J. Cole told a New York audience at a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday event that he decided to turn toward activism and take the focus off of himself after reading a groundbreaking book that changed his outlook.
According to Complex, during the candid interview at the fifth annual MLK NOW with Black Panther director Ryan Coogler, Cole revealed that following the release of his third studio album, 2014’s Forest Hills Drive he actually got tired of self-focus in his music and made the conscious decision to give his attention more on addressing social issues.
He cited the book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by author Michelle Alexander as part of this new awakening for him, noting he was moved by how much it reflected his own lived experiences.
“After the Forest Hills Drive album, at a time in my life where I was just tired of, like, rapping about myself,” said Cole. “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 (North) Carolina.”
Upon returning to his home state, and discovering the book, Complex reports, Cole saw the lives of his friends and how they engaged in their environments and then made the decision to make his music about their stories.
“Everything we saw and see just put into factual evidence of what was happening,” Cole said of his reaction to the book.
MLK NOW took place at Harlem’s Riverside Church on Monday. Along with cole, Coogler spoke with other guests including actress Naturi Naughton, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, author Ta-Nehisi Coates, and New York Times “1619 Project” creator Nikole Hannah-Jones.
You can view the entire 2020 MLK NOW event stream by clicking here.