1 Verse, 1 Hearse #23, J. Cole – Miss America
Who remembers “Work Out?” Yeah, well that was J. Cole’s first single for his debut album, Cole World: The Sideline Story. At the time, Cole was trying to change the conversation. He wanted to show people that he had the diversity to become a mainstream rapper all while staying true to his core. Now Cole is trying to change the conversation once again. This time, he doesn’t care so much about radio airplay or whether people think that he can drop a million in a week. This time, Cole is in control and he’s driving the conversation instead of reacting to it. I’m talking about the first single from his sophomore album titled Born Sinner. Cole dropped “Miss America” to change the conversation, to change the way the industry is run. Instead of leading with a radio single like last time, Cole lead with a single commenting on the current state of affairs.
Cole kicked off “Miss America” with his own version of Hov’s “PSA.” He then followed it with one of the most, if not the most famous American quote of all time. John F. Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” immediately sets the tone. This track is going to be about America, and J. Cole’s service to the nation, educating the youth. The first verse had its bright moments, but the second verse interests me the most, mainly because of its ending, but we’ll talk about that later on. For now, let’s take it to the top of the second verse.
Blood on my sneakers, no remorse for the grievers
He played the corner like Revis he should’ve had better defense
That’s how I’m feelin’, blood spillin’ I love killin’
Niggas will swear that they it, this is as rare as it gets
Rap game changed, this is embarrassing shit
Bunch of bitches posin’ on some old Miss America shit
I was a wilder nigga back on my Therapist shit, moving careless as shit
In a city where niggas really don’t care who they hit
Who the fuck was I?
Just a young little nigga tryin’ to see the other side
Of the railroad tracks, where them scarecrows at
No brains on a nigga but they’ll air your back
Fuck the man, Uncle Sam, I won’t sell your crack
I won’t fight your wars, I won’t wear your hat
I’ma pass your classes, I’ma learn your craft
I’ma fuck your daughters, I’ma burn your flag
The second verse couldn’t have started any better. Cole’s cleverness is at its highest point during the first two lines. Cole addressed one of America’s biggest problems, drugs. Jermaine showed no remorse for the dealers who die on the job. Like Cole said, if they play the corner like Revis, they better have good defense which means that if they sell drugs on the corner they better know how to defend themselves. For those unfamiliar with this thing we Americans call football, Darrelle Revis is a cornerback for the New York Jets. A cornerback’s job is to guard the other teams’ receiver and prevent him from catching the ball. In three words, cornerbacks play defense. So once you know who Revis is, you can see how bright Cole’s cleverness is. Cole is basically saying that for every action there is a reaction. Selling drugs has its consequences in this capitalistic society.
After talking about drugs in America, Cole moved on to the rap game. “Rap game changed, this is embarrassing shit,” Cole rapped. He’s most ashamed of the rappers that pose like they’re classics on their “old Miss America shit,” and they’re really imposters. Later on in the verse, J. Cole spoke about growing up in a rough neighborhood and being a product of his environment. When he rapped, “I was a wilder nigga back on my Therapist shit, movin’ careless as shit,” he’s talking about the days he used to go by The Therapist, and how he was foolish. He then connected his foolishness to his city. “In a city where niggas really don’t care who they hit,” he rapped, talking about the violence in the city where people don’t care about the people they hurt with their bullets. But Cole asked, “Who the fuck was I?” With that line, Cole is telling us that he was just a pawn in the scheme of things. He was just a product of his environment. He didn’t have an identity; he just played the part that was given to him by society. Cole further justified his actions by rapping that he was “just trying to see the other side of the tracks,” meaning the nicer part of town. So although he was wildin’ out, he still had the desire to better his situation, and move out to the nice suburbs. Once again, he’s commenting on the American capitalistic society where it seems like everything revolves around money and status, which is why in the bridge he asks himself, “Am I about dollars, or about change?”
If J. Cole’s cleverness was at its highest point during the top of the verse, his message was at its highest point on the tail end of the verse. During the next four bars, Cole rapped about all of the things that bother him about America. “Fuck the man Uncle Sam, I won’t sell your crack,” he rapped referring to the belief that the government placed crack in black communities to keep the race down. In this line, and lines after, Uncle Sam represents the negative aspects of the U.S. government. Cole then said, “I won’t fight your wars, I won’t wear you hat.” Jermaine might’ve been a pawn before in his city, but he’s not The Therapist anymore. He’s now an independent thinker and he’s not going to do the government’s dirty work. Even though Cole won’t fight for the system, he’s willing to work with it by passing its “classes” and learning the “craft” necessary to succeed in America. He’s then going to mess with Uncle Sam’s daughters so that when he’s in the family, he’ll be able to take Uncle Sam down, as in the bad aspects of the government. So when he says that he’s going to burn the flag, he’s talking about Uncle Sam’s version of the American flag and what he represents. In the end, Cole hopes to take down the negative aspects of the government and society in general.
Cole took a step in the right direction as far as changing the conversation goes, especially with the final four bars about burning the flag. Cole didn’t hold anything back on this one. He simply let it all out but he was really meticulous in his approach. “Miss America” was a very structured song. A few years back with a message like this, I would’ve expected more of a mixtape track where the structure was really loose. It’s not the first time Cole has touched touchy subjects, but this was the first time that Cole spoke about American society while in the spotlight. After all, he made it the first single from his upcoming album. It’s not a mixtape track. This track really excited me for Born Sinner. Cole showed a lot of growth in his theme selection, and the future looks really promising for Born Sinner. I doubt that the January release date will stick for the album, but I don’t mind that at all. I want to see Cole do big numbers with Born Sinner, so it’s crucial to get the promotion nailed down before dropping the album. For now, all we can do is enjoy “Miss America.” Cole killed it.