J. Cole released the much-anticipated music video to his song, “Middle Child.” It was directed by Mez, and Scott Lazer was the creative director. Lazer also directed a number of Cole’s videos including “ATM,” “Kevin’s Heart,” “4 Your Eyez Only,” and his documentary and concert series, “Forest Hills Drive Homecoming.” But what sets this project apart is how well the visuals complement the overall message of his lyrics. The video shows that while Cole is continuously overlooked in the music industry, the rapper is still a quiet but deadly hunter.
Here’s a breakdown of all the things you might have missed in J. Cole’s newest video.
Throughout most of the video, J. Cole is in the middle of the screen while everything is happening around him. Sort of like how kids describe their experiences being a middle child in their family. The video also wastes little time highlighting J. Cole’s targets. The scene opens with Cole in the center of the screen with a silhouetted crowd behind him. When the beat drops, affluent figures on the red carpet celebrate but aren’t paying any attention to Cole’s presence.
The red-carpet event is also in the woods. It’s the first visual hint of the hunting motif that comes up throughout the entire video. When the lights fade and the scene changes, the lively crowd now lies dead in the morgue. The red carpet has been replaced with red dirt, which also covers the soles of the dead’s shoes. The red bottoms remind viewers of the ever-popular high-end Louboutin shoes that have quickly become a status symbol. But the fact that the soles are made from dirt make the wearer seem fake and ingenuine. The ironic tattoo that reads “loyalty” on the female cadaver’s ankle also brings his message forward. But why this particular imagery?
When it comes to award shows, J. Cole has notoriously been snubbed. The artist has been up for a music-related award 43 times since 2012 and only won six of them. For the Grammys specifically, the artist has been nominated seven times and hasn’t won once! He’s been beat out by Childish Gambino, Ella Mai, Chance The Rapper, Kendrick Lamar, and The Weeknd.
Despite this, Cole has been and still is killing it. The artist, who also produces almost all of his records, went certified platinum with no features with his 2014 album “Forest Hills Drive.” His albums “Cole World,” “Born Sinner,” “4 Your Eyez Only,” and “KOD” also went platinum.
Cole continues riding around in the familiar red dirt backwoods in a Bentley. Covering the very expensive vehicle in mud without a care in the world. We get a peek into his hunting lodge with three human heads on display over a fireplace. The plaques under the heads read “Your Favorite Rapper,” “This Could Be You,” and “Ask For A Feature.” While the messages are pretty generic and could fit a number of overrated artists, people on Twitter are giving their best guesses. My guess would have to be Lil Pump for the artist in the middle. Given the colorful hair and Cole and Pump’s past beef.
Last year, fans thought Cole was calling out Pump in his “KOD” track “1985,” and tensions were high. Yes, the beef was squashed, but the “This Could Be You” plaque could be a warning. Just a theory. Another theory is that the colorful hair just represents new age rappers as a monolith. Cole’s made it clear in his song that he’s apparently over any personal beefs.
The lyrics overtly reveal the meaning behind the “Middle Child” song title. The artist feels that he rests between two ages of rap: old school and new school and is OK with acting as a bridge between them.
He acknowledges that he learned a lot from the legends before him and is looking to help the next wave of real artists. And the theme that sticks out in this part of the video is what it means to be real. We’ve switched scenes from the backwoods to the supermarket, a play on the hunters versus the buyers. The buyers here are the people who weren’t out there hunting for their success but passively relying on the innovation of others. Like this woman in camouflage who’s literally shopping for the juice.
The supermarket environment is also interesting in that it is the complete opposite of the grungy outdoor environment we just saw. Cole literally rolls past and props himself next to the cleaning product aisle. Notice again that Cole isn’t walking around the supermarket but is either sitting in the shopping cart or propped up against the shelves. His art is what other artists are trying to cop for themselves.
Another theme worth noting is how black women are portrayed throughout this video. Cole has a powerful, young, all-female marching band setting the pace and the beat for the whole song. The idea of setting the pace is continued with the shocking end to the video. A white woman notices a black woman’s babyhairs and is immediately seen shopping for a black woman’s face in the grocery store. The black face had a red “special” sticker on the packaging. J. Cole said it best: “Money in your palm don’t make you real.”
The video shows the dangers of appropriation. How features and styles of black women are only celebrated when they aren’t on black women.
Watch J. Cole’s music video for “Middle Child” below: