and Dreamville is definitely a group to keep your eye on.