The success of J. Cole's debut album, Cole World: The Sideline Story, may be evidence of a new business model emerging in the music industry. Specifically, in hiphop.
From a business perspective, Cole's release broke almost every conventional marketing rule. He led his campaign by releasing "Who Dat." The single was more of a lyrical diatribe than a club banger. Add to the fact that J. Cole, a magna cum laude graduate from St. John University, doesn’t fit the profile of your typical mainstream rapper.
At any rate, his single wasn’t radio friendly and warranted few spins. It was later added as a bonus track on the iTunes version of the LP.
Despite the modest success of the single, J. Cole fans were elated to see him transition to the mainstream. Cole later released the critically acclaimed Friday Night Lights Mixtape, which included the single "In the Morning" featuring Drake. The record was very well received, but it still didn’t win a top position on the charts. However, during the 2 years or so that J. Cole spent working on the project, the body of work he released via Friday Night Lights and the Any Given Sunday EP series won over new supporters and kept his old fans wanting more.
His strong fanbase translated into impressive record sales. Cole World eventually rose to the #1 position on the Billboard 200. With no standout single, we see an example of a grassroots movement at its finest.
D. A. Pongo, a business major here at SIUE and Chicago native, has been a leading contributor to black studies projects. Among other projects, he co-produced our Malcolm X Mixtape—a mixed media production featuring rap music and videos paying tribute to the radicalism of Malcolm.