The Enduring Popularity of J. Cole’s Anti-Materialist Anthem “No Role Modelz”
J. Cole didn’t do much to promote the arrival of his third studio album, Forest Hills Walk 2014. He did not release any promotional singles, and he did not appear on any talk shows or give radio interviews. But he didn’t have to – without features or marketing, the album famously debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in December 2014 and went on to earn a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album. And today, her third single, “No Role Modelz,” is more popular than ever.
The ninth track wooded hills, “No Role Modelz” was produced by Phonix Beats, J. Cole and DJ Dahi. The beat originated with Phonix Beats, who came up with the idea for the horn melody just before he was supposed to pick up his girlfriend. “I was like, ‘I have to get back into the studio, I just have this idea to do,'” Phonix told Genius.
He then played the track for DJ Dahi, who immediately requested the file. That night, Phonix received a call. “Cole was in the background. I didn’t know who it was,” he recalls. “He just picked up the phone and was like, ‘Listen, you have to come now. I’m like, ‘Who’s yelling at me?’ He’s like, ‘It’s J. Cole.’ “
The Phonix horn melody remained central to the beat of “No Role Modelz”, but Cole had a few more additions to make. He argued with Phonix – and won – over adding 808 to the drum pattern, and he also knocked the producer into some unexpected nature sounds. “He says, ‘I need birds. I just hear birds,” Phonix recalls. “I put out a bunch of different bird sounds, and I find it really funny because I’m like, ‘Yo, I just listened to a thousand different birds.’ I finally found this one where there’s a flock of birds flying around, and so I’m like, ‘What if I use them as a hi-hat?’ »
It all came together to create the high-energy instrumental, on which Cole reflects on his love-hate relationship with materialistic LA women and what that dynamic means about his own upbringing. Along the way, Cole makes three references to the iconic ’90s sitcom The prince of Bel-Air. The first comes in the opening verse, where Cole – who was raised by his mother after his father left in his early childhood – claims that the series’ fictional patriarch, Uncle Phil, was his only father figure in growing.
First things first: rest in peace Uncle Phil
You’re the only father I’ve ever known
I get my female dog pregnant, I’ma be a better you
Despite his lack of role models, Cole then found fame and success in Hollywood, where he faced a new set of problems. Finding love with a good woman is one of them. On the pre-chorus, Cole differentiates between two types of women he can date in Los Angeles. He salutes any man who can tell the difference between the real ones and their superficial, materialistic counterparts.
Once for my LA sisters
One time for my LA hoes
Lame niggas can’t tell the difference
Once for a guy who knows
Although he is able to make this distinction, Cole sometimes finds himself drawn to these troubled women. He explained how a specific experience partly inspired this song during a 2015 concert in London. “There was this girl, some kind of daddy issues and insecurities screwed her up,” he said. “I thought I could look past it, so next week I find myself on her Instagram, like I often am. Her Instagram is really made for a thirsty nigga like me… I’m like, ‘She’s perfect. What I found out the hard way is that she’s not perfect. This is all a mask to hide the fact that she’s really screwed. I haven’t had a chance to help her, but I wrote this song about her.
Cole suppresses that urge to try and save her, where he interpolates Project Pat’s 2001 song “Don’t Save Her,” featuring DJ Paul and Juicy J.
Don’t save her, she don’t want to be saved
Don’t save her, she don’t want to be saved
During the interlude, Cole samples a speech given by former President George W. Bush, where he accidentally botches the popular phrase, “Fool me once, shame on you.” Fool me twice, shame on me.” Cole deliberately plays with the same expression on the bridge, where he admits it’s not entirely the girl’s fault for dragging him into her mess.
Fool me once, shame on you (Ayy)
Fool me twice, I can’t blame you (Ayy)
Cole’s Other fresh prince references appear on its third and fourth verses. In the third verse, Cole calls out the character of Aunt Viv as an example of the type of partner he is looking for. He also uses Will Smith’s real-life marriage to actress Jada Pinkett-Smith as an example of the relationship he wants – a line that has sparked a new debate and returned the song to the forefront of pop culture after the debacle of Smith at the 2022 Oscars.
I want real love, dark skinned Aunt Viv’s love
That Jada and who will love
In the fourth verse, Cole continues to list examples of his ideal woman. Among the famous women he praises is fresh prince actress Nia Long, who played Will’s girlfriend Lisa on the show.
My only regret was too young for Lisa Bonet
My only regret was too young for Nia Long
Now all I have left are reality show hoes
Give her a script, female dog probably couldn’t read
“No Role Modelz” was the highest charting single wooded hills upon its release, climbing to No. 36 on the Billboard Hot 100, and its popularity only skyrocketed. In March this year, nearly eight years after its drop, the track became the oldest song on the Spotify Top Songs – USA chart, appearing on the list for 2,274 days. Not only that, it reached a new high on the streaming platform’s chart on March 31, climbing to No. 12 with 527,000 streams in one day. Some might say the song’s enduring success is due to its highly controversial, introspective lyrics, while others may attribute its timelessness to the infectious beat. More likely, it’s a magical combination of the two.
You can read all the lyrics of “No Role Modelz” on Genius now.