J. Cole Tackles Social Issues: 7 Ways He Took on Racism, Mental Health & More in His Career

J. Cole is pictured following a New Year's Eve performance at the Light Nightclub at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Dec. 31, 2015 in Las Vegas.
Isaac Brekken/WireImage

J. Cole is pictured following a New Year's Eve performance at the Light Nightclub at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Dec. 31, 2015 in Las Vegas.

2016 has been a mental and emotional rollercoaster for numerous groups of people. From people of color to the immigrants, women, and the LGBTQ+ community, there is no denying that America hasn’t been this vulnerable in a long time. Social issues have peaked interest and hate crimes have risen. But these acts of discrimination, however, are no stranger to the African-American community.

With the timing right, Jermaine Cole took it in his own hands to give his two cents in what he knows best. When J. Cole dropped his fourth Billboard 200-topping album, 4 Your Eyez Only, earlier this month, the “platinum with no features” rapper proved his growth as an artist turning his new work into a musical masterpiece highlighting the oppression of a black man living in the ghetto. Mixing his personal anecdotes to create a fictional character based on the death of a friend, Cole has concocted a new creative conduit for pushing his craft forward. 

As race takes on a majority of the album’s theme, Daily Emerald best summarized the album as a “track-by-track journey of a black man’s experience of growing up in our nation, from encountering ghetto violence at a young age, suffering inescapable racial prejudices in real life and in the media and dealing with death and mortality.”

Eyez may be considered Cole’s darkest and deepest album yet, as he invites listeners to open themselves to the struggles many face in contemporary America. However, this isn’t the first time Cole has touched base on social issues in today’s society. Often addressing race, Cole has referenced the media’s influence on women, common insecurities and depression. Along with his recent release, here is a compilation of songs to which the Dreamville artist tackled such issues.

“Immortal,” 4 Your Eyez Only (2016)

This isn’t the first time Cole addresses the ongoing stereotypes the black community faces when it comes to its success. Rapping in the perspective of James, Cole dives into the come up of being a kingpin in the drug dealing game. Towards the end he raps, “They tellin' niggas, "sell dope, rap or go to NBA," (in that order)/It's that sort of thinkin' that been keepin' niggas chained.”

“Change,” 4 Your Eyez Only (2016)

Don’t let the upbeat tempo of this song fool you; Cole ends “Change” striking the listener by addressing the shooting of a 22-year-old boy named James. “Change” references black crimes in the community and asks for a “call of action” to change for the better amongst the inner cities.

“Neighbors,” 4 Your Eyez Only (2016)

Recalling moving into a new neighborhood, Cole’s anecdote recalls a SWAT team busting down his recording studio doors in search for drugs. His relocation to a nice neighborhood posed a threat to residents, who assumed he was a dealer. Racial profiling is no stranger to the black or Muslim community and Cole paints one of the many horrific pictures people of color go through today.

“4 Your Eyez Only,” 4 Your Eyez Only (2016)

For almost nine minutes, Cole perfectly ends his fourth album by seamlessly switching from James’ point of view in the first few verses, to his own by the end, as he explains the death of his friend to his daughter. The song is an ode to his late friend for his struggles and going through them for the sake of his daughter. Though this song derives from a back story of crime, it may also relate to the fatherless youth without male role models in their lives. 

“Crooked Smile,” Born Sinner (2011)

One of his most powerful music videos and songs to date, J.Cole empowers women to know their worth and forget their insecurities. With media forever dictating how they should look and behave in the public eye, Cole’s message says beauty is more than just what’s on the outside.

“Lost Ones,” Cole World: The Sideline Story (2011)

Here, J. Cole turns the narrative on his debut album to teen pregnancy. “This is a scene that happens everyday in America,” he explained in a 2012 interview. “Lost Ones” takes on the male thought process, questioning his abilities to own up to his doing and raise a child while. In the second verse, he takes a vocal stance of the mother-to-be.

Cole World: The Sideline Story (2011)

We’ll close by looking at Cole’s debut album in its entirety. In an interview with Soul Culture, J.Cole confessed his struggle with society’s pressure has caused him to go into depression. The production behind the album is him overcoming the mental struggle through his music.