J. Cole set the Internet ablaze yesterday when it was discovered that he would be releasing a new album, 4 Your Eyez Only, on December 9th. Everyone’s collective hearts skipped a beat over the thought of a follow-up to the critical and commercial darling, 2014 Forest Hills Drive. And while we patiently waited all day for a new track or even a verifying tweet from Cole, he went ahead and dropped a 40-minute documentary titled Eyez, giving fans a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the new project. But only those fans that have TIDAL.
A single segment of the documentary has gotten the most attention, and rightfully so. We essentially get a music video lumped in, featuring a new song “False Prophets“. Other than the fact that it’s “NEW J. COLE, HOLY SHIT”, the track has garnered much attention on social media this morning for one reason and one reason only: Jermaine allegedly took shots at Kanye West. People are jumping all over this, claiming it’s a diss track, wondering why Cole would hit at Kanye after his publicized hospitalization.
But we’re reading this all wrong. It’s more so a case of “if the shoe fits”, and with Kanye in the news so much lately, people are slipping that glass Yeezy on his foot like it’s 2 seconds to midnight. In reality, Cole’s song addresses the state of rap generally, looking at it from three different perspectives: the first verse representing the “rap star”, the second being about an upcoming rapper who’s striving to do more and please the critics, and the third being about his own point of view and what he aims to achieve with his music.
When looked at statically, the song is simply a layered rap culture assessment. In no way is he specifically calling any one artist out. I know it may be hard, but for just a second, remove Kanye West from your mind. Now read the first verse again. Sound like anybody else? How about, practically any famous rapper. Honestly, it could apply to Lil Wayne as well. The Young Money general is so far removed from “real life” and has been a superstar for so long that he doesn’t even believe in racism. He doesn’t support the Black Lives Matter movement. His head is so far up into the Martian clouds that he’s transcended his former self and truly become somebody who resides in a whole nother atmosphere. And in no way am I diminishing Lil Wayne or his career, I’m just making the point that when looked at through a lens other than “ANY EGO TALK IS ABOUT KANYE WEST”, we can see that the rap game as a whole is full of larger-than-life celebrities that Cole is addressing.
On the flip side of this, let’s assume, sure, J. Cole is without a doubt talking about Kanye. In that case, “False Prophet” is not a diss track. The whole point of a diss track is to disrespect someone, hence the name. Here we seem to have an instance of, not so much a disrespect, but a loss of respect. I know that seems like quibbling semantics, but hear me out.
In the first verse, Cole says:
There was a time when this nigga was my hero, maybe/That’s the reason why his fall from grace is hard to take.
So right out of the bat, it’s clear that Cole once respected this character. Of course, Ice Cube once respected Eazy E and Dre before he dropped “No Vaseline“, but the second line straightens up that issue. The character’s fall from grace is hard on Cole. He doesn’t like seeing someone that he thought so much of lose their shine in such a demeaning way, just as no little boy wants to see Superman die at the hands of a mortal man. If the ideals had shaped into a disrespect, the fall wouldn’t be an issue: it would be welcomed.
Towards the end of the verse, Cole finishes off by saying:
Well, fuck it, what’s more important is he’s crying out for help/while the world’s eggin’ him on, I’m beggin’ him to stop.
Here Cole is saying to forget the music and the ego and the fame: the character needs help. He’s become lost in the lifestyle, inflated by the yes-men and dickriders. So when the crises comes, the public watches the beautiful disaster like it’s a trainwreck, extending a hand only to get the next headline, never to help. Exploitation at it’s finest. Cole sees this, and instead of going with the ways of the media and public, he doesn’t want to see his former idol in such a state, hoping he can pull through and regain some of that chipped gold. Again, this is not a diss, but highlights Cole’s genuine wish for the character to succeed and work at regaining the respect that’s been lost.
Taking a look at the song as a whole and its title, when Cole calls this character a false prophet, it’s not in the sense that what they say is a blatant lie or their voice should be taken with a grain of salt. Instead, he’s saying they’re false prophets to fame. Exuding wealth is a major aspect of the hip-hop culture, and rap stars love showing off how great the lives of the rich and famous are. By flashing the lifestyle in such a positive manner without showing the negatives it can lead to, rappers have become false prophets in glorification. Being in the limelight as a famous musician is taxing, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Cole’s addressed this himself when he’s discussed his thoughts on an early retirement. Rarely do we get an honest and open artist who’s outspoken on the mental health issues that can come along with being a rap star, which is why Kid Cudi is so respected for openly admitting his own issues in a public manner. Cole wants to make that honesty commonplace in hip-hop and not let the fame and the ego and the lifestyle destroy what made us fans of an artist in the first place.
With all of that being said, I believe that even if this verse WAS about Kanye, we shouldn’t call it a diss track. Cole doesn’t disrespect Kanye, but instead wants to see him through a troubled time despite what fame has morphed him into. There’s still a longing for respect, clearly stated in the fact that Cole still “plays his old shit”. So in that, isn’t Cole just saying what we are all thinking? Nobody (at least not most people) actively want to see Kanye fail, but we can forthrightly see that he’s at a divisive point in his career, stemming from his basking in the fame and his own pre-existing, and now amplified, mental health problems. It doesn’t mean we’re dissing him, but that we can be honest in our assessment of him, like the one Cole is putting forth in “False Prophets”. I still don’t believe this track is in any way aimed at Kanye, but if it was, Cole’s only showing us that, when it comes to Kanye and the culture as a whole, he’s just as much a concerned fan as we are.