Ever since the olden days especially when slavery existed, African Americans were seen as less than simply because of the color of our skin. Slaves were treated as if their lives didn’t matter by their inhumane white slaveholders. They were brutally beaten and many were even murdered. They suffered at the hands of people just like them, the only difference was their skin color. Even as an end was put to slavery, African Americans still face issues such as police brutality and gun violence. White police officers for the most part, have taken many lives due to these issues. A very eminent and influential individual in the music industry projects these issues through song as an eye opener for African Americans. On August 15, 2014 days after a tragic incident he released a song titled “Be Free.” In the song, J. Cole was responding to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri which took place on August 9, 2014. This song went viral just a few hours after he uploaded it on the SoundCloud platform where it was shared mainly through social media. J. Cole used his platform to voice thoughts and feelings on the issues of injustice that people of color sadly still face today.
Throughout the song, you can tell that J. Cole really felt hurt by the untimely death of one of his kind, a young African American who was fatally killed by a police officer in cold blood. On the day of the incident Brown was recorded on camera stealing a box of cigars and pushing a Ferguson Market clerk away. Brown was accompanied by his friend Dorian Johnson and they both fled the market. Officer Wilson drove up to them and ordered them to move off the street. Wilson had to stop his car close to them. This caused a grapple between Brown and Wilson after the teen reached through the window of the police car. Wilson’s gun was fired twice during the struggle from the inside of the car, with one bullet hitting Brown’s right hand. Brown and Johnson started to run away when Johnson decided to hide behind a car. Wilson got out of the car and pursued Brown. Eventually, while facing Brown, Wilson fired his gun again and hit Brown with at least seven shots. Brown was unarmed and died on the street. Wilson knew that Brown didn’t have any weapons on him but still decided to shoot him callously. Some may argue that Brown was coming off as dangerous or intimidating and that the officer was protecting himself. The officer could’ve tried taking him down and handcuffing him instead of shooting him. And if Wilson had back up things might have went differently. Also it’s not like he just shot him once he shot him several times, it’s almost as if he was trying to prove something. Letting Brown or African Americans know that the white police officer always wins. As expected, Wilson was cleared of civil rights violations in the shooting. This led to violence such as fires and looting. Also protesters were seen throwing objects at police officers in riot gear because they believed justice wasn’t being served.
In the song Cole even included the eyewitness testimony that Johnson presented to the court to fill his audience in on what happened from the point of view of Brown’s friend. Hearing Johnson’s voice being backed by the beat of the song made it sound soothing in a way but still painful to listen to. Cole used Johnson’s account to expose how reckless policemen who possess guns could be. He basically backed up his song with evidence from an eyewitness of the murder who told the story from his firsthand perspective. Johnson was recalling the actions each person took during the incident without pausing to think about what to say next. He knew exactly what to say, when to say it, and it all sounded truthful. It made the song sound more realistic. It’s like a message inside of a message. Johnson’s message which was his testimony was inside of Cole message which was his song. Hearing Johnson’s voice explaining what happened so thoroughly should be enough to get the attention of tons of people and realizing that African Americans aren’t completely free from injustices and that changes have to be made. Cole’s song was just the topping to the situation. It helped spark the incident of a young man who was a victim of police gun violence far and wide.
The entire song “Be Free” has meaning behind it. From verse one where Cole states, “And I’m in denial. And it don’t take no x-ray to see right through my smile.” Which refers to him not being able to believe the extent to which police brutality has arrived and knowing that he’s a celebrity who has to maintain his platform, he is grieved by the way African Americans are being victimized by violence. To the hook where Cole states, “All we wanna do is break the chains off. All we wanna do is be free.” This is Cole speaking in figurative language reflecting on how African Americans back in the day faced similar hardships but were chained and under the circumstances of violence and how it seems as if we still have chains on but not literally. Also he believes that freedom incorporates being a person of color without being mistreated for no reason. Moving on to verse two where Cole states, “Can you tell me why. Every time I step outside I see my niggas die.” This is Cole mourning the fact that so many African Americans are being killed by cops. Then follows, “I’m letting you know. That there ain’t no gun they make that could kill my soul.” Cole demonstrates toughness in the face of these injustices when he says this. When Cole starts singing the bridge, you can tell that it was coming from his heart. It sounded as if he was tearing up while singing. The bridge is Cole basically wondering if society has isolated African Americans and that we shouldn’t back down when faced with injustices. Cole reaches out to people to take action, he doesn’t want them to act like it’s normal to be mistreated. In the end of the song, Cole just repeats the hook which as stated before talks about being released from chains and being free.
The culture of rap plays a major role on what teens choose to listen to and act on. In other words, teens usually listen to artists they feel they can relate to and they tend to mimic the lifestyle of those artists. In a textual analysis of the song “Be Free” the author states, “Rapper and the culture of rap has a very big impact on what teens choose to respond to. If a rapper used their platform to talk about an issue then the reader (teens) will pay more attention, and spread the word (mainly through social media). In another analysis the author states, “J. Cole, whose song “Be Free” ricocheted around the world in a matter of hours after he posted it on the Soundcloud Platform.” Both of these authors indicate that songs with deep meanings behind them will catch the attention of teens and go viral especially if released by a well liked artist. I agree that Cole’s song reached out to the youth especially African Americans because majority of his fan base are adolescents. This song was a great way to deliver a message that needed to be heard by uncountable ears.
“Be Free,” a message indeed. A message to open the eyes and ears of African Americans even further and realize that if we don’t try and stick together permanently as one unite nothing will change. African Americans won’t be free from injustices that have been happening before we were all even born and still continue to happen. We must come together and stand our ground. We shouldn’t comply with injustice but forbid it. Then and only then will we be free from chains indeed.