J. Cole Reveals Who Kill Edward Is And It’s Deeper Than Rap

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On J. Cole’s newly-released KOD, there is one guest by the name of kiLL edward. The character appears on two songs: “The Cut Off” and “FRIENDS.” These are two powerful cuts on an album that carries three titles: Kids On Drugs, Kill Our Demons, and King Overdose. For an artist who boasts about keeping things in-house, listeners eventually heard no guests, but were spoken to by a Cole alter ego.

Unlike 2016’s 4 Your Eyez Only, J. Cole participated in an interview surrounding KOD. It is his first press of this kind in more than three years. The Hip-Hop superstar spoke to friend Paul Cantor for Vulture and opened up on the creative impetus on his Dreamville/Roc Nation LP that has shattered at least two single-day streaming records. Moreover, while hiking and filming music videos, he expounded on real-life occurrences that inspired kiLL edward from a personal place.

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“[J.] Cole’s connection to addiction is personal. He grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, under the care of his mother, Kay Cole, a letter carrier for the Post Office. Kay struggled with drinking and drugs after Cole’s stepfather, Edward, left in 2003 (KOD’s only guest features come from his alter ego, kiLL edward, inspired by his stepfather). She eventually got clean and sober, but Cole’s still wary of discussing her in interviews,” writes Cantor, who also spoke to Kay Cole in the profile. “The wounds are deep, and he fears her past may negatively affect her now.”

On “Once An Addict,” J. Cole raps about his mother during that period of addiction without rose-tinted lenses: “Hate how she slurrin’ her words / Soundin’ so f*ckin’ absurd / This ain’t the woman I know, why I just sit and observe? / Why don’t I say how I feel? When I do, she’s defensive for real / Well maybe things get better with time, I heard it heals / Little did I know how deep her sadness would go / Lookin’ back, I wish I woulda did more instead of runnin’,” he raps.

Then, on album outro “Window Pain,” Cole spits, “All I wanna do is see my granny on the other side / All I wanna do is kill the man that made my mama cry.” Perhaps, in an LP themed after killing one’s demons, Cole is uses art to conquer his stepfather, Edward, who caused his family pain, and bouts with addiction.

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Songs like this, as well as “FRIENDS” signal personal changes in the artist’s life. While driving a Bentley and traveling for eight weeks at a time, Jermaine Cole admits that he is uneasy in fame—but seemingly more comfortable in his own skin than ever before. The Vulture feature gets to the turning point which coincides with Cole’s rise from a promising chip in JAY-Z’s Roc Nation roster into one of music’s proven superstars.

“I didn’t like how I felt about my life,” J. Cole remembers of adding meditation to his life during the making of 2014 Forest Hills Drive nearly five years ago while living in a rented home in Los Angeles, California. “I’d been depressed for like three years. And I realized I was putting too much importance on what other people thought about me. Also, my mom going through her sh*t had a traumatic impact on me, and I never had a chance to process that sh*t. I just put my head down. I wasn’t having an honest conversation with myself.”

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“FRIENDS,” featuring the “Edward” character, charges: “F*ck did you expect, you can blame it on condition / Blame it on crack, you can blame it on the system / Blame it on the fact that 12 got jurisdiction / To ride around in neighborhoods that they ain’t ever lived in / Blame it on the strain that you feel when daddy missing / Blame it on Trump sh*t, blame it on Clinton / Blame it on Trap music and the politicians / Or the fact that every Black boy wanna be Pippen / But they only got 12 slots on the Pistons / Blame it on the rain, Milli Vanilli with the disk skip / What I’m tryna say is the blame can go deep as seas / Just to blame ’em all I would need like 20 CDs / There’s all sorts of trauma from drama that children see / Type of sh*t that normally would call for therapy / But you know just how it go in our community / Keep that sh*t inside it don’t matter how hard it be / Fast forward, them kids is grown and they blowing trees / And popping pills due to chronic anxiety / I been saw the problem but stay silent ’cause I ain’t Jesus / This ain’t no trial if you desire go higher please / But f*ck that now I’m older I love you ’cause you my friend / Without the drugs I want you be comfortable in your skin / I know you so I know you still keep a lot of sh*t in / You running from yourself and you buying product again / I know you say it helps and no I’m not trying to offend / But I know depression and drug addiction don’t blend / Reality distorts and then you get lost in the wind / And I done seen the combo take ni**as off the deep end / One thing about your demons they bound to catch up one day / I’d rather see you stand up and face them than run away / I understand this message is not the coolest to say / But if you down to try it I know of a better way / Meditate.

At the top of the song, Edward, in distorted vocals, creates a bridge: “I got thoughts, can’t control /Got me down, got me low / Rest my mind, rest my soul / When I blow, when I blow / Am I wrong, let them know / Feels so right to let things go / Don’t think twice, this is me / This is how I should be.

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Seemingly, Edward uses substances, the same ones Cole urges listeners and peers to break free from, to control his thoughts and mental-emotional equilibrium.

Now as a father, Cole describes doing what real-life Edward missed out on. “I’m a f*cking successful rapper, who can literally at the drop of a hat go anywhere, do anything, have mad adventures. But there was no better decision I could have made than the discipline I put on myself of having responsibility, having another human being — my wife — that I have to answer to. Family can literally be the thing you always needed, bring balance and meaning and fuel your creativity, give you purpose,” Cole tells Cantor.

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Cole describes in the feature, how that time as a husband and a father, traveling, played a hand in the creation of KOD. Like the patio meditations that promoted 2014 Forest Hills Drive, this album was made in the midst of real life and feels as such.

Read the full Vulture feature by Paul Cantor. In it, Cole describes seeing Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. Tour and its influence on his direction. He describes a hiking experience that awakened him to the beauty of a world apart from controlled substances. Meanwhile, Heads get a glimpse into the lifestyle of an MC/producer at the top of his game, still fighting to be a common man.