It was real.
Unlike his special for Forest Hills Drive, Cole took it to the streets this time. This documentary featured him standing in the community, with the community as discussions were held on a range of topics. This solidified that J. Cole doesn’t do it “for the press” because he’s “blessed [he] made it out” (from “The Cure”).
Some may tag this a publicity stunt, but I heard on a Josephine Baker documentary that when you’re a celebrity, everything that you do is public and, therefore, everything will appear as a publicity stunt. I would have to agree simply based on the fact that Cole has dedicated himself to the cause of affirming that Black Lives Matter in various forms.
In the documentary, he made an emotional pilgrimage to Ferguson, MO, where he visited Mike Brown’s memorial site. It visibly affected Cole; viewers were able to see the connection he felt to the fallen teen, a connection felt worldwide. This was not the only time Cole addressed the mistrust of law enforcement felt by African Americans.
Later in the documentary, viewers are exposed to live footage of a police raid that likely inspired Cole’s “Neighbors.” See the video from “The Complex” below:
The perceived criminality of African Americans is exemplified in the above example. When Cole rapped, “I guess the neighbors think I’m selling dope,” he was referring to his neighbors reports that (Black) people were frequently coming in and out of J. Cole’s house.
Although the house served as a recording studio, which is why people were coming in and out, there was an assumption that a drug operation was underway. So, in the song, Cole snidely commented, “Well, m*****f****r, I am.”
He was selling dope – dope music, that is. Cole can hide his pain in sarcasm and double entendres, but we can all feel it. It’s a sad reality for African Americans. I myself have personal experience with unprompted traffic stops.
Then, it becomes worse when the violence against African Americans is used as a scare tactic; I also have an experience where I have had the police threatened on me and I was immediately brushed with anxiety just knowing what’s going on in society (rhyme unintentional).
The 4 Your Eyez Only special got up close and personal with the Black community and that was its strength. Viewers saw another side of Cole. Instead of only knowing him as this brooding, often misogynistic, often conscious rapper, we got to see him take a step back and let his subjects, the people he’s always speaking to, be the voice.