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J. Cole, JAY-Z & the Mixed Emotions of Going Back Home

No matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to run away from home.

“But why had he always felt so strongly the magnetic pull of home, why had he thought so much about it and remembered it with such blazing accuracy…He did not know. All that he knew was that the years flow by like water, and that one day men come home again.”  —Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again

PlayStation and Tekken 3 on top of the TV. Tupac and Muhammad Ali posters on the wall. Nostalgia and cobwebs. Home.

Home is where the heart is. Home is full of sweet memories and cooked meals. Home will never leave you.

Rappers and their hometowns have always been inseparable. Biggie and Brooklyn, Chance and Chicago, Drake and Toronto, it’s impossible to get a rapper’s full story without knowing where they came from first. Rappers are like superheroes in that sense.

What’s Batman without Gotham? What’s Luke Cage without Harlem? More than a backdrop to their adventures, the places these people call home forms a fundamental part of their identity.

I got my city doing front flips / When every father, mayor, rapper jump ship / I guess that's why they call it where I stay / Clean up the streets so my daughter can have somewhere to play” —Chance The Rapper, “Angels”

Home is where the hatred is. Home is where Big L and Bankroll Fresh got killed. Home is the tragic well that artists draw their stories from.

No matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to run away from home. The scars from your time there can never be erased. This is the stark realization I made after re-reading JAY-Z and Pusha T’s email exchange for “Drug Dealers Anonymous."

While Jay’s verse on "DDA" is probably the best thing we’ve heard from him in five years, it’s interesting to see how reluctant he was to do it at first. His initial reaction of “WTF? Why you taking me to a dark place?” speaks volumes about the rapper and person Shawn Carter is in 2016.



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After everything he’s been through, it’s fair that JAY-Z was a bit hesitant to trade old war stories. Lemonade aside, life is good now. Jay’s rich, he’s a family man, he’s dressed as a Ken doll and yet we still want him to solve the case of the missing 92 bricks.

For JAY-Z, home is where his dad abandoned him. Home is where he shot his brother. Home is where he was forced to become the bad guy.

“I'm from the place where the church is the flakiest / And niggas is praying to God so long that they atheist / Where you can't put your vest away and say you'll wear it tomorrow / Cause the day after we'll be saying, ‘Damn, I was just with him yesterday’” —JAY-Z, “Where I’m From”

J. Cole’s journey back home has been well-documented. We’ve heard the album, we’ve seen the documentary, we’ve laughed at the memes and, two years later, 2014 Forest Hills Drive still stands as one of the best homecoming stories ever told.

It’s a tale as old as time. A young person from a small town goes to a big city with nothing in his pockets but a dollar and a dream. After years of trying to make it, he finally finds success and becomes a superstar. However, in the process, he’s lost touch with reality and the people he cares about the most. Lonely and depressed, he comes back home, surrounded by the one thing he needed all along: love.

“Went to New York City, got this motherfucking record deal. Put out some classics, put out some singles. Had my ups, had my downs. Came all this way just to learn one thing man, and only one fucking thing matters and that's your happiness. And the only way you gon' get to that happiness is through love, real, genuine, motherfucking love…where your heart is at, where your home is at.” —J. Cole, “Note To Self”

As a member of the ‘boomerang’ generation, going back home can be a humbling experience. For some people, it’s confirmation that you weren’t tough enough to make it out in the real world. It’s confirmation that despite all your optimism, all your degrees, all your talk about how you’re going to make a difference, you’re no better than anybody else. You’re just another kid that failed at being an adult, misguided and naive.

Home is where I went to regroup. At home, I let go of my sense of entitlement. At home, I learned the value of patience. At home, I learned how to be at peace.

More importantly, at home, I became a writer. I dedicated time to the craft I have long admired from afar and stopped hiding behind the words of others. With each piece I’ve written this year, I’ve come close to realizing a dream I’ve had since I was twelve years old.

However, as time goes by, I also feel restless. I feel that desire to go out and make a name for myself. I’m not sure when that time will be but I know that, whatever happens, I can always follow the breadcrumbs and find my way home.


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