1 Colewants to make it clear that people can believe in him to restore rap in a waythat reduces its admiration of white “culture” and focuses more on the AfricanAmerican race that created this genre and gives credit where credit is due.
Coleis trying to make it clear that it’s time to fix the inequality in hip-hop bygiving more credit to the African American rappers as, around this time, therehad been rising significance of “white culture” in hip-hop, namely IggyAzalea’s ascension and Eminem’s “white reign” over hip-hop. He wants people toknow that he can be the one that fixes that inequality. He can be the one torepresent the African American hip-hop community.1 Atthis 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 himback as he fights to make himself known as he believes that he alone can be themost successful in spreading the message. He cannot doubt himself anymore (the”stress” causes breaks in his belief in himself and therefore must be avoidedat 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 isdirecting his anger and powerful message at an imaginary girl who seems to beholding him back. 1 Hewants the African American race to take charge and make sure that the “whiteprivilege” in hip hop doesn’t get so bad that soon, hip-hop ends up being knownas “white music”. You can only earn money, and the resulting power andrecognition that comes with it, if you aren’t afraid of upsetting theestablished 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 significancegiven to “white culture” in hip-hop.
1 He’sassuring 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 andtake 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 adifferent message/idea with each couplet. Basically, the four couplets in thehook outline the topics he’s going to rap about throughout the song; it’s likean introduction/his own rap “thesis”.1 First,Cole makes it clear that there is no way he can be stopped; the inevitable ishappening and that is his rise to dominance. In the following line (“A lottaniggas sat on the throne”), Cole references Jay-Z and Kanye’s collaborativealbum of Watch the Throne (and itsfamous song, “Niggas in Paris”).Through this reference, Cole is making it clear that even though that albumplaced Jay-Z and Kanye at the top of the hierarchy, times have changed, tideshave turned, and Cole is the one in charge now.
He’s making it clear that theyhave been dethroned. In the following line, Cole makes yet another snidereference 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’stalking about the time his album BornSinner 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 Colehas a dual meaning here. Not only did he defeat the kings (Jay-Z and namely,Kanye) the year before (when he released BornSinner) and make them realize howit 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 thatinstead, he is the one deserving of reverence. He also feels that the entirerap genre and community will need some time to “heal”/adjust to reality afterhe upsets the entire established order with his talent and forcefully removes thekings from their figurative thrones.
1 HereCole references the song “Miuzi Weighs a Ton” by Public Enemy. Just as howPublic Enemy had emphasized, Cole is ready to rain down terror upon the currenthierarchy of hip-hop, and take his place at the top. He’s not afraid aboutanyone who gets in his way (as guns “mow down” obstacles). Cole further goes onto make himself seem better and more powerful than anyone else by saying he’sgoing to carry two guns instead of one, as most in the hip-hop community wouldpride themselves on owning a single gun.1 He’spreparing to unleash his unrelenting attack on the hip-hop leadership and makehis talent well-known. He offers up a “prayer” to the Lord to make it clearthat he’s not stopping for anyone, doesn’t care about who he takes down, andwill do anything he can to make himself the best, no matter how “immoral” itmay seem to the people around him. He is ready to do anything to make sureAfrican American rappers take precedence once again in hip-hop.1 WhileCole 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 thisbattle for the “throne” of hip-hop turn him into something he’s not and wouldregret.
That said, even while maintaining this self-restraint, he pictureshimself in a setting where he’s absolutely killing/destroying other rapperswith his lyrical prowess.1 Colethinks that his lyrical flow and rhymes are so good that they’re far moreadvanced than what the present situation would allow for. Due to this belief,Cole believes that while he discusses envisioning the future, he’s really justengaging in retrospection of talent that he’s always had for as long as heknows (it’s something that’s carried on from his past into his currentsituation 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 (theaudience) would do well to accept that and realize that Cole’s reign is justbeginning because if he believes if he can be the king of rap, then he will bethe king. 1 Here,Cole attempts to incorporate some humor by describing a common occurrence. Manytimes, a girl will quickly provide a fake number to a guy she doesn’t reallylike. The guy, thinking he’s won over the girl’s heart, goes home all happy andproud of himself only to sadly realize later that he had been duped. Inaccordance with this event, Cole is permitting the hip-hop community to believethat he’s nothing and no one, only to realize later that he had been playingthem all along and that he in fact would always be there to take them down.1 Lotsof rappers want to be successful in their careers.
However, half the rappersclearly aren’t good enough and don’t have the talent needed to be a stand-outstar. The other half view themselves as “high and mighty” and too good.Therefore, they end up putting in extremely minimal work as they believe thatsince they’re so good, any output that they produce will automatically bedeemed “successful”. This minimal effort leads to them failing in this careerpath. Either way, the result is that very few are good enough to make it in hiphop.
1 Everyrapper wants to be the best. However, whereas some only care about puredomination and don’t care about the actual rap game, Cole will make it hismission to stick to making rap an African American-led style of music andprevent it from ever falling into doubt again. You need someone who can proveto you he’s got the skill needed to continue the reverence of African Americanrap and not someone who just tries to scare people onto his path.1Ice-Cube and Ice-T, rappers from opposing coasts, were both gangster rappersnear the tops of their games during their times. They were both extremelyskilled in the art of rapping in the styles of their respective coasts as wellas in their abilities to discuss social issues in the black community in theurban poverty/crime scene. 2 Live Crew was a hip-hop group that was known forpopularizing the Miami Bass style in the 1980’s as well as discussingcontroversial yet crucial sexual themes in its music. Spike Lee is an extremelyacclaimed African American film director who was known for making movies whichanalyzed both race relations and the existence of race conflicts in the blackcommunity.
Cole is saying that he’s so skilled that his talent is like ahyper-inflated combination of these four extremely renowned people/groups. 1 BruceWayne is the powerful, menacing, and awe-inspiring vigilante known as Batmanwhereas Bruce Lee is a Chinese martial arts fighter who was known during histime as one of the most talented, powerful, and dangerous martial artists. Coleis essentially saying that his lyrical prowess/genius is as deadly and powerfulas the combination of these two “heroes”, once again emphasizing that histalent sees no bounds. 1 Coleis talking about Lil Wayne’s song “Brand New”. In that song, all Wayne talksabout is how rich he is and his consumerism-mindset where he’s always gettingthe newest things. Cole says that essentially, he’s something never before seenin the rap game, something that would’ve left even this boastful Wayne in shockafter he witnessed his extreme uniqueness. Cole then goes on to boast abouthimself, comparing himself to one of the current best players in the NBA inKevin Durant. He wants to emphasize that his own talent in comparison to therest of the rap game is leaps and bounds ahead of what Kevin Durant’s talentwould measure/amount to on a scale relative to the rest of the NBA.
1 Inthis 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 hadleft his family, leaving a single mother to look after him and his brother.
That forced his family to relocate to an ethnically and socially stressedenvironment in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He’s worked extremely hard andpersevered through hell to become the new king of rap that he views himself tobe. The rhyme scheme between “shirt” and “dirt” further emphasizes the lack ofwealth, power, status, and knowledge that he had when he began his journey buthad accumulated along the way.1 HereCole really tries to rub in his skillfulness through an insightful alliterationthat centers around the letter “P” and a chess comparison. He wants to exhibitthe growth and power that he’s attained in terms of rap ingenuity. A pawn, in agame of chess, is the least relevant piece in a game of chess; at times, thesepawns can even become hindrances.
The king piece, however, is perhaps the mostrelevant in the game as it is centered around that piece (the goal is toprotect the king from any instance of checkmate). Just like a transition from apawn to a king, Cole has gone from being unknown, talentless, and lackluster tosomeone whose uniqueness and raw talent are things that people should and willrevere. The rhyming between “sing” and “king” shows that his musical andlyrical abilities are the things that make him someone to be looked up to.1 Here,Cole tries to conclude the conversation with the aforementioned imaginaryfemale who seems to be annoying him with her nagging. He wants to be free towork on his music and talent as he pleases, with nothing holding him back. Thatis the only way he can fully devote his time to honing his abilities to conquerthe rap game. 1 Now,the song’s social connotation comes into play. He’s beginning to talk aboutthroughout history, white people have tried to take over everything andanything that has belonged to the black community.
They have always tried tomake the black community’s music their own. In the present situation, none ofthe black rappers, in Cole’s eyes, are unique whatsoever. There’ll be onerapper who has a unique style that has the public entranced and the rest of theblack 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 andtakeover of black hip-hop. This takeover can only be halted if black rapperstry to be innovative once again. 1 Thesetwo 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 ofAfrican American music.
However, Elvis Presley, a white man, entered the sceneand popularized it much more than any black artist had up to the point. Indoing so, Elvis essentially stole rock n roll and turned it into “white peoplemusic” (when people say rock n roll nowadays, the first thing that comes tomind is ‘white people’). Timberlake and Eminem also gained immense successthrough their performances and uses of African American music(rap), therebyexhibiting another scenario where white people are stealing the culture of theblack 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, wasviewed to be more of a “pop” album than actual rap. However, at that point, thewhite community had already infiltrated the rap genre so much that theyessentially engaged in “indirect racism” by giving the award to a white manwhose somewhat pop album was apparently viewed to be better (just because hewas 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 AfricanAmericans performing African American music that was argued to be much better.Cole argues that this injustice will continue unless the African Americancommunity returns to its ability of being innovative. 1 Coleis extremely angry at the fact that African American rappers only care aboutcompeting amongst themselves while completely ignoring the white theft ofAfrican American music (hip-hop). He believes that the intragroup competitionis distracting them from the real issue, which is a loss of a piece of AfricanAmerican culture to the white populace yet again.1 Colehas a bleak perspective in that he believes that white appropriation of AfricanAmerican music is so ingrained in society that the disrespect towards blackrappers will continue. He believes that the year after this album (2015) willbe a year where Iggy Azalea wins rap-affiliated Grammys not because her musicis actually good and has merit as true rap, but only because she was popular inthe general, large group of white listeners as she is white herself.
1 Eventhough Cole is just kidding with those jabs at the white artists, those jokeshave some truth behind them. Cole, even though he’s released some true hardcorerap albums that certainly deserve some recognition, feels that he has won noGrammys 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 stoppingthe white takeover.1 Thesame talent that African Americans used to create the innovative rap genre inthe beginning is now being used against them by the white people who are tryingto take that original, innovative genius and use it for their own gain, therebyattempting to exclude the original, founding black community in the process.However, no one, not even the dominating whites, can one-up Cole in the rapgame as his talent will soon triumph everyone else’s.1 Coleis emphasizing that he is clearly much smarter than his opponents in the rapgame 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’sUniversity).
Since very few other rappers have gone to college and he knowsthat, he believes this degree and its accompanying knowledge will allow him tooutthink and thereby crush his lyrical opponents.1 In alucid dream, people are privy to the fact that they can take the reins of the dreamand do as their mind pleases. Just like how lucid dreamers are in full controlof the dream, Cole realizes that he has all the resources that he will everneed at his disposal and that he can use them to accomplish whatever his mindand heart desire, which in this case is ascension to the top of the rap gameand turning rap back into “black” music.1 Colewill convince his haters that he’s someone to be respected in the rap game byshowcasing powerful verses that leave them in shock and with no other choicethan to admit that Cole has the talent needed to be one of the greats. 1 Colemakes sure to pay homage to his roots as “the 2-6” is another name forFayetteville.
He’s referencing his transition from his beginning in that NorthCarolina town where he had very little to his position today where he is armedwith the talent, power, and recognition needed to claim the throne of hip-hop. Thisreference exemplifies Cole’s authenticity of positionality as he is saying thathis hometown was crucial in shaping his journey. He is essentially saying thatthe leadership of hip-hop is up for grabs as of now and that he’ll be the oneto come down with it.
1 Coleis trying to emphasize that even as this battle for the crown of hip-hop rageson, everyone is a winner in the end as they’re in control of their owndestinies. It’s somewhat like how parents say to the kids of the losing team ina sport about how “it wasn’t about winning but about having fun”. It’s not mockery per se but rather foreshadowingin that Cole is saying that everyone should think of themselves as a “winner” butin the end, he will be the one who is the true victor.1 Whilstall the rappers are arguing about who the rap game deserves as its champion,Cole will swoop in with his lyrical prowess, rhythmic attack, and musicalingenuity to become the champion through force.
He’ll take the throne forhimself while everyone else is distractedly fighting amongst one another aboutwho truly belongs in that chair of power. 1 Hedestroys the concept of being the best instead of letting that title belong tohim.1 Hedestroys the idea of this “throne” as he realizes everyone has stopped beingcreative and instead are more focused on propelling themselves above otherswith 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 wantsto bring back the age of innovation and ingenuity in rap and to do that, thethrone must be destroyed because if it exists, all people will care about isgetting to the top.1 Peoplewho want power for themselves are the ones who are scared. They fear thatwithout that power and recognition that comes with it, they will never besuccessful in life.
Essentially, they don’t believe in themselves and theirtalent. They believe that they’re not good enough to make it on their own. Coleis emphasizing the value of trusting and believing in yourself for success.Essentially, people should work on honing their own musical craft instead ofvying for an imaginary throne that symbolizes a lack of personal success.
Theywant others to tell them that they’re good.1 Here,Cole transitions into the philosophical/religious side of the rap game. Many hip-hopartists fear failing in hip-hop, dying, or not being known in the hip-hopcommunity (especially after they’ve aged out). Cole, on the other hand, isn’t stressedabout this occurrence because of his belief in God. He understands that God hasa plan for him and if his rap career isn’t meant to be a part of that plan, hewill be totally fine with it because God has other great things planned forhim.1 Even though people may be physically(racially) different, trying to fight/control one another, and not get along attimes, everyone is spiritually equal in the kingdom of God. By saying that Godviews all persons as equal, Cole is advocating for the continuation of thatspiritual equality in today’s society and especially in the rap community.
1 Ultimately, all hip-hop artists care about is gettingthe credit they deserve for their craft. No one wants to be underappreciatednor do they want to be completely ignored. Rappers’ goals shouldn’t centeraround capturing the throne but around getting credit where credit is due andworking hard to able to get that credit. By saying he’s a poet, Cole isemphasizing 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 ofCole showcasing his ability to grow. In the beginning, all Cole cared about washimself and making himself seem better than everyone else.
Towards the endhowever, he matures and realizes the real goal in life should not be todominate the rap game, but to hone your own craft, be innovative, and treatothers, especially in the rap community (even if they are white rappers), withrespect as everyone is equal in the eyes of God.