J. Cole Is Hunting Rappers & Keeping Their Heads As Trophies (Video)

One month ago, J. Cole opened his 2019 with “Middle Child.” After some cryptic messaging leading into the T-Minus-produced song, Cole delivered on January 23 with some words aimed at those who doubt him. “Ni**as been countin’ me out,  I’m countin’ my bullets / I’m loadin’ my clips / I’m writin’ down names, I’m makin’ a list / I’m checkin’ it twice, and I’m gettin’ ’em hit.” The series of bars continues, “The real ones been dyin’, the fake ones is lit / The game is off balance, I’m back on my sh*t.” The song and its premise succeeded; “Middle Child” went to #4 on the charts. It marks the highest-charting record of Cole’s career, following a banner 2018 led by KOD. Sadly, that album was snubbed, receiving no Grammy nominations. However, in the video, Cole gets his trophies by other means.

The just-released visual for “Middle Child.” It is chock full of symbolism. After an early sequence in the morgue, Cole moves to be surrounding trophy kills of “your favorite rapper” in a hunting lodge. He takes a Bentley SUV carrying the Dreamville flag and treats it like an off-road Jeep 4×4. Cole is still from the mud, and more than willing to make an example out of anybody who tests him. He also stands in front of a marching band, ready to do battle like good old fashioned “Friday Night Lights” football. Later in the vid’, he also plays to the Everyman image that has become part of his brand. Much of the video is delivered from a grocery store, where copy-cat Rap faces are there for sale on the racks. J. Cole is moving down the aisle, ready to ring up any MC, listener, or critic that wishes to check him.

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In the “Middle Child” lyrics, J. does not confront his critics by name. If anything, the record appeared to be an alliance of sorts. Using the moment, J. bigged up his peer Drake. Over the last 10 years, the two artists had been compared to one another. Despite Cole’s Roc Nation association to JAY-Z, many compared his early style to Nas, and Drake’s polished hit-making to Jay. Since then, both artists have defied just about all comparisons. While Rap fans love this-or-that with the genre’s stars, Cole used “Middle Child” to describe where he fits in the game, and to assert that Drake is his brother. “Just put the Rolly’ back on my wrist / This watch came from Drizzy; he gave me a gift / They act like two legends cannot co-exist / But I never beef with a ni**a for nothin’, if I smoke a rapper, it’s gon’ be legit / It won’t be for clout, it won’t be for fame / It won’t be ’cause my sh*t is not selling the same / It won’t be to sell my latest sneakers, it won’t be ’cause some ni**a slid in my lane.”

Some, including The Joe Budden Podcast hosts, speculated that the song was bonding with Drake at a time when Pusha-T and Kanye West are combative towards the OVO founder. True to his way, J. Cole has never specified on that, even while Dreamville’s J.I.D. admitted (on the same episode of Budden’s show) that he welcomes smoke with any Rap peers, including Push’.

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The video is directed by Mez.

#BonusBeat: Genius recently spoke with T-Minus on the making of “Middle Child” for an episode of “Deconstructed”: