10 July 2018
On August 9th, 2014, an unarmed black teenager was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Weeks of demonstrations, riots and fires occured in Ferguson after a St. Louis County Grand Jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in connection with the killing of Michael Brown (Buchanan, et al.). This unfortunate event sparked severe media backlash, further globalizing the Black Lives Matter movement, and was the inspiration for J. Cole’s song “Be Free”. In “Be Free”, Cole voices his opinion on the racial tension in America and calls for an end to the killing of unarmed black Americans .
Jermaine Lamarr Cole aka, J. Cole is a multi-platinum hip-hop artist and music producer. Having multiple prestigious award nominations and having produced music for artists like Kendrick Lamar and Janet Jackson, Cole is one of the most influential people in Hip-Hop today. The song was released on the free music platform, SoundCloud. This is significant because he is not speaking on the matter to make money off of it, but is doing so to reach as many people as he can. “Be Free” sets a sad and somber tone that allows the reader to feel the emotion through the artist’s voice. The constant change in the volume of his voice and subtle voice cracks shows that not only does this topic hurt him physically, but cuts deep into his soul.
In the SoundCloud description of be of “Be Free”, J. Cole writes “Rest in Peace to Michael Brown and to every young black man murdered in America, whether by the hands of white or black. I pray that one day the world will be filled with peace and rid of injustice. Only then will we all Be Free.”(SoundCloud). To pay tribute to the fallen victims, “Be Free” is written to influence the general public and aimed to voice his opinion on the matter. The songs purpose is to use Ethos, Logos, and Pathos to cause the listener to acknowledge the tragic events that are occuring due to racial tensions and as a call to action to end these tragedies.
Cole immediately starts the song with a verse that shows how much the pain the shootings have caused him. In line one of verse one, he expresses his disbelief with the current state of the U.S. In 1964, congress passed the Civil Rights Act that ensured the right to vote, allowed access to government services, and withdrew funds from programs that expressed discrimination in any way(Smith). In 2008, Barack Obama is elected President of the United States of America (Smith). By saying this line, he points out the fact you would think that we would be long past racism, however based off the occurring events, that is not the case. Unfortunately modern racism is still amongst us. Cole uses his first use of emotional appeal by metaphor to invoke sadness and sympathy from the audience on line two of verse one by saying, “And it don’t take no x-ray to see right through my smile”(Genius). The listener does not need to look too deep past his smile to feel his pain. He continues with another use of pathos by saying, “And there ain’t no drink out there that can numb my soul, Oh no”(Genius). Alcohol is typically known to have a “numbing” effect on a person’s mind and body. By stating this, he is simply saying that his pain cannot be numbed.
The Hook, or the main point, “Be Free” is made up of both Ethos, and ethical appeal, and Pathos, an emotional appeal. In the hook, Cole continues to repeat the lines, “All we wanna do is take the chains off, All we wanna do is break the chains off, All we wanna do is be free”, to emphasize his point (Genius). He establishes credibility through Ethos by using the word We. By using We, he humanizes himself and creates a sense of familiarity. We is used to represent the African-American population, who in the past, have dealt with slavery and severe racism. Pathos can be found in the form of metaphors. Chains having two meanings: the mental chains that America has put on black americans through racism and a nod to the challenges that his ancestors experienced. Most listeners have heard of the hardships that slaves faced in the past, so these lines would help the author gain sympathy from the audience.
“Be Free” continues with more Ethos and Pathos in verse two of the song. “Can you tell me why, Every time I step outside I see my niggas die”(Genius). In this line, Cole is saying that these events are constantly occurring. This line contains the second instance of Ethos. When he uses the phrase “ My Niggas”, it refers to his “people”. Family, friends, Neighbors etc. This term is used to give him more of a sense of relatability and familiarity. The next few lines use a strong example of emotional appeal through metaphor and symbolism. “I’m lettin’ you know, That there ain’t no gun they make that can kill my soul, Oh no” (Genius). His voice will never be silenced. As long as the issue is present, J. Cole will be there to speak his mind on the matter. You can kill him but you can not kill his message.
The death of Michael Brown caused weeks of protests in Ferguson, MIssouri, through a movement called Black Lives Matter. The main goal of the movement is, “to stop the criminalization, incarceration, and killing of black Americans through the use of digital activism and protests (Issitt). The movement started after the shooting of unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin in 2013. Today, the movement is controversial due to the media backlash it receives, as well as, the violent outcomes of the protests that are organized.
An interview clip can be heard of Dorian Johnson after the second hook. On November 24th, 2014, Michael Brown and his friend, Dorian Johnson , are seen on surveillance video stealing cigarillos from the Ferguson Market and Liquor. The two teens are caught by Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department. After an altercation between the police officer and Michael Brown, Brown was struck by at least nine bullets (Buchanan, et al.). In this eyewitness account, Johnson explains that the officer was trying to apprehend Brown when he pulled a gun on them. As soon as the officer informed them that he was going to shoot, he fired the weapon, striking Brown. This shot is later presumed to be a graze wound on Michael Brown’s thumb. Johnson continues by saying that they fled as soon has the officer had shot at them. According to the Points of View Reference Center, police brutality today has seen a 25% increase in instances were officers have used tactics that violate citizens rights.
J.Cole temporarily cuts away from the interview by asking if he and “his people” are left alone to defend themselves. Then, he states that he does not want to stand around and entertain like he is expected to do. Cole then calls to action to make the public aware of the racism and injustice that has occured.
The interview clip from Dorian Johnson’s eyewitness account resumes with him explaining that he hid behind the nearest car following the first shot, by saying, “As we took off running I ducked and hid for my life, because I was fearing for my life.”(Genius). He states that Brown had told him to keep running because Brown feared for his life. Officer Wilson’s weapon was drawn at the teens will he exited the vehicle even though there were no weapons drawn towards him. After being struck by another bullet, Brown stopped fleeing and turn towards the officer with his hands in the air. Even after the surrender, the officer continued to fire several more shots at the teen, killing him. This eyewitness account is a form of logical appeal, or Logos because it is a real life account of the tragic event that had occurred.
According to the Points of View Reference Center, police brutality is the excessive use of force on a citizen. Since the introduction of body cameras and other transparency measures, some police departments have found that a racial bias is system wide problem and not just a few random cases. It also found that you are 3.49 times more likely to be shot by the police if you are Black and unarmed (Walter).
“Be Free” is a tribute to all black Americans that have met an unfortunate demise at the hands of prejudice. J. Cole is deeply affected by the death of Michael Brown and understands that something must be done to further prevent these tragedies. Cole use emotional, logical , and ethical appeals to inform the audience on the recent tragic events that have occurred due to racial tensions and as a call to action to end these tragedies.
Buchanan, Larry, et al. “What Happened in Ferguson?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 13 Aug. 2014, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/08/13/us/ferguson-missouri-town-under-siege-after-police-shooting.html.
This article gives many details about the police shooting between Officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown. It also provides details on Wilson’s trial. I have used this source to give details on the Michael Brown case.
Issitt, Micah. “Black Lives Matter Movement: Overview.” Points of View: Black Lives Matter Movement, 1/1/2017, p. 1. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=pwh&AN=120615801.
This source gives a detailed history on the Black Lives Matter movement. The source also provides information on the cases that the movement has been involved with. I have used this source to provide information on what the case of Michael Brown has inspired. I believe this source is credible because it is directly from the Crafton Library Database
“J. Cole – Be Free.” SoundCloud, Dreamville, 2014, soundcloud.com/dreamvillerecords/j-cole-be-free.
“J. Cole.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 1 May 2018, http://www.biography.com/people/j-cole-5152017.
The source gives a a background on Hip-Hop artist, J.Cole. This source is used to introduce the artist to the reader.
“J. Cole – Be Free.” Genius, Dreamville, 15 Aug. 2014, genius.com/J-cole-be-free-lyrics.
Genuis.com provides lyrics for the song. It also gives facts about the song and artists. This source was used to give myself and the reader a visual aid of the song. I believe it s credible becaus it is written by the artist and/or his team.
Smith, V Chapman. “American Anti-Slavery and Civil Rights Timeline.” Ushistory.org, Independence Hall Association, www.ushistory.org/more/timeline.htm.
This source give a detailed timeline on the history of the American Civil rights movement. This source was used to provide facts that support the artists claims. I believe the source is credible because it is published under an organization
Walter, Andrew. “Police Brutality: Overview.” Points of View: Police Brutality, Oct. 2017, p. 1. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=pwh&AN=53717545.
This source provides a history of Police brutality. It also gives facts about police brutality today. I have used this source to support the artist claims. I believe it is credible because it is linked from the Library Databases.