J. Cole’s latest album release proved to be one of the biggest moments in Hip Hop from 2014 and had a sales record to match its crossover appeal. Now, a new ESPN cover story explains Cole’s unlikely connection to legendary NASCAR driver and fellow North Carolina native Dale Earnhardt Jr. and provides some insight into the rapper’s shout-out for the second-generation athlete at the end of the album. The dual-interview uncovered plenty more about both Cole and Earnhardt Jr. and below are eight of the revelations we gleaned from the feature.
1. J. Cole’s Shoutout To Dale Earnhardt Jr. Was A Joke
In the feature, Cole explains how a joke of a shout-out led to this latest ESPN cover: “It all started when I missed the deadline for the physical CD album credits, so I decided to put them on a song and basically shout out everybody who had something to do with the album,” Cole explained. “I’d been working on the album for a year, and I was in such an ecstatic mood—I felt like I won. So while I’m shouting out everybody, I was like, ‘I may as well pretend a shoutout, somebody I have no idea who they are, just as a joke.’
“People who don’t get the joke ask me about it,” he added. “They’re like, ‘Yo, what’d he tell you?’ You didn’t hear the song? I’ve never met him. He didn’t tell me anything. When [he] tweeted that, it was a real big moment in Hip Hop. People were like, ‘Ohhhhh!’ It was a very big thing.”
2. J. Cole & Dale Earnhardt Jr. Had Never Met Before This Cover Story
Calling Earnhardt Jr. a North Carolina legend, Cole explained how his siblings are going to react to their unexpected meeting.
“We’re proud of you too, man,” Cole told Earnhardt. “You’re a legend. My brothers are going to flip. It’s crazy that that shoutout would lead to this.”
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Listens To Cole’s “Power Trip” Before Races
This bit of news was originally buried in a newspaper interview and eventually inspired the comedic shoutout on Cole’s album: “There was an interview Dale Jr. did that asked him what he plays before races, and he said ‘J. Cole “Power Trip,”‘ which freaked me out!” Cole said. “What is Dale Earnhardt Jr. doing playing my shit? How did he even find out about it? You don’t think somebody on that level would ever hear your stuff. From there, I never forgot.”
4. The North Carolina Connection Inspired Earnhardt To Listen To J. Cole
“You pull for a guy because of the local connection,” Earnhardt told ESPN. “It’s a connection, a North Carolina connection, and he reps North Carolina in his music, and he’s proud of where he’s from and bringing recognition to Fayetteville. I’m proud of North Carolina too.”
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Is Usually Nervous Around Celebrities
“Normally, on the rare chance that a celebrity comes to my property, I get real nervous,” the driver said. “But I wasn’t nervous with him, because I knew this looks just like his backyard.”
6. NASCAR Fans Listen To Hip Hop
This may be old news to a particular sect of NASCAR’s audience, but not many Hip Hop heads could have guessed that the sport is a Hip Hop friendly zone.
“To cross into the mainstream and mix these two fields together, it’s a hell of an opportunity for my fans to be introduced to him and vice versa,” Earnhardt said of the 2014 Forest Hill Drive rapper. “There are a lot of fans of mine that are also rap music fans, and that’s different from the stereotype.”
Cole added on: “It’s very blue-collar,” he said of NASCAR. “[Rap] culture has a lot in common with this culture and doesn’t know it. And this culture doesn’t know it either. It could change the world if they were to ever merge and really become friends.”
7. J. Cole Sees The NASCAR Crossover As Productive For Race Relations
While the two cultures are usually considered completely distinct from one another, J. Cole explained how the cultural crossover could inspire learning on both sides about the realities of race in the United States.
“I do believe that with these two worlds—NASCAR and Hip Hop—there’s something to be said here,” Cole started. “Everything that’s happening in the news recently, you’ve got Mike Brown, you’ve got Eric Garner, all these terrible events happening that I feel like the media twists and flips, and there’s all these biases on television that warp the message that’s getting to the NASCAR crowd or this crowd. If there was more of an in-depth, honest look at who these people are—who Mike Brown really was, the fact that this guy had a family that really loved him … and yeah, he had problems. Everybody has problems. That’s one thing that unites us: We have good kids and bad kids. Everybody got bad kids—black and white, rich and poor. Everybody got good kids. I feel like people that look like me and dress like me are often painted as being that bad kid, when in actuality if you got to know us, you would know we’re just like your children.”
8. Dale Earnhardt grew up on Hip Hop
This may be one of the most unexpected bit of news from the interview. Speaking with ESPN for a video-exclusive accompanying the cover story, Earnhardt explained his own history with Hip Hop: “I grew up around it,” he said. “That was what my friends were listening to. Some of my closest friends are big Hip Hop fans. That’s what was on TV. As a race car driver you kind of get stereotyped into, ‘Man, you like Country.’ Or you gotta say you like Country. I do like Country. But I listen to everything.”