Before I jumped full fledge into my Illustration career, I was a hip hop photojournalist. I wrote for Respect Magazine for about 3 years and was a marketing specialist for their social media team. To this day, I am still an avid hip hop listener. While living in Atlanta, I would frequent the music shows and every year, I would attend the A3C Music Festival just to see who was about to blow up on the hip hop scene. I listen to what most would call "conscious" hip hop; from The Roots to Kendrick Lamar. Not saying I'm opposed to other rap, because I'm not, but there's only so much I can take from the constant references of "purp" and "pills". But as Erykah Badu said in her Breakfast Club interview, in regards to how she feels about rappers condoning drug use in their music, "It's just a reflection of where we are. We are in a state of mental illness. That's where we are." Since hip hop is speaking for the people, the music speaks to the state of society. But instead of talking about the problem, we have those rappers with gifts that can help solve the problem. J.Cole is one of them.
Recently, J.Cole, one of my favorite rappers (He's in my Top 5), released "Middle Child". It was a breath of fresh air. There's not much that currently stands out to me in the cluster of music that sounds the same. Let alone, music with a message that has the ability to touch the soul. So immediately, after he announced the release of his new single, I knew he had something worthwhile to say.
After KOD, I expected Cole to finish where he left off, speaking on the glorification of using drugs in music and the consequences. The younger generation might say he's an "old head" in the industry that can't relate, but that's further from the truth. Cole is indeed, a "Middle Child". He's been in the game long enough to know the ropes, but he's young enough to have a long way to go as far as reaching his prime in his music. I said all of that to say, he released Friday Night Lights only 9 years ago. I think the internet just makes life move more rapidly and the rate at which music is released is substantially high. In this short span though, Cole has released 5 studio albums. At least 3 of those can be considered classics.
To sum up the song, Cole talks about being the middle child in hip hop. He's sandwiched between the greats, Jay Z and Nas, and the younger generation, Lil Pump and 6ix9ine. In the song, he touches on glorifying drug use, selling out and the idea that money equates to happiness. All these themes are a constant thread throughout his catalog. Feeling under-appreciated, for lack of better words, is a common gripe of rappers (and even artists) with a great message and are extremely talented. However, the general population gravitates towards the "clout chasers" or "sell-outs".
Cole specifically states that he won't be one of those. For most of Cole's career, he's made major progress by Dreamville's clever marketing. For example, for the Dollar and a Dream tour, he granted access to a specific number of attendees if they brought a dollar to the show. For the promotion of 2014 Forest Hills Drive, Cole invited a small number of fans to visit his childhood home in Fayetteville, NC for an album listening session. It's intimate events like that that make Cole outstanding in his craft. It's his ability to touch the human emotion through his music and personal experiences. Personally, I appreciate this.
It may seem like Cole's climb isn't being recognized or that the gravitational pull is going toward the artists that speak the loudest, but all of that doesn't always equate to sustainability. So, no he doesn't have to "sell out" by selling a pair of expensive sneakers nor take drugs to sell an album. He just needs to keep giving us real music with real experiences so that we can continue to feel real emotions on a human level.