J. Cole is just a man. He may be your hero, but first and foremost, he is simply a man.
Cole’s first in-depth interview in over three years, conducted by Paul Cantor for Vulture, is as riddled with flaws as it is with gems and signs of growth. In the same breath that Cole echoes the ire of respectability politics, he takes a stand against media commodification and simplification of young Black men.
“If you exclude the top three rappers in the game, the most popping rappers all are exaggerated versions of black stereotypes,” he says. “Extremely tatted up. Colorful hair. Flamboyant. Brand names. It’s caricatures, and still the dominant representation of black people, on the most popular entertainment format for black people, period.” But Cole is not a full-on curmudgeon, he likes Trippie Redd. “I’m now in a place where I can hear people and get excited, like this kid is dope as fuck,” he explained.
Even though his comments on societal drug use continue to dangerously conflate external depressors and addiction with managing mental illness, Cole still presents salient—albeit roundabout—critiques on stigma.
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“We live in a society where all this drug use is normalized, it’s the norm, it’s okay, it’s fucking encouraged, it’s fucking promoted,” he told Cantor. “You turn on the TV — you feeling down? Of course I’m feeling down, I’m a fucking human being. Try this. Whatever this thing is. Like, nah, how about you actually feel sad and figure out what the fuck it is that got you feeling sad, so you can work on that?”
On some level, J. Cole must be aware that not every issue in this life can simply be talked through. Not every ad for Paxil will turn you into a pill fiend, and not every “this” to be tried will sink your life—for many, “this” is what saves their lives and gives them some semblance of control. Cole’s earlier frustration in the interview, a lack of honest conversation (“Nobody ever asks nobody shit, that’s the fucking problem”), could be the catalyst for some real social change. It should not take a TV ad to get people discussing mental health; these pivots should come from our support systems.
Of course, because of Cole’s personal relationship with addiction, it may be hard for the man to see the forest through the trees, and on some other level, that’s fine as well. All across this Vulture interview, Cole is just as flawed as the rest of us. Some moments are admittedly sour, and not all of his politics, both in this piece and on his album, will land, but is that not the cardinal appeal of J. Cole?
With KOD, Cole is standing at his most down-to-earth and his most self-aggrandizing—he’s simply a man. If you fell in love with J. Cole, it was likely due in large part to his relatability, and as we sift through all of his inconsistencies and inadvertent hypocrisy, what we are really doing is basking in Cole’s humanity. Does this vindicate his more unsavory comments? Not entirely, but it does help us bridge the gap between the music, the man, and the idol we’ve constructed in our heads.
Before he was J. Cole, he was Jermaine, and since we’ve known him, every move he’s made has proven him to be nothing more or nothing less than human.