Here Are All The Hidden Messages In J. Cole’s Middle Child Video

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Hip-Hop Fans, we need your help...We recently launched AFH TV, a streaming video service focused on Hip-Hop culture. We already have exclusive interviews, documentaries, and rare freestyles featuring some of Rap’s most iconic artists and personalities. But, there is so much more to come--movies, TV series, talk shows--and we need your support to make it a reality. Please subscribe to AFH TV. It is only $1.99/month or $12/year, and offers 30-day free trials. Thank you.

Nearly one month ago, North Carolina MC/producer J. Cole released the highest charting single of his career. “Middle Child,” produced by T-Minus, opened the Dreamville founder’s 2019 release calendar. Now a music video, the single has reached #4 on the Pop charts at the same time that Cole is also prepping the next installment of his Dreamville album series, Revenge Of The Dreamers III, featuring a host of Hip-Hop savvy veterans and newcomers next April. The anticipation for the forthcoming project is high, and “Middle Child” is Cole’s first foray into his next chapter as the 34-year-old multi-threat delineates his perception of his position in the Hip-Hop game.

Cole’s track has a smorgasbord of subliminal messaging throughout. Cole proactively calls out critics and MCs alike, but without mentioning anyone specifically by name. Just one week after his performance at the NBA All-Star Game near his hometown in Charlotte, Cole brought his penmanship to life with the video for “Middle Child.” Like his prose, the imagery within the film is full of deeper meaning worth decoding.

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One day after J. Cole posted his first music visuals of the year, INSIDER published a video to decrypt the hidden messages that successfully complement the Mez-directed (fka the rapper King Mez) video. The film’s Creative Director, Scott Lazer, plays a major role in the filmography as well. Lazer has worked previously with Cole for his videos “ATM,” “Kevin’s Heart,” “4 Your Eyez Only,” and his HBO documentary and concert series, Forest Hills Drive: Homecoming. Throughout, INSIDER Senior Producer Alana Yzola dissects the scenes within “Middle Child,” giving specific details that correlate both to J. Cole’s lyricism and his Hip-Hop ideals.

In the opening, Yzola unravels the meaning behind some of Cole’s most prominent sequences, including Cole’s themes of hunting riddled within the video. “Throughout most of the video, J. Cole is in the middle of the screen while everything is happening around him, sort of like how kids describe their experiences being a middle child in their family. The video also wastes little time highlighting J’s targets. The scene opens with Cole in the center of the screen with a silhouetted crowd behind him. When the beat drops, affluent figures from the red carpet celebrate, but aren’t paying any attention to Cole’s presence. The red carpet event is also in the woods. It’s the first visual hint of the hunting motif that comes up throughout the entire video. When the lights fade, and the scene changes, the lively crowd lies dead in the morgue.”

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Subsequently, Yzola explains Cole’s representation of the proverbial red carpet, anatomizing the idea behind his vision and his possible displeasure with publicized award shows and events. “The red carpet has been replaced with red dirt, which also covers the soles of the dead’s shoes. The red bottoms remind viewers of the ever popular, high-end Louis Vuitton shoes that have quickly become a status symbol. But the fact that the soles are made from dirt make the wearers seem fake and ungenuine.”

She continues, “When it comes to award shows, J. Cole has notoriously been snubbed. For the Grammy’s specifically, the artist has been nominated seven times and hasn’t won once. He’s been bested by Childish Gambino, Ella Mai, Chance The Rapper, Kendrick Lamar, and The Weeknd. But despite this Cole has been and still is killing it. The artist who also produced almost all of his record went platinum with no features with his 2014 album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive. His albums, Cole World: The Sideline Story, Born Sinner, 4 Your Eyez Only, and KOD, also went platinum.” Regardless of Cole’s lack of accolades, it seems as if the St. John’s alum is more comfortable coming from the mud, and the film shows it.

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Later, Yzola dives into the true meaning behind the song’s title. “The artist feels that he rests between new ages of Rap, old school and new school, and is okay with acting as a bridge between them.” Cole raps, “I’m dead in the middle of two generations / I’m little bro and big bro all at once.” She continues, “He acknowledges that he learned a lot from the legends before him, and is looking to help the next wave of ‘real’ artists. And the theme that sticks out in this part of the video is what it means to be ‘real.’ We’ve switched scenes from the backwoods to the supermarket, a play on the ‘hunters versus the buyers.’ The buyers here are the people who weren’t out there hunting for their success, but passively relying on the innovation of others. Like this woman in camouflage who is literally shopping for ‘The Juice.'”

This isn’t Cole’s first time calling out rappers for being phony in recent weeks. On 21 Savage’s record, “a lot,” Cole calls out the fake and the faux once again. He raps, “Question, how many faking they streams? (A lot) / Getting they plays from machines (A lot) / I can see behind the smoke and mirrors / Ni**as ain’t really big as they seem (Hmm) / I never say anything (Nah), everybody got they thing (True) / Some ni**as make millions, other ni**as make memes (Hmm) / I’m on a money routine.”

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In finality, Cole pays homage to the strength and power of Black women. He uses their image to promote this sentiment all over “Middle Child.” Yzola wraps up the conversation. “Cole has a powerful, young, all-female marching band setting the pace and the beat for the whole song. The idea of setting the pace is continued with the shocking end to the video. A white woman notices a Black woman’s baby hairs and is immediately seeing shopping for a Black woman’s face in the grocery store. The face had a red special sticker on the packaging. J. Cole said it best, ‘Money in your palm don’t make you real.’ The video shows the dangers of appropriation, how features and styles of Black women are only celebrated when they aren’t on Black women.”

Cole’s got Heads paying attention to his visuals just like his lyrics.