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Looking Past Profanity: The Message and the Meaning Behind J. Cole’s ‘High for Hours.’

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Dreamville (Jermanie Cole’s record label) was surprised by a hard hitting new record this past MLK day, fittingly falling just days before the swearing in of the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump.  But this song isn’t just for diehard J. Cole fans or rap fanatics— it’s for America.

Cole’s new song, “High For Hours,” uses three verses to take a deep look into the hypocrisy that is America, oppression, and the Obama presidency- both the good and the bad. This reflection on politics is nothing new for Cole. It can be seen in  his past projects, but this is easily his most thought-provoking work yet.

The first verse takes a controversial stance on religion. Cole raps, “Religion don’t mean ****, there’s too much ego in the way. That’s why ISIS is a crisis. But in reality this county do the same ****. Take a life and call it righteous.” While American news organizations are honed in on the violent, hate driven actions of the terrorist organization, ISIS, many have forgotten the United States’ own wrongdoings. ISIS is killing innocent people. Americans are killing innocent people, but only the prior has been deemed murderous. He uses this to segue into bars about the discrimination of impoverished African Americans by police officers spanning across the U.S..  Cole doesn’t blame the police, though; he blames the government. “ ‘**** the government!’ They see my people strugglin’ and they don’t give a **** at all.” He has realized that black people both rich and poor are struggling across America. While racism is deeply rooted in American culture, he questions why those in power haven’t done anything.

He calls upon Obama in the second verse to address this oppression. In 2016, Cole had the opportunity to sit down and speak with then-President Barack Obama. During this meeting,  he asked Obama about the “black man plight.” He questioned how the U.S. could have an
African American president, yet still be struggling to fight past oppression. A standout line in this verse is, “you know this ****, man: politics.” Again, Cole is exposing the issues with the government. No matter the push for progress, it’s those in power who constantly dig their heels into the ground. So, Cole calls for action, spitting, “don’t stop fightin’ and don’t stop belivin’, you can make the world better for your kids before you leave it. Change is slow, always has been, always will be. But **** that, Imma bust back ‘till they kill me.” The ‘white man’ has nothing on Cole. He will keep fighting for change, no matter how hard and unbalanced the fight may be.

Revolution is the focus of the third verse. Some may be surprised that Cole isn’t calling on the oppressed to revolt. He realizes that destruction of the ‘system’ is not the answer. Instead, he is more realistic: “Abused becomes the abuser and that’s just how life go.” This is harsh, but it is reality. Many race issues have simply become cyclical. How does Cole propose change, then? “The only real revolution happens right inside of you.” Although this is a simple line, it rings out above the others. He doesn’t express a radical idea; he just tells everyone to start by changing themselves and to make their own progress, to change the cycle. You may want to change the world, but first you must find peace within yourself, which may just be a greater feat.

If you take the time to look past the profanity, this song is much more than an anthem to bump to; it’s a call for personal change.

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Looking Past Profanity: The Message and the Meaning Behind J. Cole’s ‘High for Hours.’