“Bitches come and go (You know that) / Money come and go (You know that) / Love come and go (Don’t shit last)” – J. Cole “Forbidden Fruit”
Woman have always been a source of inspiration for J. Cole. Throughout his albums and mixtapes, they appear as single mothers, lost lovers, supportive girlfriends and Hollywood hoes. He also raps a lot about women that are unavailable, unobtainable or unable to hold the gaze of his wondering eyes. His relationships always seem to be built on a foundation made of wood filled with monstrous termites.
It goes back to the Warm Up, he said in the first verse of “Dreams”: “Seems like I always had crushes on chicks I couldn't have, and then I end up fucking with someone I shouldn't have,” which makes perfect sense in contrast with “Lights Please.” In his music, a universe of his own creation, even the girl of his dreams is only possible if her boyfriend is killed. There's no happy endings, no perfect love story. “Hello,” “Like A Star,” “Power Trip,” “Home For The Holidays,” “All I Want Is You,” all women that are like sand slipping through his fingers. “2Faces” and “Pray,” both songs where sex comes with regret. “Trouble,” “Runaway,” “She Knows,” “Premeditated Murder,” the guilt of being in a relationship and not being faithful. Like the lyrics in “Forbidden Fruit,” women and love appear to be fleeting, coming and going, a cycle of love, lust, and misery. J. Cole never gets the girl.
Way back on Warm Up, right before he blew up big, on “Hold Me Down” he rapped lyrics about this girlfriend that was worried about the evil groupies that awaited him on the road. On “Last Call,” the very next song he said, “I know my girl be praying Lord just keep his pants zipped up / Now if some groupie bitch is on his dick then make it's stiff up, at least give the nigga common sense to wrap his dick up.” It’s on “Premeditated Murder” from Friday Night Lights that he really captures their relationship, “Do you prefer the broke me or the rich me?” His life was changing and she was still with him, a woman he has had for 10 years, before any money or fame. It’s the final line that speaks volumes, “Mixed feelings cause now all the chicks feeling him / You gotta adapt though I'm never going back.”
J. Cole was never going back to being Jermaine. He saw the other side, the grass was greener, the money stacked higher, he was on the cusp of making his dream come true and there was no looking back. There was a tabloid post going around on Twitter, “J. Cole breaks up with a girlfriend after a third marriage proposal.” Despite the lack of a credible source, I figured that she couldn’t adapt, that the life as the wife a famous rapper wasn’t the one she wanted to live. I couldn’t blame her, it’s not easy dating someone that belongs to the world. The kind of scenario that would occur in one of his songs, life resembling art.
Breaking up with his girlfriend would only validate the lyrics in “Forbidden Fruit,” that women and love are forbidden, coming but never lasting; a revolving door of unsatisfied longing that never halts. The pessimism of a rock star that’s conflicted by wants and desires. With all the speculations surrounding his relationship, J. Cole never made a statement. He never went out of his way to flaunt or dog her on social media. I’m almost certain that he has been seen with Jay Z more than with Melissa Heholt.
Their relationship is like a puzzle and the pieces can only be put together by the lyrics in different songs. She would get a verse, a few lines, but never an entire dedication that encapsulated their romance. Last week, J. Cole sat down with movie director Ryan Coogler in honor of Martin Luther King Day. The interview touches on J. Cole’s “Be Free,” race, and police brutality. Ryan, who admitted at the beginning that he never interviewed anyone before, very casually asked, “How did getting married change you?”
By the shock on his face and the inability to string together an articulate sentence, Cole didn’t have any intention of revealing this atomic bomb of a secret. He was married, hitched, jumped the broom, vowed to be by her side in sickness and health, for better or poorer, together until the gravestone. Deep down, it wasn’t a big surprise. 2014 Forest Hills Drive was an album about rejecting the illusion of fame and Hollywood, what’s realer than marrying the woman you've been with for over a decade? I was wrong, J. Cole got the girl.
The last year has proved that Cole is a man of surprises, the album and the documentary were both done in secrecy. I’m sure getting married wasn’t very difficult. I’m kind of surprised that he didn’t use the HBO special as the platform to announce their matrimony. It’s also why I believe that this secret was meant to be kept tight-lipped. J. Cole didn’t want the world to know, or maybe it was Melissa, or maybe it was Roc Nation? In the age of WCWs and MCMs, it’s impressive that the two have been adamant about keeping things private. Compared to Kayne and Kim, Jay and Bey, Rick Ross and Lira Galore, Tyga and that 5th grader, these two aren’t a real couple. It’s not real until you put it on Instagram.
The real question is, was it to keep their relationship safe from the ravages of the public eye, or was it to protect his image? Even though he has been far from single, he has never appeared as unavailable. Women love J. Cole, if you go to a show there is more women than men, and they come out because of a genuine love for him. This regular, charming guy that even moms adore. Undoubtedly, there were some fans that were crushed by the unveiling that their fantasy rapper has a very real wife. Without the fantasy, without that deeper feeling of affection, he’s just another rapper.
"Probably my manager biggest fear if this kid falls in love. We're done. We're finished." The Weeknd said this during his interview with the New York Times right before his album release. It’s a very real fear, that the pop star with the charisma of a vampire would sacrifice charming the Twilight teenagers and the 50 Shades of Grey soccer moms to fall under the spell of one woman. This is the same artist that made “Wicked Games,” for him to find love in the same house of balloons where he documented all the debauchery that made him famous, it risked changing everything.
Was J. Cole facing the same worries? He is far from being a raunchy, charismatic R&B singer, but he has always been, “never got the girl Jermaine” and now he has one. Not just a girlfriend, not a fiancée, but a wife. It makes you wonder, how will this change in his real life affect his music? The born sinner is now a married man, how will the next album reflect this? Even your relationship has to be handled like a business, it impacts your brand. This is why even real love can appear fake. Maybe it is.
J. Cole’s relationship doesn’t feel fake though. They have been together for a long time, a quality that's good to see represented in hip-hop even if it’s done secretly. My generation is in this weird place when it comes to love and courting, like every other generation before us. Except we have the internet and front-facing cameras. Not only can you find love in a hopeless place but you can document it. Love just seemed more hopeful when you're a child, but so does everything. All the breakups, divorces, custody battles, $200 dates, they tend to overshadow all the stories about proposals, anniversaries and vow renewals. The same way all the music that embodies misogyny drowns out all the songs about love. When it comes to love and marriage, representation doesn’t really feel balanced. What J. Cole does next is such a question because now he carries that torch of being a husband in hip-hop.
I wanted Nathan to write this, or maybe Z, someone who can relate to Cole as a married man. They are in this exclusive club for men that chose a life with another, committing for what they hope will be forever. My dad is in that group, my uncle as well. I even have a friend or two that decided to start young and grow old with their spouse. I sat with a friend who recently got married, had his first child, moved into his first home. He said that he can look at his son and feel that he can do anything, that he can look at his wife and not want another woman in this world. He may look like someone I grew up with but sounds ten years older. He’s an adult making adult decisions. I listen, envisioning the way his life will progress, from the first day of school to his 25th anniversary. A life I can’t envision for myself. I’m more Kanye’s “Welcome To Heartbreak” than “Bound 2,” more Wale’s “Breakup Song” than “The Matrimony,” more Drake’s “Now & Forever” than “Hold On, We’re Going Home.”
These nights are long, these days are early, there’s never enough time. Life has never felt so busy, I don’t understand how anyone could do this and be a good husband and father. If I slow down, if I ease off this gas, I’ll regret it. My mind doesn’t see balance, compromise or a way to get where I’m going any other way. I love the idea of a wife, a partner, an eternal love, but I hate the idea of sacrifice. I’m cursed by my selfishness. There hasn’t been a woman that has come and left my life that I didn’t consider the one that got away in some kind of fashion. I go to their Facebooks and Instagrams and see their children, see their spouses, see their lives that look nothing like mine and wonder what have I sacrificed. I look at the people around me and wonder how long until they drift away. I see them with their dating apps, searching for someone, searching for the same thing that J. Cole has found. I wonder when will they eventually go start their families. Leaving me the way they found me, in a cycle of love, lust, and misery, banging on these keys hoping to fill the void of all that I’ve lost and will continue to lose.
May the Gods bless J. Cole with 100 more albums and 100 more years of a love that will last. May they bless us all.
By Yoh, aka Love Jones Yoh. aka @Yoh31