J. Cole: Artists To Watch 2010

Rahan Cotterel
J Cole

Hip-hop albums get delayed for all sorts of reasons - flop singles and prison sentences being two of the most popular. But J. Cole's forthcoming debut might be delayed for a more creative rationale-namely, because he can't stop tinkering with it. "I'm a perfectionist," says the 24-year-old rapper, who's the first artist signed to Jay-Z's Roc Nation imprint. "Eventually somebody will just have to tell me to stop."

But Cole has never been good at taking no for an answer. Born in North Carolina, he committed basketball treason by attending St. John's in New York, spending the second half of his college career and subsequent two years searching for a record deal. "I was calling A&R people and rapping on their answering machines, trying to get my beats on other people's projects, all of it," he says. A relationship with Mark Pitts, who managed Biggie Smalls, led Cole to a meeting with Jay-Z, who then signed him.

A mixtape, "The Warm Up," is making the rounds, and a guest verse on "The Blueprint 3" track "A Star Is Born" introduced Cole to a wide audience. Now if he can just make the perfect album....



The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to Billboard.com/business.

To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.