[1] [1] At this point, Cole makes it clear

1 Cole
wants to make it clear that people can believe in him to restore rap in a way
that reduces its admiration of white “culture” and focuses more on the African
American race that created this genre and gives credit where credit is due. Cole
is trying to make it clear that it’s time to fix the inequality in hip-hop by
giving more credit to the African American rappers as, around this time, there
had been rising significance of “white culture” in hip-hop, namely Iggy
Azalea’s ascension and Eminem’s “white reign” over hip-hop. He wants people to
know that he can be the one that fixes that inequality. He can be the one to
represent the African American hip-hop community.

1 At
this point, Cole makes it clear that he wants to begin his journey. To do so,
he must be the best he can be. Nothing can nor should be allowed to hold him
back as he fights to make himself known as he believes that he alone can be the
most successful in spreading the message. He cannot doubt himself anymore (the
“stress” causes breaks in his belief in himself and therefore must be avoided
at all costs) as it is only with belief in himself that he can reach the top.
Cole wants to move past his harsh upbringing and lower social and economic
“status” and become successful, both in pop culture and money terms. He is
directing his anger and powerful message at an imaginary girl who seems to be
holding him back. 

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1 He
wants the African American race to take charge and make sure that the “white
privilege” in hip hop doesn’t get so bad that soon, hip-hop ends up being known
as “white music”. You can only earn money, and the resulting power and
recognition that comes with it, if you aren’t afraid of upsetting the
established order and can take risks. He wants to get “power and recognition”
and use it to make himself known as the best and to reduce the significance
given to “white culture” in hip-hop.

1 He’s
assuring the audience, namely the African American populace (but also “warning”
per se, the white community), that they can trust him to rise to the top and
take the throne of hip-hop. He wants them to believe in him wholeheartedly.
This entire hook is based on an AABB rhyme scheme that allows Cole to deliver a
different message/idea with each couplet. Basically, the four couplets in the
hook outline the topics he’s going to rap about throughout the song; it’s like
an introduction/his own rap “thesis”.

1 First,
Cole makes it clear that there is no way he can be stopped; the inevitable is
happening and that is his rise to dominance. In the following line (“A lotta
niggas sat on the throne”), Cole references Jay-Z and Kanye’s collaborative
album of Watch the Throne (and its
famous song, “Niggas in Paris”).
Through this reference, Cole is making it clear that even though that album
placed Jay-Z and Kanye at the top of the hierarchy, times have changed, tides
have turned, and Cole is the one in charge now. He’s making it clear that they
have been dethroned. In the following line, Cole makes yet another snide
reference to how, in the past, he wasn’t afraid to go up against these kings;
in fact, he even beat them and therefore isn’t afraid to do so again. He’s
talking about the time his album Born
Sinner hit the market the same exact day that Kanye released Yeezus. 
In that month, his album beat Kanye’s as his sold more copies
(outsold by quite a bit).

1 Cole
has a dual meaning here. Not only did he defeat the kings (Jay-Z and namely,
Kanye) the year before (when he released Born
Sinner) and make them realize how
it felt to be dethroned and no longer the most important name(s) in hip-hop,
he’s going to make people forget that they were ever the kings and that
instead, he is the one deserving of reverence. He also feels that the entire
rap genre and community will need some time to “heal”/adjust to reality after
he upsets the entire established order with his talent and forcefully removes the
kings from their figurative thrones.

1 Here
Cole references the song “Miuzi Weighs a Ton” by Public Enemy. Just as how
Public Enemy had emphasized, Cole is ready to rain down terror upon the current
hierarchy of hip-hop, and take his place at the top. He’s not afraid about
anyone who gets in his way (as guns “mow down” obstacles). Cole further goes on
to make himself seem better and more powerful than anyone else by saying he’s
going to carry two guns instead of one, as most in the hip-hop community would
pride themselves on owning a single gun.

1 He’s
preparing to unleash his unrelenting attack on the hip-hop leadership and make
his talent well-known. He offers up a “prayer” to the Lord to make it clear
that he’s not stopping for anyone, doesn’t care about who he takes down, and
will do anything he can to make himself the best, no matter how “immoral” it
may seem to the people around him. He is ready to do anything to make sure
African American rappers take precedence once again in hip-hop.

1 While
Cole tries to stay true to himself, his goals, and what he believes to be true
(that he is the unquestionably the best), he must remember to not let this
battle for the “throne” of hip-hop turn him into something he’s not and would
regret. That said, even while maintaining this self-restraint, he pictures
himself in a setting where he’s absolutely killing/destroying other rappers
with his lyrical prowess.

1 Cole
thinks that his lyrical flow and rhymes are so good that they’re far more
advanced than what the present situation would allow for. Due to this belief,
Cole believes that while he discusses envisioning the future, he’s really just
engaging in retrospection of talent that he’s always had for as long as he
knows (it’s something that’s carried on from his past into his current
situation because he’s just that good-it hasn’t needed any changes).

1 J.
Cole believes that since everything he says and believes is true, you (the
audience) would do well to accept that and realize that Cole’s reign is just
beginning because if he believes if he can be the king of rap, then he will be
the king.  

1 Here,
Cole attempts to incorporate some humor by describing a common occurrence. Many
times, a girl will quickly provide a fake number to a guy she doesn’t really
like. The guy, thinking he’s won over the girl’s heart, goes home all happy and
proud of himself only to sadly realize later that he had been duped. In
accordance with this event, Cole is permitting the hip-hop community to believe
that he’s nothing and no one, only to realize later that he had been playing
them all along and that he in fact would always be there to take them down.

1 Lots
of rappers want to be successful in their careers. However, half the rappers
clearly aren’t good enough and don’t have the talent needed to be a stand-out
star. The other half view themselves as “high and mighty” and too good.
Therefore, they end up putting in extremely minimal work as they believe that
since they’re so good, any output that they produce will automatically be
deemed “successful”. This minimal effort leads to them failing in this career
path. Either way, the result is that very few are good enough to make it in hip
hop.

1 Every
rapper wants to be the best. However, whereas some only care about pure
domination and don’t care about the actual rap game, Cole will make it his
mission to stick to making rap an African American-led style of music and
prevent it from ever falling into doubt again. You need someone who can prove
to you he’s got the skill needed to continue the reverence of African American
rap and not someone who just tries to scare people onto his path.

1
Ice-Cube and Ice-T, rappers from opposing coasts, were both gangster rappers
near the tops of their games during their times. They were both extremely
skilled in the art of rapping in the styles of their respective coasts as well
as in their abilities to discuss social issues in the black community in the
urban poverty/crime scene. 2 Live Crew was a hip-hop group that was known for
popularizing the Miami Bass style in the 1980’s as well as discussing
controversial yet crucial sexual themes in its music. Spike Lee is an extremely
acclaimed African American film director who was known for making movies which
analyzed both race relations and the existence of race conflicts in the black
community. Cole is saying that he’s so skilled that his talent is like a
hyper-inflated combination of these four extremely renowned people/groups.

1 Bruce
Wayne is the powerful, menacing, and awe-inspiring vigilante known as Batman
whereas Bruce Lee is a Chinese martial arts fighter who was known during his
time as one of the most talented, powerful, and dangerous martial artists. Cole
is essentially saying that his lyrical prowess/genius is as deadly and powerful
as the combination of these two “heroes”, once again emphasizing that his
talent sees no bounds. 

1 Cole
is talking about Lil Wayne’s song “Brand New”. In that song, all Wayne talks
about is how rich he is and his consumerism-mindset where he’s always getting
the newest things. Cole says that essentially, he’s something never before seen
in the rap game, something that would’ve left even this boastful Wayne in shock
after he witnessed his extreme uniqueness. Cole then goes on to boast about
himself, comparing himself to one of the current best players in the NBA in
Kevin Durant. He wants to emphasize that his own talent in comparison to the
rest of the rap game is leaps and bounds ahead of what Kevin Durant’s talent
would measure/amount to on a scale relative to the rest of the NBA.

1 In
this line, Cole pays respect to Drake’s famous song “Started from the Bottom”.
Like Drake, he wants to emphasize that he came from very little. His father had
left his family, leaving a single mother to look after him and his brother.
That forced his family to relocate to an ethnically and socially stressed
environment in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He’s worked extremely hard and
persevered through hell to become the new king of rap that he views himself to
be. The rhyme scheme between “shirt” and “dirt” further emphasizes the lack of
wealth, power, status, and knowledge that he had when he began his journey but
had accumulated along the way.

1 Here
Cole really tries to rub in his skillfulness through an insightful alliteration
that centers around the letter “P” and a chess comparison. He wants to exhibit
the growth and power that he’s attained in terms of rap ingenuity. A pawn, in a
game of chess, is the least relevant piece in a game of chess; at times, these
pawns can even become hindrances. The king piece, however, is perhaps the most
relevant in the game as it is centered around that piece (the goal is to
protect the king from any instance of checkmate). Just like a transition from a
pawn to a king, Cole has gone from being unknown, talentless, and lackluster to
someone whose uniqueness and raw talent are things that people should and will
revere. The rhyming between “sing” and “king” shows that his musical and
lyrical abilities are the things that make him someone to be looked up to.

1 Here,
Cole tries to conclude the conversation with the aforementioned imaginary
female who seems to be annoying him with her nagging. He wants to be free to
work on his music and talent as he pleases, with nothing holding him back. That
is the only way he can fully devote his time to honing his abilities to conquer
the rap game.

1 Now,
the song’s social connotation comes into play. He’s beginning to talk about
throughout history, white people have tried to take over everything and
anything that has belonged to the black community. They have always tried to
make the black community’s music their own. In the present situation, none of
the black rappers, in Cole’s eyes, are unique whatsoever. There’ll be one
rapper who has a unique style that has the public entranced and the rest of the
black rappers will try to get in on that publicity and fame by using that
‘ideal rap style’ in their own music instead of being innovative and ingenious.
This lack of ingenuity is what is perpetuating the white encroachment upon and
takeover of black hip-hop. This takeover can only be halted if black rappers
try to be innovative once again.

1 These
two lines refer solely to the white theft of black music and culture.
Originally, rock n roll was a genre that had been derived from various forms of
African American music. However, Elvis Presley, a white man, entered the scene
and popularized it much more than any black artist had up to the point. In
doing so, Elvis essentially stole rock n roll and turned it into “white people
music” (when people say rock n roll nowadays, the first thing that comes to
mind is ‘white people’). Timberlake and Eminem also gained immense success
through their performances and uses of African American music(rap), thereby
exhibiting another scenario where white people are stealing the culture of the
black community and using it for their own gain. The biggest insult, however,
came when Macklemore won the Best Rap Album award at the 2014 Grammys.
Macklemore’s album, The Heist, was
viewed to be more of a “pop” album than actual rap. However, at that point, the
white community had already infiltrated the rap genre so much that they
essentially engaged in “indirect racism” by giving the award to a white man
whose somewhat pop album was apparently viewed to be better (just because he
was white) than the actual hardcore rap albums produced by Kendrick (good kid, M.A.A.D City), Jay-Z (Magna Carta…Holy Grail), and Kanye (Yeezus), who were actual African
Americans performing African American music that was argued to be much better.
Cole argues that this injustice will continue unless the African American
community returns to its ability of being innovative.

1 Cole
is extremely angry at the fact that African American rappers only care about
competing amongst themselves while completely ignoring the white theft of
African American music (hip-hop). He believes that the intragroup competition
is distracting them from the real issue, which is a loss of a piece of African
American culture to the white populace yet again.

1 Cole
has a bleak perspective in that he believes that white appropriation of African
American music is so ingrained in society that the disrespect towards black
rappers will continue. He believes that the year after this album (2015) will
be a year where Iggy Azalea wins rap-affiliated Grammys not because her music
is actually good and has merit as true rap, but only because she was popular in
the general, large group of white listeners as she is white herself.

1 Even
though Cole is just kidding with those jabs at the white artists, those jokes
have some truth behind them. Cole, even though he’s released some true hardcore
rap albums that certainly deserve some recognition, feels that he has won no
Grammys and thereby failed at the awards because of the white takeover of rap.
His album before this one, Born Sinner,
which got much praise from the hip-hop community, didn’t even earn a nomination.
This was a huge insult to Cole and a reminder that the bigger fight is stopping
the white takeover.

1 The
same talent that African Americans used to create the innovative rap genre in
the beginning is now being used against them by the white people who are trying
to take that original, innovative genius and use it for their own gain, thereby
attempting to exclude the original, founding black community in the process.
However, no one, not even the dominating whites, can one-up Cole in the rap
game as his talent will soon triumph everyone else’s.

1 Cole
is emphasizing that he is clearly much smarter than his opponents in the rap
game and it is this unique intelligence of his that will allow him to dominate.
He is possibly referencing the fact that he went to college (St. John’s
University). Since very few other rappers have gone to college and he knows
that, he believes this degree and its accompanying knowledge will allow him to
outthink and thereby crush his lyrical opponents.

1 In a
lucid dream, people are privy to the fact that they can take the reins of the dream
and do as their mind pleases. Just like how lucid dreamers are in full control
of the dream, Cole realizes that he has all the resources that he will ever
need at his disposal and that he can use them to accomplish whatever his mind
and heart desire, which in this case is ascension to the top of the rap game
and turning rap back into “black” music.

1 Cole
will convince his haters that he’s someone to be respected in the rap game by
showcasing powerful verses that leave them in shock and with no other choice
than to admit that Cole has the talent needed to be one of the greats.

1 Cole
makes sure to pay homage to his roots as “the 2-6” is another name for
Fayetteville. He’s referencing his transition from his beginning in that North
Carolina town where he had very little to his position today where he is armed
with the talent, power, and recognition needed to claim the throne of hip-hop. This
reference exemplifies Cole’s authenticity of positionality as he is saying that
his hometown was crucial in shaping his journey. He is essentially saying that
the leadership of hip-hop is up for grabs as of now and that he’ll be the one
to come down with it.

1 Cole
is trying to emphasize that even as this battle for the crown of hip-hop rages
on, everyone is a winner in the end as they’re in control of their own
destinies. It’s somewhat like how parents say to the kids of the losing team in
a sport about how “it wasn’t about winning but about having fun”.  It’s not mockery per se but rather foreshadowing
in that Cole is saying that everyone should think of themselves as a “winner” but
in the end, he will be the one who is the true victor.

1 Whilst
all the rappers are arguing about who the rap game deserves as its champion,
Cole will swoop in with his lyrical prowess, rhythmic attack, and musical
ingenuity to become the champion through force. He’ll take the throne for
himself while everyone else is distractedly fighting amongst one another about
who truly belongs in that chair of power.

1 He
destroys the concept of being the best instead of letting that title belong to
him.

1 He
destroys the idea of this “throne” as he realizes everyone has stopped being
creative and instead are more focused on propelling themselves above others
with force, a total lack of uniqueness, and a mimicry of other people’s styles
(styles that had allowed the original creators to become successful). He wants
to bring back the age of innovation and ingenuity in rap and to do that, the
throne must be destroyed because if it exists, all people will care about is
getting to the top.

1 People
who want power for themselves are the ones who are scared. They fear that
without that power and recognition that comes with it, they will never be
successful in life. Essentially, they don’t believe in themselves and their
talent. They believe that they’re not good enough to make it on their own. Cole
is emphasizing the value of trusting and believing in yourself for success.
Essentially, people should work on honing their own musical craft instead of
vying for an imaginary throne that symbolizes a lack of personal success. They
want others to tell them that they’re good.

1 Here,
Cole transitions into the philosophical/religious side of the rap game. Many hip-hop
artists fear failing in hip-hop, dying, or not being known in the hip-hop
community (especially after they’ve aged out). Cole, on the other hand, isn’t stressed
about this occurrence because of his belief in God. He understands that God has
a plan for him and if his rap career isn’t meant to be a part of that plan, he
will be totally fine with it because God has other great things planned for
him.

1  Even though people may be physically
(racially) different, trying to fight/control one another, and not get along at
times, everyone is spiritually equal in the kingdom of God. By saying that God
views all persons as equal, Cole is advocating for the continuation of that
spiritual equality in today’s society and especially in the rap community.

1 Ultimately, all hip-hop artists care about is getting
the credit they deserve for their craft. No one wants to be underappreciated
nor do they want to be completely ignored. Rappers’ goals shouldn’t center
around capturing the throne but around getting credit where credit is due and
working hard to able to get that credit. By saying he’s a poet, Cole is
emphasizing that he’s not like other rappers who just care about the “throne”;
instead, he’s more focused on his craft. Overall, this song is an example of
Cole showcasing his ability to grow. In the beginning, all Cole cared about was
himself and making himself seem better than everyone else. Towards the end
however, he matures and realizes the real goal in life should not be to
dominate the rap game, but to hone your own craft, be innovative, and treat
others, especially in the rap community (even if they are white rappers), with
respect as everyone is equal in the eyes of God.