Breaking Down J. Cole’s Shallow Kanye Diss on “False Prophets”

J. Cole has reached the point in his career where he can shake up the industry just by announcing that his next album is forthcoming. That plus the fact that it is coming so soon made for an all-eyes-on-Cole moment this week in rap culture, even in the wake of Gambino’s new soul joint. But has all that attention now gone to waste?

Rapping over the same beat from Joey Bada$’s name-making “Waves,” Cole expounds on the state of the rap game and celebrity culture in the brashly titled “False Prophets,” taking time and nearly a whole minute of the song to diss the harbinger of soft, introspective rappers like himself, Kanye West.

Before we get into any criticism of Cole’s diss let’s just get it all on paper:

No doubt you see these niggas trippin’
Ego in charge of every move, he’s a star
And we can’t look away
Due to the days that he caught our hearts
He’s fallin’ apart, but we deny it
Justifying that half-ass shit he dropped, we always buy it
When he tell us he a genius but it’s clearer lately
It’s been hard for him to look into the mirror lately
There was a time when this nigga was my hero, maybe
That’s the reason why his fall from grace is hard to take’
Cause I believed him when he said his shit was purer and he
The type of nigga swear he real but all around him’s fake
The women, the dickriders, you know, the yes men
Nobody with the balls to say somethin’ to contest him
So he grows out of control
Into the person that he truly was all along, it’s startin’ to show
Damn, wonder what happened
Maybe it’s my fault for idolizing niggas
Based off the words they be rappin’
But come to find out, these niggas don’t even write they shit
Hear some new style bubblin’ up, then they bite the shit
Damn, that’s what I get for lyin’ to myself
Well, fuck it, what’s more important is he’s cryin’ out for help
While the world’s eggin’ him on, I’m beggin’ him to stop
And playin’ his old shit, knowin’ he won’t top it, false prophets

There’s a ton to unpack here, but he’s essentially saying that Kanye is a corrupted old king, driven mad by lust, power, greed, and all of the fake sh*t and people that come with that lifestyle. That means he’s throwing shots at Kanye not just for the usual “write ur own lyrics bro” stuff but also for the entirety of his living situation and how it’s a symbol of celebrity culture, with which Cole is obviously disgusted.

My first reaction to this is “take your goddamn cape off you corny b-lister,” but that’s an uncharitable and frankly mean-spirited interpretation of Cole’s hot take. It’s pretty un-chill of him to call Kanye’s wife fake. He’s playing into the shallow and somewhat misogynistic interpretation that old-dude media has of Kim Kardashian. That interpretation, unless you genuinely think there is something wrong with plastic surgery and her personal style choices, has been proven to be aggressively one dimensional.

The labeling of Kanye’s lifestyle and associated cultural products as “fake” reeks of anti-intellectual, anti-artistic sentiment, the same kind of sentiment that labels fashion as consumerism instead of art and having a team work on your album as “fake shit” instead of what it actually is, artistic collaboration.

However, it’s not like J. Cole has no grounds for disagreement. He’s been known to rap about the socioeconomic problems that plague communities of color in this country and around the world and that’s a pretty genuine mission for someone in his position to have. While he has fielded criticism for corniness and hypocrisy (considering his wealth and luxurious lifestyle), Cole seems to be genuinely interested in using art to alleviate social issues. That means that the type of celebrity worship culture which Kanye has ingratiated himself in could be seen as distracting from the real problem or missing the point of rap in the first place. I still think that’s unfair of Cole to hold Kanye to a limited set of sounds or topics because of rap’s history or what Cole perceives as the purpose of rap, but it’s not totally unfair.

What is totally unfair, however, is his assertion that Kanye will never top his “old shit.” Yeezus and Pablo were both hot as hell and MBDTF is, in my opinion, the greatest album of all time.

Check out J Cole’s probably corny but aesthetically pleasing video for “False Prophets” below:

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