Rapper J. Cole released his sophomore album, "Born Sinner," earlier this year, but he's doing a round of press in promotion of a video game that's using one of his songs. As is often the case, reporters had some other questions for the rapper, and BET used its time to press Cole on two hot button issues: racism and homophobia.
On the first front, Cole frankly addressed the light-skinned vs. dark-skinned divide that continues to be an issue not only in broader society, but in hip-hop. As BET's Clay Cane notes, music videos often feature light-skinned models, and Cole has made a concerted effort to challenge that paradigm. But colorism doesn't only affect women in the hip-hop space. Here's Cole:
I can’t say it for sure but I just think we’re still in America. We’re still Black Americans. Those mental chains are still in us. That brainwashing that tells us that light skin is better, it’s subconsciously in us, whether we know it or not… still pursuing light skin women. There are some women out there that are like, “I don’t even like light skin men” and that’s fine. But Barack Obama would not be President if he were dark skin. You know what I mean? That’s just the truth. I might not be as successful as I am now if I was dark skin. I’m not saying that for sure, I’m still as talented as I am and Obama is still as smart as he is, but it’s just a sad truth.
Cole, seemingly aware that what he had just said was relatively controversial, noted that his comments may not translate well into text, and went on to state that he "can only naturally assume it’s probably easier for a light skin male rapper than it might be for a dark skin male rapper." (That's up for debate, given the fluid definition of "easier" and "light" or "dark skin" -- A crash course on history's best-selling rap albums certainly includes Eminem, but it doesn't exclude the likes of OutKast, The Notorious B.I.G., MC Hammer, etc.)
The issue of how race figures into a rapper's popularity was also raised in a Rolling Stone cover story on Macklemore, a white rapper from Seattle who turned a sing-songy take on thrift shopping into a massive hit. "If you’re going to be a white dude and do this shit, I think you have to take some level of accountability," Macklemore told the magazine. "You have to acknowledge where the art came from, where it is today, how you’re benefiting from it. At the very least, just bringing up those points and acknowledging that, yes, I understand my privilege, I understand how it works for me in society, and how it works for me in 2013 with the success that 'The Heist' has had." (Gawker's Rich Juzwiak took a hard line on the comments, calling Macklemore "lazy" and suggested he stop rapping if he was aware of the unfair privileges that race afforded him.)
Cane also pushed Cole on the rapper's use of the word "faggot" on "Born Sinner," an issue HuffPost first raised with Cole in an earlier interview. When we asked Cole why he felt comfortable using the word ("my verbal AK slay faggots / and I don't mean no disrespect whenever I say 'faggot,' OK, faggot?"), the 28-year-old said that he was trying to start a conversation and noted that he wasn't immune from acting homophobic: "At a time when public acceptance of gay rights is soaring (rightfully), hip-hop culture and general are still battling with homophobia (not excluding myself)."
The conversations Cole hoped to start with the lyric and HuffPost interview apparently never happened. Here's Cole, who said he does not regret using the word, speaking on the matter with BET:
The line was to engage the conversation of homophobia in Black culture and in hip-hop. I thought it was going to be a way more interesting conversation that came from it. Of course I made the statement, but I thought from that it would spawn better conversations like, “Why are we so homophobic?” Much more than I think any other culture, I don’t want to just compare it to white people, but in terms of jokes that you make — everything’s got to be “pause” or “no homo.” You cant even play basketball without someone saying, “pause.” I’m not innocent of it. I am part of that same culture – but why? That line was supposed to be offensive and confusing, but I was hoping to have more conversations about it.
Are Cole's views on race and homophobia ultimately satisfying or undeveloped? Let us know what you think in the comments.