As the first artist signed to Jay Z’s label, Roc Nation, previously-underground rapper J. Cole gained overnight name recognition, with the music industry asking, “Who Dat?” The Fayetteville, N.C.-native turned the question into the title of his first single, which hit the Billboard charts last summer. But with Jay-Z’s support and early comparisons to Nas under his varsity jacket, the young rapper is focused on a more important question: “What’s next?”

J. Cole is making history … with one of the most anticipated albums of 2011. After convincing his mother to bring home a beat machine — compromising all future birthday and Christmas presents at the age of 15 — Jermaine Lamarr Cole moved to New York City to differentiate himself from other southern rappers. There, he did got attention the hard way — putting out mixtapes and MySpace messages, applying for internships, and making shirts with slogans like “Produce for Jay-Z or Die Trying” — all while attending St. John’s University.

After releasing his first mixtape, The Come Up, J. Cole hooked up with business partner Mike Rooney, and after almost two years of cycling his music around, nailed a meeting with Hova himself. He played Jay-Z a single, “Lights Please”, and within three weeks, it was a done deal. Since then, J. Cole has released two official mixtapes – 2009’s The Warm Up and 2010’s Friday Night Lights, featuring Kanye West and Drake — and has his first studio album forthcoming in 2011.

What’s next for J. Cole?

The expected drop date for J. Cole’s as-yet untitled debut is Spring 2011, with confirmed songs including “Never Told,” “Wet Dreams,” and “Won’t Be Long” and collaborations including No I.D., Danjahandz, and Brian Kidd. That’s not the only collaborator J. Cole has in mind — when asked in a recent interview with Bootleg Kev, J. Cole confessed that he would love to make an album with the artist he’s been most frequently compared to, hip-hop legend Nas, saying “Whenever Nas is ready, I’m ready.”

What inspires J.Cole?

“People really inspire me,” the rapper told theGrio. “If it’s a conversation I overhear or just my day to day life experiences — all of that influences my goals and allows me to keep pursuing the dream while not taking things for granted and never giving up.”

On black history …

“I celebrate black history every day by really living life and taking advantage of the opportunities made possible by past civil rights leaders and people paving the way every day,” J. Cole told theGrio.

In his own words …

“I’ve always been a preacher, for the past few years, that rap is turning a corner. It has to. Everything happens in cycles, people had to be hungry for more in order for there to be more. And the people were starving,” J. Cole told Complex Magazine in 2009.

A little-known fact …

Before taking getting signed with Jay Z, J. Cole got his diploma from St. John’s University — magna cum laude, with a major in communication and a minor in business.

Click here for more …