J. Cole’s work is different from many other rappers, but its quality is so high he’s influencing a new generation of artists.
In J. Cole’s new song, “Middle Child,” he further proves why he is one of the greatest rap artists in the game today. Like in his latest album, KOD, J. Cole mixes old and new-school deliveries with a story-telling, lyrical flow and a new-school inspired hook. Cole’s use of autotune in the chorus introduces an exciting sound not heard from him before, that creates an eagerness for me to hear more of it. The lyrical content of the song exceeds expectations, and his ability to create a melodic song while also telling a story draws me back to his music every time.
The concept behind this track is interesting and very thought out. The title, “Middle Child,” has a definite significance in representing Cole’s position in the rap game. He says it himself: “I’m dead in the middle of two generations/ I’m little bro and big bro all at once.” He references being caught between two generations of rap, the old-school legends and the up and coming rappers, primarily associated with trap music. As he tries to provide advice and serve as a role model for the younger generation, he also acknowledges there are artists and legends whom he admires and who serve as role models for him: “To the OGs, I’m thankin’ you now/ Was watchin’ you when you was pavin’ the ground/ I copied your cadence, I mirrored your style/ I studied the greats, I’m the greatest right now.” This record accentuates Cole’s competitive yet modest style and brings listeners close to the human side of an artist.
He understands money isn’t bad, but recognizes it doesn’t solve your problems, and the hurt that many of these young kids are feeling won’t disappear by getting rich.
Unlike many rappers solely promoting violence, money, and drug use, Cole has taken a different approach throughout his career by doing the opposite, solidifying him as a great influencer in this industry. “Middle Child” is no different and, in the chorus, he sings, “Money in your palm don’t make you real,” then later, “Pistol in your hand don’t make you real,” pointing out to the younger generation of rap that money and this violent life they promote isn’t everything, and it doesn’t make them “real.” This is a common theme in Cole’s music, especially the understatement of materialistic items, like earlier in the song saying, “I hope you know money won’t erase the pain.” This is a reference to the new wave of rappers only focused on getting money. He understands money isn’t bad, but recognizes it doesn’t solve your problems, and the hurt that many of these young kids are feeling won’t disappear by getting rich.
This, for me, is one of the many great aspects of this song. J. Cole has a platform that reaches millions of kids every day and he chooses to spread a positive message with it. His lyrical ability is phenomenal, with lines like, “It’s absolutely imperative that my heat speak to rappers / The problem with this game is this weak sea of rappers / I’m the answer on the low, I’m a cheat sheet for rappers,” validating this point. Also, songs like “‘03 Adolescence,” “Window Pain,” and the entire album of 4 Your Eyez Only show he can tell a story in the most intriguing ways. This song, and many more of his, showcase these talents brilliantly and create a deeper, emotional connection with the content than you will find in many rap songs today. His blend of old and new distinguishes his music from the rest and makes “Middle Child” the incredible song it is. J. Cole has done it again.
Photo: J. Cole by DeShaun Craddock on Flickr