In the wake of the horrible tragedy that is swirling in Ferguson, MO, J. Cole responds to the death of Michael Brown and the riots in Ferguson with this track “Be Free.” Unfortunately, Brown isn’t the only young man who has been killed by law enforcement for no apparent reason. Not only that, but this sort of injustice have far too frequently plagued people of color, and this gut-wrenching track is J. Cole’s response.
On this song, Cole opts to sing his pain in a cathartic release. He sounds as though he reached his breaking point; the words seemingly flow off the top of his head. Begging for freedom for himself, for other people of color. Of course, the song is specifically referencing the Michael Brown incident, but J. Cole makes his message more universal. To add to the effect and impact, he includes audio of a friend of Brown’s speaking his account of the incident.
The emotion on this song is intense; it’s not an easy song to listen to. However, from sadness and pain often comes some of the greatest music and this is no different. I admire J. Cole for opting to release his feelings in this manner and share it with the world. I respect him even more because he chose to simply share the song to spread the word and, as he said, not wait to put it on his next album.
In general, J. Cole is such a great role model for young people in comparison to some other hip-hop artists. Many people criticize hip-hop artists for expressing their outrage with violence such as the Michael Brown incident. These artists are often labeled hypocrites, since some do perpetuate stereotypes and speak about violence in their music. For some, this is definitely true. However, the majority of hip-hop’s greatest and most respected artists do not glorify violence. They speak of it only because it is their experience, not to encourage it.
J. Cole, however, is an artist who (as far as my memory serves me) never has glorified violence and has overwhelmingly spread a positive message through his music. His music encourages young people to strive past the adversity they face and achieve their dreams, with songs like “Dollar and a Dream,” “Crooked Smile” and others.
While he is most definitely a big name in hip-hop, J. Cole deserves much more notoriety and success than he has had. Perhaps in time he his name will be mentioned amongst other greats like his idol, Nas and “boss” Jay-Z. Where it belongs.