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Is J. Cole the lyricist of our generation?

His lyricism and its impact on listener experience.
Nimo Ren ’25

Picture yourself in the car listening to a song you like; maybe you’re singing along, maybe you’re dancing, or maybe you are just sitting there taking it in. 

No matter what it is that you’re doing, you’re listening. You are allowing yourself to escape reality even just for a second, and you permit yourself to feel the music, however that may be. But what does it really mean to feel a song? Can you physically feel it touching you, can you reach out and grab it? No. But just because you cannot physically feel a song, that doesn’t mean you cannot feel it within your mind and heart. 

In our current society, it isn’t uncommon for people to just enjoy a song because they like the way the rhythm sounds echoing off of the speakers; it isn’t uncommon for someone to add something to their playlist just because their friends like the song, it isn’t uncommon for someone to have a favorite artist based on the way they are perceived to be on social media. 

All of these occurrences happen too often in this generation, and although it isn’t an issue, it has pushed people away from listening to the words, hearing the true meaning, and letting it connect to them in any way that it may. 

Listening to music is an outlet for many people for a number of reasons, but when we stop hearing the song, we stop listening for the hidden messages, and we stop ourselves from really feeling what the song may have to offer. 

A lot of musicians and artists today have strayed away from writing lyrics that mean things more profound than just partying and relationships, but there is one particular artist who never fails to invoke genuine emotion and passion within his words and enables the listener to not only feel but to understand who he is and why he is.  

  1. Cole is the lyricist of our generation. To some, that’s a hot take and they argue that J. Cole will never be as poetically talented as Kendrick Lamar, that his voice isn’t as soothing as Drake’s. But that’s where they’re wrong. 
  2. Cole’s down-to-earth demeanor and intuitive lyrics build a mindset for the listener to allow them to see the world through a different lens, to view things through another perspective, and to hear lyrics that can resonate with just about anyone. J. Cole speaks and sings about matters that not many other rappers touch on, and he leaves you with a deeper understanding of the world through the power of his words. In his ten breathtaking albums, his tales of real-world problems and fears of being a Black man in America touch the hearts of millions of Americans with each poetic word he uses. 

His 2014 album 2014 Forest Hills Drive album is based on the stressors and hardships that accompany everyday life. Throughout the entirety of the album, Cole assures listeners that each of us is here for a reason and that we deserve to be here, that even when things go dark, there will still be light. In the song “Love Yourz,” Cole writes,  “No such thing as a life that’s better than yours.” 

Although we may have heard this line in a number of different places, Cole deepens the meaning of it by talking about the fact that even in challenging situations, we can get back 

up, that you can “love yourz” for all the struggles that may come along with it.

“Crooked Smile,” which first appeared on J. Cole’s second studio album, Born Sinner (2013), highlights the beauty of being imperfect. Today, there are so many standards to meet, physically and mentally; there are outlines of how we are supposed to act, plans, and paths that we are told to follow. In “Crooked Smile,” Cole reminds us that it’s ok to be imperfect and that having flaws is what makes us unique; in doing this, he speaks about the fact that it is his own flaws that make him stand apart from others. 

Cole writes, “We don’t look nothing’ like the people on the screen/ You know, them movie stars, picture-perfect beauty queens/ But we got dreams, and we got the right to chase ’em.”

 These lyrics pulled from his song are so crucial for people in today’s society to hear because Cole points out how unnecessary it is to be perfect in such an imperfect world and how much more important it is to be different. Cole speaking up on this issue as a male in our society is very important because there isn’t a lot of male representation with insecurities and confidence in being flawed. 

Cole discusses the fact that just because we may not be picture perfect but still possess the right to chase our dreams, it is essential for young listeners to hear, especially with all the added stressors and pressures that social media has brought about. 

In Cole’s song, “Apparently,” he reflects on his past and the mistakes he has made along the way, but he also forgives himself and has allowed the past not to define his future and move on from issues that had happened prior. 

He explains that dwelling on things that cannot be changed will only lead you into a spiraling pit of doom, and to really move forward in life; you must forgive yourself. J. Cole speaks about the struggles he had with his mother as he started to become a popular artist and the shame he has carried along with him for not treating his mother in the way he knows she deserves. 

Cole says, “I love her just like I love you/ And I need to treat you better/ Wish you could live forever/So we could spend more time together/ I love you Mama.” 

It is uncommon for rappers today to show their raw vulnerability and show their fans that they, too, make mistakes. In this song, you can see the true emotion that Cole was going through while writing this song because he talks about how he views himself as someone who has real problems, but at the same time, Cole doesn’t let himself sit in self-pity. Instead, he tries to change and make a better life for himself and for those whom he loves. 

So, is J. Cole really the best lyricist of our time? Do his words really resonate with his fans? Are you able to see his accountability and vulnerability through his words? You may argue and say that he isn’t all that he’s put out to be, that his lyrics aren’t powerful, and that his songs don’t reflect on important issues. 

Making an assumption like this without sitting down and unplugging yourself from reality, putting your earbuds in, and letting J. Cole take you to another metaverse would just be downright shortsighted and foolish. 

Let yourself feel the music, let yourself hear his words, and maybe, just maybe, you will view him and the world around you differently than you would have prior to listening. 


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  • W

    Will HaleMay 13, 2024 at 12:59 pm

    In the world of hip-hop, J. Cole has worked out a special place for himself as a respected lyricist known for his poetic wordplay and thoughtful storytelling. besides to his skill at producing creative rhyme schemes and smart wordplay, his lyrical genius comes from his genuine honesty and sensitivity. Cole’s songs touch a deep connection with fans who value honesty and value in music because they usually talk about personal experiences, challenges in society, and personal views. He creates colorful images through his verses, taking listeners into his world and inspiring reflection on everything from race and social justice to love and passion. But, I cannot agree that he is the lyricist of our generation even though he touches peoples soul with his music, there are so many other artist that possibly are up there and even past him in being a lyricist such as Drake, Kendrick, Lil yachty and better artist. But I wont take it there.

  • A

    Amaya NatéMay 13, 2024 at 10:56 am

    I love J.Cole vey much and how in tune he is to world problems, Black people problems, and how he tunes his audience into those problems aswell through his music. Although when it comes to “lyricist of our generation” I must go with Kendrick. Kendrick to me is more head on in terms of addressing things on “wax” than Cole. J.Cole and Kendrick Lamar for me are both versatile artists that are very insightful and full of wisdom but the lyricist of our generation” most certainly is Kendrick Lamar. I deeply admire J.Cole’s profound connection to societal issues, particularly those affecting Black communities, as reflected in his music. However, in the ongoing debate about the “lyricist of our generation,” Kendrick Lamar’s direct approach and poignant lyricism ultimately wins. I might just change my mind when J.Cole releases something new, but until then Kendrick till the end.

  • M

    MasonMay 6, 2024 at 7:46 am

    It’s hard for me to say I disagree or agree with this idea of J. Cole being the lyricist of our generation since I listen to a pretty large variety of different artists, and I think there are many talented artists. But I would say that I have listened to a good amount of his songs, and when I listen to his music I don’t find myself just going along to some beat and listening to a bunch of words crammed together. I do find myself listening to the lyrics that are in J. Cole’s music, and I think that what is unique about his music at least to me is how in-depth the lyrics are. But I am also not going to act like I listen to J. Cole every day because I don’t, but the times I do I always think of how his lyrics are so detailed compared to other songs and artists I have listened to. 

  • L

    LukasMay 6, 2024 at 7:36 am

    To be honest, I would agree with you if not for everything going on these past few weeks. I love a lot of Coles work and think it holds its on compared to any rapper today and in the past. The only issue I have with saying he is the best current day lyricist is the fact that he ducked Kendrick after getting called out along with Drake. I loved his initial response but the apology afterwards definitely left a bad taste in my mouth. It made me feel like at some level Cole was worried to stand up against Kendrick because of Kendricks lyricism. I may be totally off with this assumption and maybe Cole really just wasn’t feeling like it was good for him, but objectively it made him seem afraid of Kendrick. Forgetting the current beef though, I really wouldn’t disagree to heavily with this take, while I still would say Kendrick is the best current lyricist, Cole is without a doubt on the top of most if not every rap fans list of lyrical genius.

  • J

    JaydonMay 6, 2024 at 7:34 am

    I myself am a big fan of J. Cole and his music and I think that his lyrics and storytelling are very impressive, however, I think that due to the recent controversy surrounding a couple of artists I think that it has changed my perspective on J. Cole’s ability to compete with some of the “greatest lyricists” such as Kendrick Lamar. Recently Kendrick Lamar has dropped a plethora of diss tracks surrounded mainly around Drake, but also to a lesser extent against Cole. Cole responded to the diss and it simply wasn’t as good as what Kendrick was putting out lyrically, and Cole has since removed himself from the controversy. Kendrick is continuing to put out more diss tracks that include mystifying lyricism and clever storytelling and it is starting to make me question if J. Cole is really better or can even hang with lyricists like Kendrick in the first place.