J. Cole on colorism in rap music

In a recent interview with BET to discuss his latest album Born Sinner and his collaboration with Ubisoft for the video game Splinter Cell: Blacklist, J. Cole talked about more than just writing hot lyrics and performing to sold out crowds.

Cole, who graduated Magna Cum Laude from St. John’s University, opened up about racial profiling and colorism in hip hop.

When asked if he’s ever experienced racism, Cole recounted his latest experience: being pulled over by police for no reason at all.

He explained:

I just got pulled over on 42nd street in Times Square for what I believe was nothing. They said it was for tints on my front window, which is barely tinted. I really believe it was because I had my hat low. I was driving through Times Square and I just didn’t want to be seen. So I had my hat low and I think I was looking “suspicious” just as a Black man with my brim low, when I was really just trying to cover my face. They came to my window, pulled me over. I feel like if I was a white man driving, they wouldn’t question me about my tints. They told me to roll down my back window; they look in my car as if they’re looking for something. I feel like that was the real thing, they were trying to catch somebody slipping. That just happened three days ago. I almost didn’t even name that because I am so used to that. That’s something that I feel like somebody my age that’s white doesn’t have to go through, especially in New York City. On the other hand, every time I’m on the plane in first class — this is a lesser evil but it still represents their mind state — I promise you, 60 percent of the time somebody asks me what basketball team do I play for or do I rap. [Laughs] I am a rapper, I wish I could tell them something better  — that happens all the time and I hate it.

The conversation then turned to colorism in hip hop and J. Cole’s decision to include a diverse representation of Black women in his videos instead of merely adhering to the industry norm of only highlighting women with lighter skin. Although Cole is biracial, he seems very much aware of his privilege as a light skin man.

Cole told BET:

I can’t say it for sure but I just think we’re still in America. We’re still Black Americans. Those mental chains are still in us. That brainwashing that tells us that light skin is better, it’s subconsciously in us, whether we know it or not… still pursuing light skin women. There are some women out there that are like, “I don’t even like light skin men” and that’s fine. But Barack Obama would not be President if he were dark skin. You know what I mean? That’s just the truth.  I might not be as successful as I am now if I was dark skin. I’m not saying that for sure, I’m still as talented as I am and Obama is still as smart as he is, but it’s just a sad truth… I don’t even know if this is going to translate well into text and people not hearing what I’m saying, but it’s a sad reality. So I can only naturally assume it’s probably easier for a light skin male rapper than it might be for a dark skin male rapper. It’s all subconscious s***, nobody’s aware — I think that s*** still subconsciously affects us.

Cole’s remarks, particularly about President Obama, echo conversations I’ve had with friends. Would Barack Obama have been elected if he looked more like Wesley Snipes, rather than himself? I doubt it.

But what do you think of J. Cole’s comments on colorism in hip hop? 

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  • Annoyed

    I was under the impression you all are much younger than me so how in heck is this still an issue? And the comment about how a difference in skin tone for the POTUS and FLOTUS would make them more likable/relatable to white people made my head explode. You do know that Mrs. Obama is very popular even with people who don’t like The President. According to the Huffington Post, her approval rating in March 2013 was 67%, comparable to Laura Bush. These comments are truly disturbing. As for the young man, I don’t know who he is but, wow, reading this stuff is like going back in time, like decades.

  • joe

    He is absolutely right about President Obama. If he had the same skin tone as Idris Elba he would never have won the nomination. Dark skin makes white folks VERY uncomfortable. Dark skinned brothers are considered more violent and sexually aggressive. Whites believe that race mixing improves black people. Unfortunately, so do a lot of black folks.

    • ETC

      Joe, this is so true. What is it about dark skin that makes folks uncomfortable? Features and hair make an impact too. Whites feel more at ease around Jada and Oman types over Grace Jones types. It makes no sense!

  • DiasporaUK

    I can feel another F U attack coming on.

    Why is becoming white peoples’ president the highest aim a black person can aspire to? The yardstick by which all Afrikan/black possibility is measured?

    White people own politicians from local to federal government, including presidents. They own towns cities states.

    They own corporations backed up by a THUGGED OUT military that go in and take over whole countries.

    White peoples’ highest aspiration is to run it all, control it all, own it all . . . . forever.

    A negro’s aspiration is to be white peoples second “black” president.

    You get wet over a one off bi-racial president who spends all his time rimming white peoples’ arse crack.

    And I mean that literally. That’s what BO does —

    sanitize the crimes of white supremacy


    By committing the highest act of betrayal, namely, by allowing himself to be used as a “diversity” symbol, a non-white front man in the white supremacist power structure, to cast a veneer of benevolence over white supremacy with the intent to deceive and pacify the righteous Resistance.

    BO is everything a black person or ANY person who believes in Justice SHOULD NOT want to be.

    It’s only when you think your past is what white people told you, that the present is what the future will be, and that all that’s possible is whatever white people make possible for you, that you come to believe the best thing a black man can be is white peoples’ president.

    “a dar-shkin black man wouldn’t be prethident coz white peepos don’t like dar-shkin black peepos blehb blehb blehb” (in stepnfetchit voice)

    Who needs white peoples’ prethident job when we have a whole continent that the whole world is fighting to get a spot in, because it’s the neighbourhood the FUTURE is relocating to.

    The absolute irony of it – crackers Chinese Japs and Injuns all tryna move into an all black neighborhood, and negros is stuck on tryna be white peoples’ prethident.


    I can’t do this – Yes We Can


    • Barack Obama is one of the few Black people you SHOULD aspire to. Whether white or black. “We have to turn off the television sets and eradicate the thought that says a black youth that picks up a book is acting white”- Barack Obama. You over here trying to be black power and Barack Obama is trying to make sure black people don’t look worse than how the general public sees us. The man is sophisticated, intelligent, and a leader. Not a rapper, Jessie Jackson, or Al Sharpton. He speaks intelligently. He acts like how a leader of one of the world’s strongest country’s should act.

  • me

    Love love love J.Cole