J. Cole Explains How The Book ‘New Jim Crow’ Made Him ‘Tired of Rapping About Myself’

During MLK Now, an event celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day yesterday, North Carolina rapper J. Cole talked about his recent turn to social consciousness in a discussion that also featured Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch hosted by Creed director Ryan Coogler. The event, which was held at New York City’s Riverside Church in Harlem, featured dialogues with other prominent celebrities and thought leaders like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and New York Times “1619 Project” creator Nikole Hannah-Jones.

In his portion of the panel, Cole attributed his new direction to the book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In The Age Of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, which he said threw modern injustices he’d observed into relief, giving him a new lens to process them through. “Everything we saw and see just put into factual evidence of what was happening,” he says. He further revealed that after releasing 2014 Forest Hills Drive, he wanted to shift gears musically.

“After the Forest Hills Drive album, at a time in my life where I was just tired of, like, rapping about myself,” he said. “So much of my career, my art was, like, storytelling from my own perspective. I would always give you little branches of somebody else’s perspective, but so much of it was my personal journey, my personal growth, my personal flaws, this, that, and the third. And it was a time period when I was like, that was not interesting to me. What was interesting was, like, I had just moved back home, from New York back to Carolina.”

Cole also talked about the early stages of his career and paying his dues, and traded stories with Lynch on their respective approaches to activism. You can watch the full discussion in the video above starting at around three hours, six minutes.