Monday, February 11th, 2019

J. Cole – Middle Child

Someone’s feeling unloved…


Jonathan Bradley: Sure, Jan.

Crystal Leww: “Trophies” for the Real Rap Music crew

Thomas Inskeep: It’s cute that J. Cole thinks he’s “the greatest right now”; I promise you that at no point in hip-hop history would he have been anywhere near “the greatest.” On “Middle Child,” Cole apparently thinks that if he just keeps rapping, spitting out words, it’ll get him somewhere (the first verse is interminable).

Alfred Soto: Another year, another serviceable Cole single, yet another peg on which revanchist rap fans can hang their disgust over “SoundCloud rap.” However, I must admit, being the Don Henley of contemporary hip-hop requires serious brand attention.

Will Rivitz: The title “Middle Child” derives from J. Cole’s perception of himself as immutably stuck between generations of rappers, and I think that’s a fair summation of the song’s ethos: Cole, for all his purported iconoclasm and individualism, cannot discuss himself without comparing himself to other artists. Hence, we have a song whose primary mode, a continuation of that featured on holier-than-thou trainwreck KOD, is shameless condescension towards those rappers currently dominating the charts. Cole has spent the past few years obsessing over materialism and substance abuse in modern rap, to the point where his entire modern persona is circumscribed entirely by its snide attitude towards such matters and its inability to write about anything else. It’s hard to take a line like “I love you lil niggas, I’m glad that you came” at face value when it’s followed two lines later by “I hope you know money won’t erase the pain”; it’s hard to take a line like “I ain’t poppin’ no pill, but you do as you wish” at face value when it follows an entire year’s worth of acerbic judgment for precisely that. Of all J. Cole’s many foibles, the insecurity-fueled arrogance that is, yet again, on full display on “Middle Child,” is the worst. (And I cannot think of another possible fuel than insecurity, for why else would he, or Eminem, or any other rapper who fashions himself — always himself, never otherwise — after the old school spend so many waking hours focusing on other musicians so stylistically disparate that they functionally fall into a separate genre?) I’ve said elsewhere about Em that “it is much sadder to complain about a face tattoo than it is to get a face tattoo,” and that remains true when “having a face tattoo” is replaced by “documenting drug usage and abruptly increased income flows.” J. Cole’s newest, worse than its superciliousness and patronizing show of sympathy, is most succinctly characterized by inferiority-fueled sanctimony and toxicity — and that is the saddest state of all. Extra minus points for self-righteously critiquing Black people for “hurting our sisters, the babies as well,” “Pound Cake” style, precisely five lines after four bars’ worth of praise for indicted rapist Kodak Black.

Ryo Miyauchi: It’s been now 10 years since J. Cole appeared on The Blueprint 3 as the next in line, so if he’s feeling a little old as a rapper, I don’t blame him. Thankfully, his midlife crisis seems to be cooling down in “Middle Child” with him less patronizing to the newer generation. Neither T-Minus’s muted boom-bap nor the hook-less verses give the track much a sense of significance, but it’s better to have a settled-down Jermaine than being subjected to his self-importance.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: This would be far more enjoyable if it were 1:43 and a little throwaway track. Instead, J. Cole chooses to stretch this out, becoming increasingly self-serious, self-righteous, and ultimately hypocritical with every passing second. This is fine and certainly on-brand, but this track also just sounds like thinly-veiled whining. His middle child syndrome issues are well understood, and it comes out clearest in the simultaneous praise for his elders and the distaste for younger rappers — they’re equally hollow, words simply meant to make J. Cole feel less insecure.

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