This track finds Cole recounting his struggles to come up with a good single to lead his debut album, Cole World: The Sideline Story
. He eventually came up with "Work Out
" only to be crushed when he found out that one of his idols, Nas, didn't like the song. Cole recounted during a private listening session in NYC, how when he presented his label boss, Jay-Z, with single options like "Who Dat
" "Blow Up" and "Can't Get Enough
" none were deemed suitable. "The next six months of my life was literally hell, which is what this album is about," he explained. "Going through hell, tryna make it to heaven, going through depression, trying to make it to happiness. The next six months of my life, I was making some of the worst, most uninspired music of my life."
Finally, "Work Out" happened, which Cole acknowledged was a commercial radio record, but he was still surprised by the negative reaction. "It was the worst response I've ever gotten on any song I've ever put out. It was a terrible response," he revealed. "When I made that song, it was a triumph."
But the real dagger blow was when producer No I.D. relayed to him Nas' disappointment in "Work Out." He recalled the producer saying: "I was in the studio with Nas and we was talking about you and he was like, 'Yo, why did he do that? Why did he put out that song? Don't he know he's the one? He ain't gotta do that.'"
Cole went on the defense. "I was hurt. I was like, 'damn, why he gon' say that? They ain't gon' box me in, like they box him in," he admitted. "I'm getting defensive, but really, I'm just hurt as a fan. I idolize that dude; I had his raps written on the wall."
Despite all the criticism, the song proved to be a success, peaking at #13 on the Hot 100. "Eventually 'Work Out' became a monster record," Cole stated. "It wouldn't leave radio, it was a smash, and I'm grateful for that song. But at the time, it was hurtful. I really vented on that song."