EDITORIAL – Fans of the most simultaneously lauded and hated MC in Hip Hop, J. Cole, may have been slightly disappointed that the rapper’s (potentially) final LP, The Fall Off, isn’t coming anytime soon. However, if the two-song appetizer he dropped Wednesday (July 22) — packaged as the Lewis Street EP — is any indication, the Fayetteville’s native’s best dish may still be just around the corner.
“The fire that was once dying out has returned, and for that I’m grateful,” he noted in his recent essay for The Players’ Tribune. You can almost hear that very fire sizzling in the backdrop of both “The Climb Back” produced by Cole and “Lion King on Ice” produced alongside jetsonmade and frequent collaborator T-Minus (“Middle Child” and “Kevin’s Heart”).
There is a lot of consistency here. While there is absolutely nothing groundbreaking about either joint, Cole remains at his best, delivering bars about a restless drive to reach success from both the reminiscent perspective of his hungrier days and that of an elder-like preacher.
In 2018, he noted in an interview that “everybody dies” and “False Prophet” were initially slated to be cuts from The Fall Off. Some of the same energy from those two loosies can be felt here, especially with Cole (in true Cole fashion) crafting his share of subliminal bars for fans to debate endlessly.
On “The Climb Back,” he again aims at nameless trash rappers — though it feels like he is (once again) referencing Lil Pump as he raps, “I sat ’em down like his father, my nigga asked, ‘Why you bother? We should’ve caught him and mobbed him,’ I said, ‘We gotta move smarter.”
In almost direct reference to “1985,” he adds, “I tried to warn niggas they wouldn’t last long … I hope that you see how they came and they went, They shots never hit, but they made their attempts.”
In the song’s outro, he lobs more shadow jabs at unknown targets, spitting, “Nigga throw a shot my way, I just jot down names, ain’t never gon’ say nothin’… know you be stressin’, hate only block your blessin’, I’m never gon’ say nothin’. Quit all that flexin’, niggas live check to check.”
He makes another hazy reference on “Lion King on Ice” about an MC close to him who oozes a certain level of jealousy, harboring the belief that it should be him walking in Cole’s position. There is some evidence that he could be talking about Dreamville artist and collaborator Omen — who shared sentiments along these lines on a few songs off of his Elephant Eyes LP — most notably “Big Shadows.” There is also a healthy argument for the fact that he may be referencing Wale.
Conversation inducing ambiguities aside, Cole does a lot to set up The Fall Off (which is a genius title if you consider his debut was The Come Up) as a worthy exclamation point to a career that many would argue is one of the more important of this current generation. His demeanor conjures up an image of Nas in the film Belly sitting on the bench schooling a younger version of himself.
Though second winds generally don’t signal endings, but rather new beginnings. One of the most telling bars on “Lion King on Ice,” sees Cole lamenting that he wants us to see “every part of me, every scar and every artery … every story that I can recall, then I can fall.” He also walks us through his growth, from shunning jewelry and other isms, to fully coming into his own as an artist rather than chugging along and merely creating what you expect from him.
He further hinted in his essay that there were still bucket list items he had yet to cross off his list — and the sight of other “mountains” as he nears the peak of his current one has him wondering if he could scale those as well.
Whether Cole will enjoy a brief retire then reappear like many before him remains to be seen. However, it’s clear that we’re about to get something special.
Stream J. Cole’s Lewis Street EP below.