J. Cole’s New Song Show’s Our American Nightmare Is Far From MLK’s Dream (Audio)
In 2014, J. Cole was one of the most politically-active artists in Hip-Hop. He was one of the first (and only) to go to Ferguson, MO, in the wake of the slaying of Michael Brown. Months later, he marched with the people in the streets of New York after the police officers who choked the life out of Eric Garner were not charged for their actions. And, Cole’s activism was not for show. In most cases, he made his moves in silence, choosing to let his actions speak for him rather than words or social media pictures.
Given his relative low profile in 2015, after an ongoing cycle of police killing unarmed Black citizens, many expected Cole’s new album, 4 Your Eyez Only, to be a powder keg of political discourse. While songs like “Neighbors,” certainly did have undertones about the state of the nation, for the most part the new album was a deeply introspective look into Cole World. Make no mistake, though. J. Cole is still a man of the people.
Today, he has released “High For Hours,” and, given its subject matter, it is highly unlikely coincidence that he shared the song on the day honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. While Dr. King outlined his dream of what America could be in his famous “I Have A Dream Speech,” Cole’s song is a wake up call that, for Black folks, we are still very much living in a nightmare.
Cole comes out blasting in his very opening line. “American hypocrisy, oh let me count the ways/
They came here seeking freedom and they end up owning slaves,” he raps. He continues, outlining real-life examples of our hypocrisy. “Remember when Bin Laden got killed, supposedly/In a hotel lobby after a show, was noticing/these white ladies watching CNN covering the action/They read the headline and then they all started clapping/As if Lebron had just scored a basket at the buzzer/I stood there for a second watch them high five each other/For real? I though this was thou shalt not kill/But police still letting off on niggas in the Ville/Claiming that he reached for a gun/They really think we dumb and got a death wish/Now somebody’s son is laying breathless.”
Cole’s verse 2 goes even deeper. He tackles a question head on that has weighed on the minds of many Black Americans since Barack Obama became President 8 years ago this week: “What are you going to do for us?” Cole recalls a visit he made to the White House and posing that inquiry directly to the man himself. “Raised my hand and asked the man a question/Does he see the struggles of his brothers in oppression?/And if so, if you got all the power in the clout as the President/What’s keeping you from helping niggas out?” As Cole details Obama’s response, he artfully sums up the frustration, complexity and continued hope that defines his presidency. “He broke the issues down and showed me he was well aware/I got the vibe he was sincere and that the brother cared/But dawg you in the chair, what’s the hold up?/He said ‘there’s things that I wanna fix/But you know this shit nigga, politics/Don’t stop fighting and don’t stop believing/You can make the world better for your kids before you leave it.'”
It is in verse 3, however, that shows why Cole is different from most MCs. Rather than just react to past events or provide commentary for current ones, he prognosticates, as well. We often talk of revolution, but Cole argues we don’t see it through to its logical conclusion. The reality is there have been many revolutions in the world throughout time and each tends to end the same way. “Here’s a thought for my revolutionary heart/Take a deeper look at history, it’s there to pick apart,” Cole raps. “I got to thinking ’bout the history of human nature while this instrumental play/Then I realized something that made me wonder if revolution was really ever the way/Before you trip and throw a fit over these words I say/Think about this shit for a second, you heard the way/The children in abusive households grow up knocking girlfriends out cold/That’s called a cycle. Abused becomes the abuser and that’s how life go/So, understand. You’ll get the power, but you know what power does to man/Corruption always leads us to the same shit again/So when you talk about revolution dawg, I hear just what you saying/What good is taking over, when we know what you gon’ do/The only real revolution happens right inside of you.”
Keep fighting, but make sure it’s the good fight.