(Photo courtesy of Gotee Records)
Why It’s Aaron Cole’s Year
An Interview With Gotee Records Emerging Artist
By Sarah Komisky
2020 is Aaron Cole’s year, but it might not be for the reasons you think. Dating back his music career to a time when most kids are still in preschool; the recording artist always had a drive for the craft and the backing of his family to support his artistic endeavors. Releasing six independent releases, the hip/hop/R&B singer was then signed to Gotee Records by legendary founder TobyMac. Cole came out of the music gates swinging with the debut single, “Right on Time” and “One More Day” in 2017 topping radio charts. Collaborating with other musicians such as Hollyn, Canon, Deraj, and DJ Maj, the artist that was still in his teens at the time, was being named the one to watch. Compared to Drake by music lovers and being praised by Essence Magazine, the new artist reached a new level of success when he became the first hip hip/R&B artist to win a Dove Award for new artist of the year in 2019. It was at this pinnacle of success that everyone dubbed 2019 Aaron Cole’s year. However, in January of 2020, the artist posted a social media statement that said otherwise, noting, “after I won the Dove I was tripping…bad.” After a time of serious self-reflection, the artist is now starting a new year with a new mantra: AOTY (All Of This Yours). On the brink of embarking on the much anticipated Toby Mac Hits Deep Tour 2020, Cole took some time to chat with me about his EP (“AOTY”), his decluttering process, and his new perspective that is making this year, his year. Here is what he had to say.
Sarah: I want to go back to the time that “Right On Time” came out and “One More Day,” as a lot of people know you from those songs, so maybe you can share a little bit about that time in life when you really started to emerge as an artist.
Aaron: I think when “Right On Time” and “One More Day” came out, I was in a pretty good space. I think I was just very inspired because coming from Bristol, Virginia, a small town. At that point in time, I felt like the whole city was on my shoulders, you know? It was a good time, then I just continued to grow and grow and grow.
Sarah: Let’s kind of bring it up to date with “AOTY.” This month our theme in our magazine is a play on decluttering. Every new year, publications give tips on how to clean up and organize your house and so we wanted to talk about that in an emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical sense. So, tell me about these new songs that just came out and how it reflected that theme of decluttering in your own life.
Aaron: Aight, so I think right before I won a Dove award, I was just kinda feeling stagnant. I had a lot of success. I was still staying consistent but I still kinda felt like I was in the same place. I was honestly surprised that I won a Dove award. For me I was like, “Okay, I have enough accolades to get this, so it’s possible.” But with politics and stuff in this industry, I was like, “Eh, I wouldn’t be surprised if I didn’t get it.” So when I got it, I just felt the pressures of the world. Out of nowhere, everyone was like, “Yo, you’re a legend. You’re the first hip hop artist to ever win best new artist of the year. You’re just going crazy.” I just took that to my head; like, man, I’m the first hip hop artist to ever do this. Everything has to be perfect now. I have to control everything and make sure I look a certain way to the public eye. I just started to feel myself a lot and I started to say some wild things to my friends that I’m better than people in music and stuff like that. I just took a turn and woke up one day like, “Man, I’m not really proud of who I am right now.” I just tapped into people in my circle and they made me aware.
I went through a process of counseling and really spending time with God every morning, receiving affirmations and stuff like that. It’s still a process now––it’s a constant process to stay humble and stay on the right track, especially in music. Then I made these songs of how I felt. It’s a two song EP called “AOTY.” Of course, one still stands for “Artist of the Year,” but also God showed me that all of this is yours. All of this is God’s. With that, there’s two songs on there. The first one’s called “mad!” and I just feel like there’s multiple meanings. One, when I won the Dove award, although there were a lot of people celebrating me, there were also a lot of people that were mad that I won the Dove, and because of all the circumstances I was under, they were mad. Also, another meaning is–– I feel like our enemies and the devil is mad when God’s people win. But then there’s another song called “my year.” It’s an interesting song. I got this video from a kid that showed me that he’d been following my music and said I’d been going to another level. So I had to put him in the song. Then in the song, it’s me talking about how I was. I felt good about myself. I was very confident. Like I felt nobody could stop me. Then it goes into an outro where I talk about how all this stuff is cool but the only thing that’s going to last, is what’s done for God. So that’s why it’s my year. I think it’s been a whole process. This is really how I’m going to live my whole life. Like AOTY, all of this is yours. Like, giving everything to God. Even with the release, it was supposed to come out earlier and I was starting to become upset, angry. I was just talking to my dad and he said, “How are you going to have a release that’s called ‘All of this is Yours’ and you get upset because He changed it a little bit?” So AOTY is just my whole life; it’s going to be the name of my tour later on this year. It’s going to be just everything. I just really love when I stick to AOTY; it’s just a part of my new branding.
Sarah: I feel like our culture, especially young people, are seeking fame and popularity. What would you speak to our generation about this topic because they’d say, “Wow Aaron, you reached that. You got to that place, and then you said, ‘It wasn’t everything I thought it would be.’” What would you say?
Aaron: Yeah, for sure. I think it really happens for almost every artist that I hear about. You strive so much to be like, “I want people to know my music; I want people to know about me. I want to walk at places and people stop me and take pictures with me.” When you get it, you’re like “OK, I can chill out for a bit.” It starts to be a lot, where a lot of the times people don’t want to take pictures with people sometimes. But you have to do it, you know what I’m sayin? When I reached a point where I was like, “Man, this is really starting to blow up. I noticed at certain times I was pushing away people that cared about me most. And I also wasn’t building new relationships with people in the industry. I made a post about that too on my page. I wasn’t pointing to the next generation or communicating with the peers on the same level as me. I was just all about myself, all about me. I think I came to the realization that a lot of artists need; being known is nothing. You don’t have the people around you that care about you and love you and check you every day. Fame is nothing without community, just like every day life is nothing without community. It’s even worse when you’re in the public eye and your alone and your just doing whatever you want to do. Now instead of saying, “I have to do this. I have to take pictures with people. I have to do all the things that come with fame,” it’s like nah, “I get to do this. I get to take pictures with people. I get to make people’s day. I get to inspire people. I get to use the gift that God gave me to pour into people that are looking up to me every day.” I think that’s what I’m trying to change. Changing my perspective with reaching fame.
Sarah: You mentioned your dad and family as a big part of your growth journey. That can be devalued with young people. Talk about how you learned something else from having family around you––talk about how that was a major part of your recovery.
Aaron: I was just telling my friends I’m starting to realize as I get older, I’m still very young, and as I continue to grow and learn. I noticed how much my family sacrificed for me and it was a rare thing for me at three-years-old for my parents to be like, “Yo, you should be a rapper and pursue music.” That does not happen. [laughs]. That’s such a rare thing. For me now, they’re the most important people in my life that could check me. That could help me get on the right track. As I think about it, they were there from the very beginning, and they’re still here now. They’re still driving 10 hours to shows. How could you ever shun your family or forget a family like that? Even some people around me that don’t have an immediate family, it’s important, it’s even biblical to have community whether that’s having church family or your friends––it’s having people around you that are your family and you can count on.
A lot of times, especially in hip hop, they just be like, “I don’t need nobody else.” [laughs]. I don’t think that’s true at all. We definitely need people around us all the time. You can’t tell me that young people today don’t want a boyfriend or girlfriend. They want those things. Everyone desires to be around someone and not be alone. Community also keeps you out of trouble; when people know where you’re going and where you’re at, it’s harder to get in trouble.
Sarah: Now that everyone’s talking about Kobe Bryant, about community and family, I think these are such a good words to bring that back––the value of people around you and to cherish them. You went back to the mall you sang at growing up; talk about what that meant. If you could go back and speak to the younger Aaron, what would you say?
Aaron: OK, I would tell him that he doesn’t have to prove himself. A lot of the times, coming from Bristol, I felt like I had to prove that I was a good rapper, that I was a good singer, that I could do both, that I could write, that I could perform, that I was better than the people in the positions that I wanted to be in, and I had to prove that I’m a Christian. I just felt like I had to prove everything. When God already put that inside of me, and if I just act in His will and calling––know that all of it is God’s and it’s going to work out how it’s going to work out––I would have been way more happier. It was good to keep up my drive and determination, but I think I could do it in a different way and not have to prove myself. Nobody has to prove themselves, honestly.
Even with Kobe Bryant, everyone was struck for like a day, and then that second day, everyone’s on with their lives, you know? It’s sad. Everyone just keeps going. What happened with Kobe struck me. Why prove ourselves to people every day when we could walk in our calling? Walk in our purpose? How Kobe was––he didn’t make his identity in basketball. After he transitioned out of basketball, he was a great dad, a great husband, he was a great person in the community. He was a coach. He made the transition well because he didn’t make his identity into one thing to prove he was a great basketball player. So, that’s just how I’m trying to live my life. Man, I don’t have to prove I’m a great performer, I don’t have to prove anything.
Sarah: I want to talk about you being vulnerable and real. With our magazine, here at Marked Ministry we want to do something different. We want to talk about those issues that are not talked about enough in the church. It’s different to go through recovery and wellness in circles, yet putting it on social media is a whole different thing. Why did you decide to get to that place of being transparent and then share it with other people? What does that mean to you?
Aaron: I think it was my circle that helped me make that decision. I wanted to be honest, but I didn’t know how it would come across on social media. But I think people related to it. I think that was the main thing; If I was able to share this and my flaws, it will help people. That’s more important than me looking a certain way or that I’m a terrible human. This will help people to show them there’s grace for their mess-ups. I messed up in a way that people didn’t see, but I saw, and God saw, so why not put it on the forefront for people? Being vulnerable just helps people period. Even in your everyday life, being relateable to people is a very important thing when it comes to community.
Sarah: You’re going on tour again. It’s just starting up, TobyMac has been huge in your life. You’ve been on tour with him and coming back, you have a fresh perspective. What does that mean now for you in 2020, going on this new tour?
Aaron: This one feels a bit different than the others. I’d literally be texting Toby like “You’re such a legend!” I hit him up all the time to let him know because for him, he didn’t have to give me a record deal out of Virginia. He didn’t have to believe in me as much as he did. He didn’t have to take me on any of his tours. But he always offers. He’s always up to entrusting me to what I want to do. He was in my process too of getting out of the arrogant phase and being humble because he was sharing his experience too––how it’s easy for that to happen. He was proud of me that I recognized it and wanted help. Toby’s my homie. We’d be playing basketball and joke all the time. It feels amazing to have a legend as a friend like that. The tour this year is different. I feel like I’m in a different phase, like I’m actually my own artist. The past two years I felt like I’ve been trying to figure it out; now I feel like I’ve figured it out and this tour is going to be totally different.
Sarah: I see that you give back a lot. That’s something that we love too at our magazine. This year, coming from a fresh perspective, as the new Aaron, talk about how you want to implement that more.
Aaron: I really want to do more of that. I think Kobe inspired me to do more of that too. All the things he did in the past and how many people he impacted, I want to pour into the next generation; my city back home. I’ve just been inspired by that. I feel like this year’s definitely going to be that time. I’m starting a clothing line, so I want to start giving clothes to people who don’t have them; kids who don’t have clothes for school. I just really want to make that a part of who Aaron Cole is, not just the artist.
To find out more about Aaron and to pick up his music, visit www.iamaaroncole.com/