J. Cole recently sat down with Tavis Smiley, the talk show host and political commentator, to have a wide-ranging discussion that touched on the importance of reading, the relative failures of the American school system, how he prefers to tell stories through his raps rather than battling other artists and recording music and how he came to title his last album 2014 Forest Hills Drive. On the last subject, Cole was remarkably candid, recalling how at the house he, his mother and brother had lived previously, he had to tip-toe around the furnace to avoid burning his feet. While the Forest Hills residence was considerably nicer–with ample yard space for the family’s ten pit bulls–it was mitigated by he and his brother’s hostility toward their mother’s new husband. Cole also ran through several tracks on the record, including “Fire Squad,” which and Smiley agreed was an example of the competitive spirit they each value so much in artists, especially in hip-hop. Finally, he explained that, though the house was foreclosed on when he was 18, he has purchased back the house and will be renting it out, free of charge, for single mothers in one- or two-year increments.
Smiley also shared the anecdote of Cole walking onto the set before the show was taped, clutching a copy of Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year, Smiley’s new book on the last year of the Reverend’s life. He and Cole used this as a springboard to talk about the importance of being a voracious reader, something the rapper hopes he can use as a descriptor by the time he turns 40 in 10 years