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J. Cole Breaks Down Why He Addresses Social Issues in His Music at MLK Now Event Harlem

Photo Credit: YouTube

Cole also touches on how The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander changed his outlook on life.

J. Cole recently opened up about why he chose a new path after dropping Forest Hills Drive in 2014, this direction would ultimately be rapping about social justice issues in his music.

During a panel at MLK Now, the fifth annual event honoring Martin Luther King Jr. the rapper addressed how he grew tired of rapping about himself. MLK Now was hosted by director Ryan Coogler, the panel Cole was a part of also featured Marshawn Lynch. He also touched on how his life shifted after he received and read the book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindedness by Michelle Alexander. Everything we saw and see just put into factual evidence of what was happening,” Cole said when speaking of the book.

Alexander’s book pushed Cole to observe his surroundings on a deeper level and also realize he was done solely rapping about himself. 

On what his life was like following the release of Forest Hills Drive:

“After the Forest Hills Drive album, at a time in my life where I was just tired of, like, rapping about myself. So much of my career, my art was, like, storytelling from my own perspective. I would always give you little branches of somebody else’s perspective, but so much of it was my personal journey, my personal growth, my personal flaws, this, that, and the third. And it was a time period when I was like, that was not interesting to me. What was interesting was, like, I had just moved back home, from New York back to Carolina.”

When touching on his return to North Carolina combined with reading The New Jim Crow, he shared that he became awakened when he saw the injustices taking place in his friends lives. He also witnessed firsthand how they were being treated and decided to use his social status and platform to highlight their stories. He shared this after Coogler asked what was the reasoning behind him wearing an orange prison jumpsuit during his 4 Your Eyez Only Tour back in 2017.

Later on during the panel, Cole and Lynch speak on activism, race, the NFL and more. To check out their conversation, fast forward to the 3:06:00 mark in the video below. 

MLK Now which was hosted at Harlem’s historic Riverside Church also featured Ta-Nehisi Coates, Black Thought, Alicia Garza, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and more.

Robyn Mowatt

Robyn Mowatt is a Staff Writer at Okayplayer where she covers culture, music, and fashion. You can see what's on her mind on Twitter at @robyn_mowatt.

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