J. Cole’s latest single, “Middle Child,” is a standard J. Cole song by nearly every stretch of the means. Lyrically, however, he opens up on where he thinks he fits in regarding to the current state of hip hop.
But rather than a song that calls out other artists, J. Cole is recognizing his place in the current game. Cole feels he is the “middle child,“ stuck between an older generation of great rappers — Tupac, The Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Dr. Dre — and the new generation of “mumble rappers” — Lil Pump, Trippie Redd and Kodak Black — and many more of the new up and coming artists we see emerge constantly.
Like an oldest sibling in a family, the older generation of rappers are seen as leaders and pioneers: respected achievers who paved the way for the younger generations. J. Cole in his song says he is thanking the “OGs” that paved the way for rappers like him to be successful. These rappers created rap as we know it. J. Cole believes the current generation of rappers should create music that reflects and respects where the sound came from.
Like the youngest sibling in a family, the new generation of rappers tend to be simple and free-spirited, as the “parents” have already “parented” a few kids, the youngest sibling gets away with a lot more than their older brothers and sisters. We see this in music that is sometimes good, but oftentimes lazy or with no deeper meaning such as “Gucci Gang.”
As listeners, we are the “parents” to these artists in a sense — we have been letting them get away with a lot of this lazy music. J. Cole has mentioned his annoyance with this laziness several times. In “Middle Child,” he says he wishes this new generation of rappers had more guidance and wants to be that for them. Cole wants to be their older brother, as artists that came before Cole were to him, but he struggles with helping them as he doesn’t respect the music most of them produce.
Middle children often face the issue of “middle child syndrome,” feelings of neglect of attention from their parents because parents often focus on the oldest or youngest child more. In this sense, Cole knows he is not yet one of the legends of the rap game, but he knows he’s learned a lot from the artists who made it big before him. Yes, J. Cole is not one of the pioneering “oldest children,” but he feels his talents and the talents of other “middle child artists” like Kendrick Lamar, Drake and Chance the Rapper, are being overlooked by the “youngest child” generation of rappers that aren’t releasing the same quality of music as the middle generation.
The fact that J. Cole put this into a song form is absolutely riveting. He has done so before in “1985,“ but only really spoke directly to the new rappers, not everyone involved in the rap game as a whole. This song is a thank you to the older generation, and the continued message of “you have a lot to learn” to the younger generation.
J. Cole being able to nail this all down in one song shows why he’s fighting the aura of being a middle child, if anything, he’s the honor student of the hip hop family.
Mikayla Rochelle is a freshman studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Tell Mikayla by tweeting her at @mikayla_roch.