Volunteer writer, Gugundeep Kaur, writes about an artist who is doing great things for the community, the art and political awareness in America; that artist is J. Cole.
Whether it’s subverting black male stereotypes, or critiquing governmental institutions, J. Cole was instrumental in the popularisation of politically conscious rap. Despite his rap having a strong political undercurrent, the universality of Cole’s rhymes speak to a much larger group of people due to his empowering messages.
In his album 4 Your Eyes Only, Cole works to sustain an evolving storyline of a man dealing drugs, dealing with love and loss, yet the album itself is a gift for Cole’s friends’ daughter. Fatherhood and loss are key themes in this album, which veers away from the mass market rappers that just combine lively beats with meaningless lyrics in order to gain attention for their records. The substance of Cole’s lyrics is as cutting as it is emotional. Moreover, his stripped back, almost vintage, instrumentals and amazing wordplay both work to further empower what he is saying.
What gives Cole the edge in the rap game is how he refuses to conform to a stereotype, albeit a racial one or the gangster rapper stereotype – Cole provides his listeners with content that is rich in role models and good messages. Yet this never distracts from the political core of his oeuvre. A song that gained a lot of traction was ‘Neighbors’, along with the disturbing music video that contained video footage of when the police forcefully entered Cole’s studio believing that there were drugs on the premises. Cole raises the issue that has long been reverberating around the hip-hop industry, from Dead Prez to Joey Bada$$, of the warped politics of America and its justice and policing systems that continually work against African Americans.
The incident with Cole is no standalone issue; marijuana was found in Botham Jean’s house after he was shot by an off-duty cop. One of Cole’s most important songs, and performances, is ‘Be Free’, which was a tribute to Mike Brown, who was killed in Ferguson. The depth and sorrow in Cole’s live performance show his deep connection to the events in Ferguson and also his credit as an artist.
Raising awareness of police brutality while also promoting positive role models is why J. Cole is such an important figure not only in the rap game, but in the African American community too. Cole’s impact extends beyond his music, he inspires the youth of his hometown Fayetteville to remain in education and to realise their potential. What’s incredible about the rapper is how he bought the home he grew up in, but rents it out to struggling families when they are desperate, to live rent-free while they make plans and develop an income.
Cole has supported the African American community in so many ways over the years beyond just his music, and along with Kendrick Lamar and Joey Bada$$, is at the forefront of rap that has a message that inspires but also bluntly presents the reality of life in America.
Art in header by @mdkeyart.