J. Cole's "Crooked Smile" Video Has Been My Light During a Dark Week

Released three years ago, Cole's video is even more powerful and relevant in these increasingly dark times.

These have been a dark two weeks. Even through Ferguson, through Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner and Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland and Laquan McDonald and all the countless other lives taken, I realize now that I carried some real hope that things would get better, if for no other naive reason than it felt like they had to. They had to. 

But after the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile that hope was flickering dangerously dim, and then the Dallas shooting seemingly extinguished it. Particularly in the wake of the Orlando massacre, it felt like America was growing ever more divided and entrenched, more violent and more deadly than ever. 

And so I turned to music, not for answers, but looking for at least some comfort, some relief, some perspective. I could have gone with time-tested classics like "A Change is Gonna Come" or "What's Going On," or more recent selections like "Alright" or "Close Your Eyes," but for some reason I can't explain, some hidden synapse in my brain fired and reminded me something - didn't J. Cole have a video in this same vein as well? 

He did, he does, although it took me a minute to find it since the video is attached to a song that's more immediately not on the topic, "Crooked Smile." Released in September of 2013, almost a full year before even the shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, "Crooked Smile" is specifically about the police shooting of Aiyana Stanley-Jones, who was shot and killed by Detroit police in 2011 during a raid. But in the context of today it's even more powerful, showing again how fearless art can not just last through the years, but can grow even stronger, take on new dimensions, with the passage of time. 

"Crooked Smile" certainly doesn't make me feel better, or any more hopeful about the future. But like you turn to songs about heartbreak after you've had your heartbroken, I've found a comfort in this video, something like an explanation. Intellectually it's a visual encapsulation of the cycle of fear and destruction that only ever breeds more fear and destruction, and emotionally it hits me in my softest spot - my love for my daughters. 

I don't have any words of wisdom to end this with, no neat and tidy summary to offer. Music has long served as the lens through which I've seen the world, and Cole's video helped me see that world just a little clearer this week. May we all find just a moment of comfort and clarity in these troubling times, even if only for the duration of a song. 

By Nathan S, the managing editor of DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter

Photo Credit: YouTube


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