One of the most jarring images from the first leg of J.Cole’s tour behind 4 Your Eyez Only doesn’t occur at the end or in the middle of Cole’s headlining act. Instead it is the very beginning as Cole walks out, surrounded by police officers while dressed in a county issued orange jumpsuit. Obviously taking cues from the SWAT stand-off that resulted in the creation of his 4 Your Eyez Only standout “Neighbors,” Cole recently took the concept to a much larger degree, visiting inmates at San Quentin State Prison in California.
Cole and his Dreamville team spoke to inmates who are serveing life sentences and more, without any media presence or publicity of their visit. Although they didn’t record a live album like Johnny Cash did at Folsom, they took in word and understanding from those men forever trapped inside the proverbial belly of the beast. The stories of living behind bars and being cut off from society raised awareness for not only Cole but also Dreamville Records president Ibrahim Hamad and Head of Art Direction Felton Brown. Hamad shared a few images of Cole and company behind the walls, noting that the experience was “life-changing.”
“We got the opportunity to spend the day at San Quentin State Prison talking and meeting inmates who will never see the outside again,” he wrote on Instagram. Brown added his own thoughts on the visit writing, “One of the most moving moments since this new journey. Spent a day with some brothers whose stories go unheard behind the wall. Learned a lot, so much work to be done. This system will try to not give you a voice but we’re listening.”
Cole’s moves usually are done in silence until the last possible second. Always shy to the concept of fame, the North Carolina rapper popped up at Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. tour stop in Detroit and performed a few of his own hits. Even when former President Barack Obama gives him a heads up on things, Cole keeps it lowkey and puts it in a song. The Dreamville leader going to see the inmates is similar to his visits to Ferguson in the days after Michael Brown was murdered. He just handles things a lot more quieter than most.