J. Cole made a legendary move

OPINION: By rebuking his own response to Kendrick Lamar's diss track and insisting that he move in concert with his spirit, J. Cole did something unforgettable.

J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar diss track thegrio.com
J. Cole watches the action during the NBA All-Star game as part of the 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend at Spectrum Center on February 17, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

J. Cole’s speech at his Dreamville Festival was one of the most legendary gestures we’ve ever seen in hip-hop. In his spirit, he did not want to battle Kendrick Lamar or anyone. Not because he’s scared to lose, but because Cole does not want war at all. Because in his spirit, battling is not who he is. He’s an MC who has a sense of purpose and that purpose does not include trying to tear down another MC. Even though everyone in hip-hop told him to go to war, that’s not what he felt was right in his spirit. To see him act on what his spirit told him to do is powerful. 

I love the competitive aspect of hip-hop as much as anyone. I love a great battle, but even more than that, I love to see a man look deep into his spirit, listen to his feelings and turn away from peer pressure so he can be the man he truly aspires to be. This is about more than hip-hop, it’s about a man saying no matter what version of me the world is demanding, I insist on being the best version of myself on my terms.

Cole said he now feels “7 Minute Drill,” his response to Lamar dissing him on “Like That,” was “the lamest shit I did in my fuckin’ life.” He said, “That shit don’t sit right with my spirit … That shit disrupts my fuckin’ peace.” That’s a powerful admission that feels way bigger than anything he could’ve said on a record. Cole turned away from the warlike instinct rappers are supposed to have, that men are supposed to have, and instead, followed an inner voice that was leading him toward peace. This will be remembered far more than any clever anti-Kendrick couplets he could’ve rhymed. 


I respect this so much more than battling because it shows him pushing himself to be his highest most peaceful self despite the noise of the crowd calling for him to be a verbal soldier. This is the most authentic move Cole could’ve made — it speaks to someone who knows himself and values his own inner peace over acclaim. Despite whatever embarrassment and shame may go along with rebuking his own diss track and admitting publicly that he made a mistake. He said, “I pray that y’all are like, forgive a n—a for the misstep and I can get back to my true path. Because I ain’t gonna lie to y’all. The past two days felt terrible. It let me know how good I’ve been sleeping for the past 10 years.”

We saw Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles say no, my spirit does not align with what I’m doing and with what the world says I should do so I’m listening to myself and changing course. This is similar. I applaud Cole for prioritizing his mental health over what the world expected him to do. 

I cannot imagine the peer pressure Cole felt after Kendrick’s diss. He talked about it at Dreamville, referencing his phone blowing up. “The world wanna see blood,” he said. This is what we’re supposed to do as Black men, right? If someone disses you, you go back at them even harder. This is what rappers are meant to do, right? Attack anyone who says anything about you. Instead, Cole swam upstream against both of those currents because his spirit told him no. That’s a powerful example of how to live life on your own terms.

Touré, theGrio.com

Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the docuseries podcast “Being Black: The ’80s.” He is also the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is the author of eight books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter.

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