Call J. Cole boring, but one thing that can’t be said about the guy is that he doesn’t at least attempt to provide a dose of social consciousness in his music.
Roughly three years ago when Jermaine released the critically-acclaimed Friday Night Lights, “See World” found itself buried towards the back end of the project. The song remains a landmark example of Cole’s introspective nature as he speaks on the grotesque kidnap, rape and murder of five-year-old Shaniya Davis. Fast forward to the present and his “Crooked Smile” video taps into the same element of emotion as he resurrects the incredibly painful death of seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones in 2010.
As my good friend and college classmate Mychal Denzel Smith put it earlier this summer, the George Zimmerman trial captivated a nation with its deliberations, verdict and aftermath. On June 18 – ironically the same day Cole’s Born Sinner hit shelves – Detroit police officer Joseph Weekly saw his charge of involuntary manslaughter as he shot and killed Jones declared a mistrial.
He was the lead officer of his Special Response Team on a raid Chauncey Owens’ home – a suspect in the murder of a 17-year-old, who lived in the upstairs unit. Weekly claims the shot to Jones’ head occurred after an altercation with her grandmother. Nevertheless, a child died, a baby was buried and a family was eviscerated forever.
While early responses to the video have been largely positive, some have seen taken the stance of Cole using the case to promote his album and that it doesn’t reflect the song’s original message. A valid claim, unless one wants rebuttal with America operating under the veil of a “crooked smile” since Europeans first landed here on accident.
That said, for the countless videos of leased cars, fake money and the promotion of a lifestyle only existing in the pockets of an elite few, watching a rapper take a stand and bring to light an issue as piercing as the story of Aiyana is refreshing. And since when has spreading light on injustices been known to be negative?
Cole’s sold about as much as he’s going to with Sinner. He’s not going to magically make a run at double platinum now. This isn’t to crown Jermaine with any special tag or claim “he’s bringing real Hip-Hop” to the forefront. In a sense, it reminds me of Eve’s “Love Is Blind” video. Both represent nonfictional accounts – albeit Cole’s more specific and Eve’s more applicable – that upon viewing the video allows the song to resonate that much more.
“Crooked Smile” won’t bring Aiyana Jones back, much like “See World” didn’t with Shaniya Davis or Fruitvale Station with Oscar Grant. But similar to seeing justice given in a court of law in an ideal world, however, it at least helps knowing her death isn’t completely in vain.