J. Cole Explains Why He Got ‘Tired of Rapping About Myself’ After Reading ‘The New Jim Crow’

J. Cole was a panelist for this year’s 5th annual MLK Now event in New York City, which is meant to honor and continue the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The event channels the powerful impact of art to inspire dialogue around issues of prominence for the Black community. Other panelists for this year’s event included Naturi Naughton, Ryan Coogler, Congress Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Marshawn Lynch, author Ta-Nehisi Coates, and New York Times “1619 Project” creator Nikole Hannah-Jones and others. The event presided at Riverside Church in Harlem, the site where Dr. King gave his famous 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” where Dr. King criticized war, championed economic justice and advocated for domestic anti-poverty efforts. Many prominent Black thinkers regularly visited Harlem during that time, an era popularly known as The Black Renaissance or The Harlem Renaissance which started in the earlier decades of the 20th Century. MLK Now was hosted by Black Panther director Ryan Coogler.

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J. Cole discussed the impact of receiving the book ‘The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness’ by Michelle Alexander, which opened up his eyes to how everything he was reading reflected the injustices that he was witnessing in his everyday life, stating, “Everything we saw and see just put into factual evidence of what was happening,”

Cole told the story after being asked by Coogler about his decision to wear a prison jumpsuit.

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Marshawn Lynch discussed some of the challenges athletes feel after becoming professional, including the feeling of being compelled to “code switch” “in order to fit-in.” Catch that clip below.


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Anyone interested in viewing a playback of the entire event can find it here.

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