J. Cole Explains Why Cancel Culture Is The Problem Not The Solution
Having spent more than the past decade polishing his craftsmanship as an MC/producer and staying true to his destined path as an uncompromising individualist, J. Cole has mastered the art of controlling one’s narrative. While he admittedly isn’t a fan of the “platinum, no features” memes that have become synonymous with the success his creative output consistently has yielded over the last five years, it’s hard not to applaud the Fayetteville, North Carolina native for carving his own path, built off the strength that he knows exactly who he is, and arguably, exactly what he stands for.
As the cover star of XXL‘s spring issue, aptly accompanied by the entirety of his Dreamville roster, the label boss finds himself carefully and consciously opening up to the publication’s Executive Editor John Kennedy about a slew of topics, including mental health, empathy, cancel culture and what he aims to accomplish during what he’s already manifested to be his “most fun year” yet.
Whether he is speaking admirably about how he and his label, which is comprised of J.I.D., Ari Lennox, EarthGang, Omen, Lute, Bas and Cozz, are plotting their collective takeover of the Rap game or speaking candidly about how he is approaching getting older, this interview finds J. Cole in a state of mind that fans seldom see. As exemplified by his notable candor, he keeps it as real as possible, showcasing how self-awareness has become a cornerstone of his identity and how that enables him to remain simultaneously a student and a maestro.
Earlier this year, Hip-Hop fans eyes brightened at the mystical existence of Cole’s curated “Rap Camp,” which featured 10 consecutive days of recording sessions that showcased how glorious collaboration can be. The sessions, which will eventually result in the release of the highly anticipated compilation Revenge Of The Dreamers III, exemplify how the label is dedicated to cultivating a legacy that can inspire artists for generations to come.
“We just a new and unique incarnation.” Cole shares, touching on his vision for the imprint while at these very studio sessions. “Hopefully we add to the great lineage of Rap labels.” He then explains how the label came to fruition in the first place. “This is something I wanted before I was even signed. I had the whole label name: Dreamville. I remember when I came up with it I told R.J., I told [Ibrahim Hamad]. We were walking through Manhattan. I had the concept back then and I don’t know why. I don’t know if it was because that’s how [JAY-Z] did it, how Ruff Ryders did it. Then me being 22, 23 years old saying, ‘I want to do that, too.'”
After noting how he feels like he has a responsibility to help his Dreamville family build sustainable careers now that he has accomplished exactly that, he touches on how he has slowly but surely been opening up to working with others in his own music.
2018 marked a buffet of Cole features that stood as tall as one of the year’s (if not the) best albums in KOD. Whether alongside Rapsody or Royce 5’9, 21 Savage or 6LACK, Cole made it count in a major way. “I don’t think it’s at that level, but I had fun. Last year, I set an intention to say yes way more than I say no. Say yes to features. Step outside of my comfort zone. And it’s still going,” Cole elaborates. “I’m trying to level up this year on the features. Last year was like a preview. I don’t want to be done with Rap years from now and look back like, ‘Damn, I didn’t even work with nobody.’ I don’t want to have no regrets. The year that I’m going to have is all coming from a place of when this sh*t is all said and done, I want to know that I left no stone unturned. I f*cking did everything I wanted to do. Even sh*t I didn’t want to do but ended up being glad that I did it in the end.”
Cole also talks about embracing his role as Hip-Hop’s “middle child” as well as how getting older has influenced his decisions to invest in other artists and making the most of his time as a humble visionary.
“I look at myself—no bullsh*t—as like the middle child, meaning, I’m a big brother to these [younger] dudes and a little brother to these [older] dudes,” he explains. “I still have O.G.’s in the game that are legends, people I still look up to who have been where I am at, who have been at this level for mad long and are still relevant. I don’t think there’s ever been a time in rap where there was three relevant generations like this. It’s stretched. [JAY-Z] had a lot to do with that. So, yes, I feel like an O.G. to a lot of young rappers. In a good way. I also feel like a little brother to some of these older dudes.”
With that, comes welcoming uncomfortable conversations, such as those who are struggling with substance abuse or addiction. After Mac Miller passed away last September from a reported drug overdose, the KOD rapper tweeted an open invitation for those to come to him if they need to vent, a decision that he shares came from a place of being able to be understanding.
This is a message for anybody in this game that’s going through something. If you don’t feel right, if you feel you have a substance problem, if you need a ear to vent to. If you uncomfortable talking to people around you. Please reach out to me.
— J. Cole (@JColeNC) September 7, 2018
“Every person in the game has a unique set of circumstances that probably very few people can relate to,” he explains. “That was just me realizing that and letting it be known, I’m dead-ass serious, hit my phone. I’ve done that with people where they just spill they f*cking hearts out. I’ll listen and ask the right questions and give any guidance where I can. It’s just understanding, bro. People in the game, people in general, we don’t do that for each other.”
On the subject of empathy, Cole dives deep, explaining why he has come to vocalize support for polarizing artists such as XXXTentacion, 6ix9ine and Kodak Black, as well as touches on his perspective on the act of “canceling” someone in the wake of controversy.
“I don’t know what it does to me, man. It makes me sad. It’s not just sad, ’cause I even understand that. I understand outrage. So I don’t know. If anything, it kind of makes me want to be even more empathetic to people that the world considers to be undesirable,” Cole says. “Because we live in a world where everybody wants to be so quick to cancel somebody. But at the same time, people condemn the criminal justice system, which is entirely the cancellation system. To me, both of those ideas are f*cked up, like, ‘We’re throwing you away.’ Both of those mentalities miss the mark, which is, people need to be healed. You’re looking to punish me—and don’t get it twisted, what I did was a punishable offense—but where are you talking about healing me? Where are you going to show me some compassion and some f*cking love?”
He continues, “And I get it, there’s some people out there that do things that a person can’t fathom loving anybody that can do that. But nobody becomes that way overnight. Nobody is born that way. That sh*t is a product of unfortunate circumstances and mishaps in the person’s life, too many to count. Sh*t that they may not even remember that, in my opinion, causes someone to be as sick as they would be to be a f*cking murderer, to be dumb enough to just take a life.”
While Cole is an advocate for accountability, he notes how, alternatively, cancel culture isn’t a sustainable response for the long run given that you “can’t grow from it.”
Cole himself is learning and inspiring as time goes on. From manifesting that this will be his “most fun year” to declaring that fans have a lot to look forward to, it is becoming increasingly undeniable that he is a man of his word.
Check out his latest cover story in full via XXL. It is also available on newsstands.