The warm up: My coming of age story

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3 years ago, at a coffee house somewhere in Kuala Lumpur, I was reading the letter my favourite rapper, J Cole wrote to commemorate the fifth anniversary of his second mixtape, The Warm Up.

I couldn’t remember when I heard the mixtape last. I’ve moved on to enjoying his more recent releases (Born Sinner, his second full-length album was released a year before the letter was penned and it was my jam for months); and of other rappers and artists too, of course. I’ve long forgotten about the mixtape that introduced me to Cole – perhaps the only rapper in the game I feel like I’m connected to the most.

I think about all the times over the past few years that one of you has said to me, “you’re the reason I went to college,” “yo, The Warm Up got me through some hard times,” “got me through law school,” “med school,” “high school,” “The Warm Up changed my life.”

I imagine that 5 years ago we all wanted more. The Warm Up was just something that put music and words to what we were feeling.


– J. Cole

I remember the year when I discovered Cole – through The Warm Up (“Lights Please” to be specific)– I was this 22 years old college girl from Malaysia with dreams that felt bigger than herself. I remember having this feeling deep down inside – a fear-like consciousness where I felt like I was mediocre at best – but my outlook and my action won’t let them shown. I worked hard, I was determined and I had this tinge of cockiness unfavored by many, yet I couldn’t care less. Nothing and no one could stop me from doing what I need to do to achieve my dreams.

The Warm Up was the mixtape that got me through final year of college (among other specific songs by other artists/bands/rappers. “With Arms Outstretched” by Rilo Kiley is another one that got me through everything then) and off to actually realising the dream that once felt impossible to achieve.

I remember the year I would turn 23, when I tried to chase my dream to become a writer in the land of angels, only to end up coming back home having to refigure my plan because I was mediocre (but definitely was a better writer than I am now, that’s for sure).

And refiguration can be a bitch. At least it was to me, for a couple of years.

I’m wondering where you are today. 5 years later. The Warm Up dropped when some of you were upperclassmen in college. I’m hoping that you’ve found a career doing some shit you love, something that makes you happy. Maybe you needed more time to figure it out. Grad School? Or maybe you’re back in your parents crib trying to regroup. Everything will be OK. Don’t stop dreaming.


I remember getting very emotional. I remember that I cried reading his letter, right there and then. I remember going back to DatPiff and streamed The Warm Up for weeks. I remember looping “Grown Simba” for days. I remember printing the letter out and pasted it on my room’s wall. I would have it pasted in my work area at BBDO. I remember the only person who ever made a remark about it was my then colleague and fellow Dreamville devotee, Heshvin.

The letter reminded me of the young Nazirah, when I dared to dream and determined to at least attempt in making things happen. I remember not afraid of failing. I remember that I tried. I remember…


5 years ago, I became interested in social media and the digital world. I remember wanting to have a career in those fields and I did. I started over, I grew and I like to think that I’m flourishing. I remember starting my plus size fashion blog, capturing my fat girl style and wanting to inspire others and fill the void in representation of women that look like me. I remember that I didn’t really have everything figured out yet, I just knew that I had to try.

And I did exactly that… try.

Concluding his letter, he wrote: ‘Read this as if these words were yours, because they are:

In 5 years I have come so far. I am grateful to be here today, alive and full of potential. But I am not satisfied. I still want more. I still have dreams, even bigger now than before. I will not settle or conform. I rededicate myself to greatness. I give my time and my passion to my craft, because I realize that the work I put in today affects the life that I live tomorrow. I believe in myself. And to all those that doubt me I say, “Fuck that. I will be Greater. Watch me.

Picture credit: Amirul Halim

My name is Nazirah Ashari, I’m an ad-woman – a strategist to be specific, body positive advocate and an aspiring singer based out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Over the past couple of months, I’ve been taking on a new role at Malaysian independent creative agency, The Clan. I’ve been planning about writing this first post and refreshing my digital presence. I’ve been thinking a lot about J Cole, obviously. Heck, I never stopped thinking about Cole. I listen to him almost everyday.

In the next couple of months, I’ll be turning 30. Hopefully in the next two weeks, I’ll be soft launching a new project that is very close to my heart. In the past two weeks, I’ve been jamming, performing and writing some music with a bunch of friends, with hope to kickstart a new project band of our own. In about six weeks, I’ll be embarking on a much-needed solo trip. While on this trip —6th of October, to be specific— I’ll be seeing J Cole live for the first time ever in my life, thousand of miles away from home, after being a fan for eight years.

Exciting times, eh? Nah, the future’s gonna get better, inshaAllah. I’m just warming up.

I can’t tell you where I’m going, just know I won’t stop
Goodbye to the bottom, hello to the top.

– J Cole in “Grown Simba”, from the mixtape The Warm Up.

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