J. Cole and his record label Dreamville recently appeared on the Spring 2019 cover of XXL Magazine. In his feature interview, the “Wet Dreamz” singer explained why he has expressed empathy in the past for controversial rappers like Kodak Black, 6ix9ine, and the late XXXTentacion.
All three rappers have received backlash and public shaming for various misconduct. At the time of his death, for example, XXXTentacion was facing charges of violent sexual assault against his then pregnant girlfriend.
In the interview, J. Cole mentioned the repercussions of “cancel culture,” which refers to the current social phenomenon of “cancelling,” or no longer financially or socially supporting, an artist or event. Cancel culture has been compared to a social media boycott. J. Cole likened cancel culture to the criminal justice system; it punishes an individual, but doesn’t give them the help they need to prevent the behavior in the first place.
“We live in a world where everybody wants to be so quick to cancel somebody. But at the same time, people condemn the criminal justice system, which is entirely the cancellation system. To me, both of those ideas are f*cked up, like, “We’re throwing you away.” Both of those mentalities miss the mark, which is, people need to be healed. You’re looking to punish me—and don’t get it twisted, what I did was a punishable offense—but where are you talking about healing me?”
J. Cole touched on the preferred course of action surrounding XXXTentacion’s controversial allegations prior to his murder.
Even if I [initially] knew what [XXXTentacion] did, I wouldn’t have cut him off, like, ‘Hey, man, why are you putting your hands on women or why the f*ck did you do these sick things to this girl?’ I would’ve asked a series of questions that hopefully would’ve sparked something in his mind. It would’ve been towards the direction of healing. It wouldn’t have been in the direction of punishment, judgment, cancellation.
J. Cole offered words of encouragement in a verse in “MIDDLE CHILD” for Kodak Black, who is currently awaiting trial for a sexual assault case.
“Had a long talk with the young n***a Kodak
Reminded me of young n***as from ‘Ville
Straight out the projects, no fakin’, just honest
I wish that he had more guidance, for real”
The singer had a similar sentiment for 6ix9ine in a verse on 21 Savage’s “a lot,”
Pray for Tekashi, they want him to rot
I picture him inside a cell on a cot
‘Flectin’ on how he made it to the top
Wondering if it was worth it or not
J. Cole explained that he feels it’s more beneficial to have real conversations with these rappers. Instead of attacking them, “you put your arm around” them and offer help. The singer strives to replace “cancel culture” with “accountability culture,” arguing it gives artists a chance to redeem themselves.
The singer does bring up a valid point: cancel culture doesn’t do much to offer a path of improvement, but instead serves to deplatform someone who engages in unacceptable activity. But if a fan discovers that an artist is accused of sexual assault, the most they might be able to do is to cancel their support. Music lovers can’t offer much help to the accused or provide a forum for accountability unlike other powerful voices in the industry. Putting this responsibility on fans and social media users who make up “cancel culture” is an argument in bad faith for those who are actually in the sphere of the artist’s influence.
Yes, cancel culture isn’t synonymous with accountability culture. But in this instance, criticizing it is an argument that dodges the actual problem: the pervasiveness of sexual assault in the music industry, and the permissiveness that’s been the common reaction to those who could actually do something to stop it.