While the reveal of J-Hope‘s newest single “on the street” with J. Cole was coupled with the news that the BTS rapper-singer would begin the process for his South Korean military enlistment process, the song marked a full-circle moment for him both professionally and personally.
Before BTS even officially made their debut into the music industry, the members were showing their love and appreciation for J. Cole. One of the first musical moments with youngest member Jung Kook came via a J. Cole performance back in 2013, and the seven BTS members continued to share their admiration for the Dreamville Records founder. Whether it’s been covers, musical shoutouts, sharing lyrics or playlisting, BTS members J-Hope, RM, Suga, Jin, V, Jimin and Jung Kook shared their affection on multiple platforms. Meanwhile, Cole and his team also showed and returned that mutual respect.
Upon release of J-Hope’s “on the street” with J. Cole at the top of March this year, the song debuted at No. 60 on the Hot 100 to become J-Hope’s highest entry on the chart to date and marked J. Cole’s best showing since 2021. The track also gave J-Hope first entires on several of Billboard‘s R&B/Hip-Hop and Rap charts, including his first No. 1 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Digital Song Sales and second No. 1 on Rap Digital Song Sales. The dynamic duo spend a second week atop both those charts as well. Plus, “on the street” earned J-Hope his first entries on both the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Hot Rap Songs charts.
Beyond chart accomplishments, “on the street” shows two socially conscious and message-driven MCs coming together to collaborate in a way that highlighted the best of their separate but similar worlds. Read on for how Cole World and Hope World came together.
2013: RM & Jung Kook Reinterpret 'Like a Star'
Released before BTS made their official debut, RM and Jung Kook’s rendition of J. Cole’s “Like a Star” was an early indication of Cole’s undeniable influence on the band. Shared more than four months before BTS would release their first album, the Feb. 2, 2013 adaptation of “Like a Star” was the first time BTS introduced Jung Kook to fans with a message describing him as the “golden maknae,” a nickname that’s stuck with him to highlight his skills as the group’s endlessly talented youngest member.
RM and JK’s “Like a Star” remains a streaming-only track today via SoundCloud.
2013: BTS Reinterpret J. Cole's 'Born Sinner' as 'Born Singer'
Less than a month after BTS made their official debut on the music scene, the group revealed “Born Singer,” an unofficial release on their YouTube and Soundcloud accounts on July 11, 2013. The track is adapted from J. Cole’s song “Born Sinner,” the title track and final song on the rapper’s sophomore album released five days after BTS’ debut on June 13, 2013. The track keeps the same production and composition as the original, but BTS rappers RM, Suga and J-Hope rewrote the lyrics.
While Cole’s “Born Sinner” was a dedication to doing better, “Born Singer” was BTS’ reflection on the hardships they felt in their first month after debut. From the start, the Bangtan Boys stood out from other pop stars by showcasing hip-hop as an ingrained musical and lyrical inspiration — which didn’t fit the K-pop industry standards at the time — making “Born Singer” one of their earliest underdog anthems.
2014: J. Cole Gets a Shout-Out on 'Hip Hop Phile'
More than a year after BTS’ official debut, the group released their first studio album, Dark & Wild. While the LP included singles “Danger” and “War of Hormone,” the guys shared their hip-hop inspirations on fan-favorite b-side “Hip Hop Phile.” From shouting out hip-hop forefathers like Gang Star and Nas to the new generation of rappers like Kendrick Lamar and Mac Miller, “Hip Hop Phile” naturally included a mention of J. Cole during J-Hope’s verse. J-Hope dedicated two lines of his verse to Cole: “Hope hope world/ Before I built my own world, there was Cole World.”
2014: RM Gains Inspiration From J. Cole's 'Love Yourz'
During a 2014 episode of Honey FM 06.13, BTS’ ongoing “radio show” that the group used to hold frequently, RM spoke about the inspiration and appreciation he had for J. Cole and the song “Love Yourz,” which was the last single off Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive LP. Not only did RM praise J. Cole as “Jay-Z’s successor,” but he shared how he particularly resonated with the lyrics of self-love and gratitude.
Some ARMY fans even thought this 2014 song might have inspired BTS’ Love Yourself album series from 2017-2018.
2015: RM Includes Two J. Cole Samples in Mixtape
For his first-ever mixtape, BTS leader RM (known back then by his Rap Monster stage name) utilized several samples from other artists’ songs like any classic mixtape. Ranging from J. Dilla and Drake to Major Lazer and Chase & Status, the RM mixtape samples mixed in a range of artists’ sounds as well as two J. Cole samples.
RM’s “Monster” contains the beat from Cole’s “Grown Simba” (a track J. Cole’s own 2009 mixtape that sampled “Overture: A Partial History of Black Music” by composer Mervyn Warren), while the track “God Rap” includes elements of “God’s Gift” (a Cole-produced cut off his debut album Cole World: The Sideline Story).
“Monster” is available for streaming via BTS’ Soundcloud while “God Rap” is only available via downloading the tape via the BTS blog.
2016: J. Cole's 'Billboard' Cover Featured in BTS' Short Film
Only the most eagle-eyed of the ARMY would have spotted this little homage to J. Cole. As part of the lead-up to BTS’ record-setting Wings album, the band revealed “short film” videos to tease upcoming new tracks. In the first short film revealed featuring Jung Kook solo song “Begin,” viewers watch the youngest BTS member grapples with a bad dream that includes a vision of a burning piano. You can spot J. Cole’s Billboard magazine cover from 2013 glowing behind the fire on a door.
That particular cover story dropped right before Cole would release his seminal Born Sinner album, one of the primary inspirations to BTS and solidified him as a breakthrough chart star.
2016: RM Shares Lyrical Inspiration From J. Cole's 'Change'
As the leader of BTS, RM is famous for having the perfect words to share with fans through the years. But he leans on his idols at times too, sharing a line from J. Cole’s “Change,” a b-side from Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only album released in December 2016, just before Christmas that year.
2017: Suga Adds J. Cole to His 'Hip-Hop Replay' Playlist
Alongside classics like Nas’ “N.Y. State of Mind” and The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Notorious Thugs,” plus new-age hip-hop anthems like Drake and Lil Wayne’s “HYFR,” BTS’ Suga was sure to show love to J. Cole by including “Work Out” on the wide-ranging “SUGA’s Hip-Hop Replay” playlist that used to live under BTS’ official Spotify account.
2017: BTS Begin Imagining a J. Cole Collaboration
By 2018, anyone who knew anything about BTS knew of the group’s admiration for J. Cole. Still, five years into their career, the guys started manifesting about working with their dream collaborator. In a Forbes interview around Love Herself: Her, RM listed rappers he’d like to collaborate with for a question. While first listing Dr. Dre and J. Cole before deciding there were “too many,” RM was sure to include that J. Cole was “one of the greatest,” adding, “He’s so cool.”
2018: J-Hope's First Mixtape Title References J. Cole's First Album
Taking inspiration from J. Cole’s first studio album Cole World: The Sideline Story, J-Hope’s first full solo project was named Hope World. The parallel between the two names would show up again years later.
2021-2022: J. Cole Approves Sample for Official 'Born Singer' Release
While BTS prepared for the release of their Proof anthology, including “Born Singer” on the career-spanning project required the OK from J. Cole himself. In an interview with Weverse Magazine, Suga revealed that Cole himself approved.
“I didn’t even know if it could be included on the album,” Suga said. “I wasn’t even sure it would be possible, since the original song is so famous, but J. Cole gave us permission. I want to tell him how grateful I am.”
Suga added that the song was essential to the group and they were excited for newer fans to hear it for the first time potentially.
“We just put it in since it wouldn’t be possible to listen back on this period of ours unless it was in a concert,” he said. “And there might be some ARMY who don’t even know that the song exists. We felt like a lot of who we are went into the song, so we unanimously agreed that it should be included.”
2022: J-Hope & Jimin Meet J. Cole at Lollapalooza
Lollapalooza 2022 was already historic with J-Hope as the first-ever Korean headliner, but the weekend festival became even more special when he linked up with J. Cole. Accompanied by bandmate Jimin, who was there to support the headliner, J-Hope shared photos from backstage at the Chicago fest with a massive smile as he hung out with Cole. J-Hope, J. Cole and Jimin all posed for a photo together.
J-Hope captioned his post simply with “hope world meets cole world,” referencing albums by both artists.
2022: J. Cole's Team Share Excitement for 'Born Singer' on 'Proof'
Once J. Cole gave his blessing for BTS to clear the “Born Sinner” sample for “Born Singer,” everyone was excited. In particular, the song’s co-writer James Fauntleroy, who also features on the track, shared on Instagram that seeing his name on the Proof album tracklisting was “insaaaaaane” and thanked BTS.
With three songs co-produced on Born Sinner alongside Cole, including “Born Sinner” and the TLC-featuring single “Crooked Smile,” Elite wrote on Instagram that “this is fkin crazy.”
Meanwhile, J. Cole manager and Dreamville president Ibrahim “IB” Hamad showed appreciation via Instagram Story when the tracklist dropped. “They got my name in a BTS album credits,” he wrote. “Off a song we made almost 10 years ago. Crazy. Shout out to BTS for the cover of ‘Born Sinner.'”
2023: J. Cole Describes J-Hope Collab as 'A Blessing'
Ahead of the release of “on the street,” J-Hope and J. Cole secretly met to film the music video in New York City. In a behind-the-scenes video that BTS shared from the shoot, viewers saw J-Hope fanboy excitedly over the filming and J. Cole delivered mutual respect back to the K-pop star. Cole said the collaboration “is a blessing” and listened as J-Hope shared how he’s been a fan since his teens. Adorably, J-Hope arrived early and stayed on set to monitor J. Cole’s filming the entire time before the two came together for their joint scene.
2023: J-Hope & J. Cole Release Hit Collaboration
Announced as a special, one-off single for J-Hope, “on the street” was revealed to feature the group’s idol J. Cole to mark a genuinely full-circle moment for the star. The song came just as J-Hope shared that he would soon begin enlisting in South Korea’s mandatory military service, making the collaboration all the more momentous.