Many of today’s fighters prepare for the brightest lights of their careers in gyms driven by rhythm, and on fight night make their way to the ring accompanied by music’s best Sound For Sound.
The inaugural Sound For Sound entry arrives courtesy of one of hip hop’s undisputed pound-for-pound best in Fayetteville, North Carolina’s J. Cole.
Hard to say whether Cole has cleaned out a division, but it’s safe to say he should be praised for creating and meticulously cultivating an entirely new space where he’s virtually peerless. The man revolutionized the game by achieving 7-figure album sales with back-to-back projects that included zero featured guests, and he revitalized the the practice of concept albums with single overarching themes – Kendrick Lamar comfortably shares this lane with the Dreamville CEO.
One could look at Cole and Lamar as Terence Crawford and Errol Spence, Jr. Who knows if we’ll ever get to see them work together!
Sometimes Lamar’s experimentation abuts the bizarre, or ventures into the far depths of artistry where one risks losing music’s version of casuals, and that works fine for the signature elements of his album-making. Conversely, Cole tends to stay a little more straightforward with his presentation. Although, his evolution as the primary producer behind the bulk of the songs throughout his five studio albums often goes underappreciated.
If we can skirt the typical “who’s best” debate, earlier in their respective campaigns Lamar at least looked like the deeper lyricist of the two. But, Cole showed some real levels in a few of the songs found on the track-list of 2018’s KOD, where the one-time Jay-Z protégé tactfully re-purposed Trap Music for the greater good.
With his latest single, “Middle Child”, the production – this time outsourced to T-Minus – wades further into the modern popular sounds of rap music, but Cole continues to weave his brand of messaging into the finished product. Complete with some intentionally slurred and mumbled bars – as if to avoid his encroachment being fully detectable.
Regardless if Cole is spitting about drugs use, or going about face, condemning substance abuse the total package slaps. Ultimately, his message of self-encouragement and improvement grows impatient and breaks down to, “…you do as you wish.”
Cole opens this surprise single like a veteran fighter who may be returning from a prolonged hiatus the fight game. Tomorrow night’s return of WBA Welterweight champion Keith Thurman comes to mind as Cole starts out with:
N—s been countin’ me out
I’m countin’ my bullets, I’m loadin’ my clips
I’m writin’ down names, I’m makin’ a list
I’m checkin’ it twice and I’m gettin’ ’em hit
The real ones been dyin’, the fake ones is lit
The game is off balance, I’m back on my s—
After the track’s tone is set, the lyrics in the latter part of the first verse match the sentiments of Floyd Mayweather Jr circa late-2015. The Money May era culminated with boxing’s No. 1 revenue generating bout when Mayweather fought Manny Pacquaio, and the fight set the all-time high of 4.6 million pay-per-view buys. Cole’s lyrics encapsulate all of the gravitas of Mayweather’s final act, as he’d mastered all the angles inside the ring while capitalizing on the moves of all the game’s most astute businessmen. Don’t skip past that profound line for Adrien Broner nestled inside the middle of these few bars:
Everything grows, it’s destined to change
I love you lil’ niggas, I’m glad that you came
I hope that you scrape every dollar you can
I hope you know money won’t erase the pain
To the OGs, I’m thankin’ you now
Was watchin’ you when you was pavin’ the ground
I copied your cadence, I mirrored your style
I studied the greats, I’m the greatest right now
There’s plenty of other fight- or fighter-related bars to pick from throughout the balance of the track. However, similar to a power puncher, Cole gets in and out as if rappers don’t get paid for overtime either. The track features the now common two verses, and clocks in at 3:33 that feels considerably less than that.
The word is that Cole is will be unusually active in 2019, with him having a hand in quite a few projects. Listening to “Middle Child” only adds to the anticipation.