Did J. Cole Do The Right Thing?

A baker's dozen of NC hip-hop artists and media personalities react to "The Apology."

Did J. Cole Do The Right Thing?
Super Empty illustration by Ryan Cocca © 2024

Some moments of pop culture history are so singular, so unforgettable, that they need only be described in the vaguest of terms to be summoned from the depths of our collective consciousness. The Contest. The Decision. The Butt Fumble (OK, that one is kind of specific). Now, The Apology.

Driving home from Raleigh after J. Cole's backpedal for the ages on Sunday night, I told Yoh (author, podcaster, SE contributor) that as surreal and shocking as it was to watch in real time with 50,000 other people, I wasn't mad at Cole's choice, or his characterization of "7 Minute Drill" as the "goofiest shit." How could I be, when I'd essentially written the same thing two days earlier? Hands on the wheel, and shuffling around ideas in my head about how I was going to cover Dreamville weekend as a whole, I hadn't yet gone on Twitter since Cole's speech. Yoh told me not to. When I got home that night and did anyway, I saw why.

The fact that a world-famous rapper waving the white flag 48 hours after his own diss track would generate a near-meltdown on Rap Twitter is not, in itself, particularly remarkable or surprising. And of course, considering the competitive history of rap music, a certain amount of frustration was entirely justifiable. But as I scrolled through the deluge of negative tweets dunking on Cole that were already dominating the discussion, two things stuck out to me: how devoid they were of any nuance (par for the course, for Twitter), and how little skin their authors had in the game, making it easy to view the people involved more as objects of our entertainment than human beings.

I suggested as much, and of course, got body-slammed.

My first impulse after this happened, naturally, was to shut down the entire Twitter website. But because I lack the technical prowess, appetite for criminality or access to Twitter's servers that would require, I had to find a more productive outlet for my frustrations. This article is that outlet: a roundtable of thoughts from a small snapshot of the NC hip-hop community — rappers, producers, radio hosts, DJs — who, unlike the talking heads on Twitter, are actively working in a place, and in an industry, where every action or utterance from J. Cole casts a long shadow. Some entries are long, some short, but all are presented with authenticity, rather than a thirst for virality, in mind.

Unless you are Dragonfly Jonez, I hope you enjoy.

Cheeno Ghee • Charlotte, NC
"Me being an artist that I am, and leading with my spirituality, the fact is, when something don't sit right with your spirit, you almost become like a passenger to your actions. So for this n**** to take the stage in front of that many people, and ultimately in front of the world, and speak his truth, I got nothing but respect for that.

The other side of it, though, is hip-hop and lyricism, and our understanding of what a rap beef entails. If a n**** drop your name on a song, you return the favor — eye for an eye type thing. So would I like to have seen J. Cole say some shit that he really meant, and stand on it? Of course. But having heard '7 Minute Drill,' it didn't move me in no way. So for me personally, it's like OK, I'm glad I didn't personally misunderstand him, because he didn't even fully align with the message that was in the record as well."

Miriam Tolbert aka Mir.I.am Raleigh, NC
"I think it's admirable, commendable, respectable for him to have apologized. At the end of the day, it's up to you and you only to make sure you do what you have to do to protect your peace, your energy, and your mental health. I don't think is gonna affect J. Cole's legacy, his legacy is cemented... he's given us classic hits, albums, moments in hip-hop and the culture. He's brought us Dreamville — an incredible roster of talent — and the Dreamville Fest. Obviously there's the disappointment of 'Aw man, we're not gonna get this battle,' but you gotta think about it, Cole was in a hard position. It's like your two best friends don't like each other and they battling, so what do you do? Who are you closest to? He probably felt like he was torn and he had to say something but it wasn't true to what he really wanted. So he removed himself from the group chat and he's gonna let K Dot and Drake sort out whatever issues that they have, and I think that makes sense.

I think it goes to show that no matter the success, fame or fortune, we're all human, we're all susceptible to peer pressure, and we can all run into those moments where we do something that's outside of our character that we don't really believe in. A lot of times we don't get to make amends for those moments, but he decided to take ownership and pull back — his heart wasn't in beefing with someone that he loves and respects just in order to appease his other close friends and fans of the culture. You can't be mad at him for that. Cole has done too much for the culture. Let's let K Dot and Drake tussle and let Cole have his peace."

AL • [Redacted]
"The main thing to me is like, if your raps are about whatever, and then someone attacks you, and then you respond, and later on you're like 'Yo, I did something that was out of character for me, I apologize,' I don't care if it's hip-hop or whatever, I would be 100% with him, because that's not really what you're about. But for the past two or three years, this man's really been on some like, 'I'm the best, I wish someone would try me, I'll put your favorite rapper in a noose, whatever.' He said those things, you know what I mean? And now at the first sign of challenge, you back down, because that's not really you? Even this album that you say you're proud of, besides that one song... is full of these kind of bars!"

Slade the Supreme • Kinston, NC
"While I empathize with the reasoning behind the apology, I don't understand the situation. Someone jabs you, you jab them back, then you apologize. I don't understand it. You set the stage for this. You claimed to be the best. You spoke about peers for years. As a fan, I championed you for this along with multiple other reasons. It's finally the time to prove these statements are true and you bow out of the fight. I don't get it. I feel deceived as a fan of his music. But ultimately, I feel as though every person has the responsibility of putting themselves first. So if dissing someone really bothers you that much, you should bow out. But it's very hard for me to believe any of the bars about trying you. This may have just ruined me as a fan. I've championed Cole over Kendrick and Drake since Born Sinner. This is my favorite artist of right now, and now I'm conflicted."

Pat Junior • Raleigh, NC
"Shoutout to J. Cole for being authentic and true to him."

Newman • Raleigh, NC
"I'm still in disbelief not just that it happened, but that it happened in Raleigh on top of everything. As a fan of both of them, it's tough to see it end up this way. I'm trying to not be a prisoner of the moment, and I don't know these dudes personally so I gotta respect the choice. But the reasoning don't all the way make sense in my opinion when he wasn't the aggressor. Still a fan, I loved where it was headed for sport. It'll be interesting to see where it goes from here."

Cyanca • Charlotte, NC
"I don't have any feelings or opinions on it. Just enjoying the memes."

Steezie • Raleigh, NC
"I feel like there's this bar or box in hip-hop where they're supposed to be a certain level of street, or in competition, or whatever, but sometimes those things escalate. Sometimes those things start from a very small beef, and some of our greatest legends die that way. And I'm all for competition, but I feel like it could be done differently... I think that J. Cole apologizing was a very dope thing actually, because we don't want to feed into that whole type of art. If J. Cole feels that he doesn't want to be a part of that, he's just following what he feels, and that's the most important thing. We don't really have to have this thing about like, 'Oh, now that Cole apologized, NC is soft.' I don't look at that, I look at it like music is art, and all the business and other stuff is so far from the art. All the politics is far from the art. So, I respect what he did, and honestly I hope we just start making art without trying to compete so much, that's just where I'm at. A lot of people want to be competing in hip-hop, but I just want to be free, man."

Leroy (formerly WELL$) • Charlotte, NC
"The world was robbed of a battle of the century, but a man gained clarity and moved in his purpose and his own alignment. Sometimes you mean more than the world no matter how much the world thinks they mean to you."

Nance • Raleigh, NC
"I have mixed feelings about it. Selfishly, yeah I think the back and forth between Kendrick and Cole would be fun from a listener's perspective. We all know hip-hop is super competitive, so seeing two artists that we consider to be some of the greats going to-to-toe would create some good entertainment. But I also think Cole apologizing at Dreamville was even more of a brave move compared to feeding into the beef — it takes a lot to tell everyone watching that he was acting out of character. I also feel like his apology is a product of rap maturing... mental health has been a huge talking point within the music industry in general over the last few years — apologizing and stepping away from the beef because it doesn't feel right is a product of those narratives."

Jaythehbk • Durham, NC
"I honestly respect his maturity and decision with the apology. I know a lot of people didn’t want to hear it but at his level I can get it — who knows, he could be trying to keep his enemy closer. I would love to see the back and forth from two of the best rappers in the game, but I respect how he handled the situation."

Vinnie-Dangerous • Raleigh, NC
"I'm really disappointed that this conversation has switched from being about competition to the toxicity of rap beef... Drake is the biggest rapper in the world right now and that doesn't change the fact that he lost to Pusha T. Jay-Z is one of the most successful rappers of all-time and he lost to Nas. Being successful doesn't change the fact he lost. I can respect him for having that realization and still give him the L. The game is messed up because we're out here coddling a grown ass man because he lost at something he claimed to be the best at. This is just pathetic to watch."

Tab-One • Raleigh, NC
"Couldn't care less."