Leaving The People You Grew Up With To Be A Better You, A Breakdown Of J. Cole’s 'Cousins'

In case you haven’t heard, J. Cole, aka “light-skinned Jermaine,” dropped off another EP last week titled “Truly Yours 2.” It’s the second version in this series, which finds Cole trying to re-establish himself with the listeners and ramp up new interest in his sophomore album, “Born Sinner.” Cole is infamous for his raps about Sallie Mae and student loans, but he’s also known for having a remarkable affinity to pen songs dealing with real life. One of the standout verses from “Truly Yours 2” is his last verse on the tape on a song named “Cousins.” On “Cousins,” Cole finds himself having a conversation with his cousin who embarked on a divergent path from his and now finds himself at the bottom while Cole is moving in the opposite direction.

Here is the song and accompanying lyrics.

cousin in jail again, asking me for bail again

close when i was 12 but, i was much frailer then

he was like 16, a n*gga from the gutter and

years ago his favorite uncle had married my mother and

here we are, rolling through the 'ville like dumb and dumber and

for that summer man, i swear i wish you was brother then

but time passed and we fell off cuz you moved back home

little did you know jermaine would grow a new backbone

n*ggas thought he wasn’t gon make it til he proved that wrong

10 years later on the radio that “who dat” song

ya homeboy pumps “the warm up” now you bugging

cuz you looking at the cover and you say “yo that’s my cousin”

n*ggas looking at you like “you lying” but you wasn’t

next thing i know you blowing up my line all a sudden

and i’m showing love like “yo look what i did…

ain’t nobody coming from here ever did this shit this big” man

…but now you saying “man enough about you…shit what about me?

my n*gga what about me? oh you forgot about me?

same n*gga showed you how to rap, now you don’t know how to act

boy i’m at the bottom you could pull a n*gga outta that

put me in a video, hey, put me on ya hottest track

bring me on the road wit you, you know cuz got ya back

and i’m strapped up, if them n*ggas act up

see you headed to the top you need to let me catch up

please let me catch up…

…won’t you help me catch up man…”

i see you when i see you

harsh as it seems to say i wouldn’t wanna be you

bail you out for your daughter and i pray to god

a n*gga never pull ya card and she won’t ever get to see you…

time keeps slipping away…away…

another day another love song…another day another love song…

There’s two things this J. Cole song makes me want to touch on.

The first is the side effects of leaving home, and the second is being seen as the ladder to pull people up … and the problems that can come along with that.

1. “n*ggas thought he wasn’t gon make it til he proved that wrong”

Growing up in less than ideal circumstances, I was immediately able to identify with this song. Statistics say 40% of people never move away from the place they grew up. A cursory glance at the figures for black men who’ve graduated from undergrad and matriculated through some form of professional/grad school are far lower than that. All that simply to say, what I have done and continue to do with my life falls within the minority. I finished undergrad in 2007, law school in 2012 and I haven’t lived home since 2009. I’m currently 800 some odd miles away from where I grew up.

Being this far away from home, it’s a natural occurrence that the friends I grew up with, fought and shared good times with are still at home while I’m out trying to reach the top. An unfortunate side effect is I sometimes feel like I left them behind.

And sometimes they feel left behind.

When people decide home doesn’t’ have enough to offer, there’s a good chance they’re going to butt heads with the people who feel the opposite. People who don’t want to leave home feel as if there’s nothing the world can offer that they can’t get right where they grew up. Home is where the heart is, and there’s a comfort that comes with being in the same surroundings for an extended period of time.

For me, I wasn’t ever comfortable enough to stay long term. I knew everything home had to offer. I wanted the challenge of seeing new things and having these experiences make me a better person. In some ways, being a better person made me a different person than the one they knew growing up. To them, I left, and because I had the opportunity to leave, I’m no longer looked at the same. You add in the fact that certain people I grew up with didn’t/couldn’t leave, and now they look at me through green eyes.

And it breeds resentment.

The resentment rolls into my next point.

2. “but now you saying man enough about you … shit what about me?/my n*gga what about me? oh you forgot about me?/same n*gga showed you how to rap, now you don’t know how to act/boy i’m at the bottom you could pull a n*gga outta that”

It’s always tough to deal with a situation where people can’t respect the difference between who you were back then and who you are now. I was younger than most my peers so they served as my earlier versions of role models and people I sought wisdom from. There are those who would not only feel as if they should be given credit for my development … they also feel I have success because of it and now I owe them.

I interpret these actions differently. To me they’re saying, “Damn bro, you doing it big time, and I feel like you in a position to give me some game. I gave you knowledge when you didn’t have any, so can’t you do the same?”

What isn’t taken into consideration is how do you teach people who haven’t been through what you’ve been through to act in a manner that is markedly different from the one they grew up with? When Cole’s cousin says, “and I'm strapped up, if them n*ggas act up …” I feel like I could hear Cole’s mind ticking when he wrote that. Cole’s rise to the top didn’t come from doing anything other than working hard and putting out good products. His cousin, in an effort to prove his loyalty and make himself useful, is still “from the bottom.” Seeing as he doesn’t know any better, he’s willing to resort to that same mentality to solve any issues brought Cole’s way — a mentality which I’m sure would do much more harm than good.

You can’t save everyone; you can only help where you can. Which is why Cole starts the verse, “cousin in jail again, asking me for bail again,” and answers his cousin’s pleas for help with “I see you when I see you/harsh as it seems to say I wouldn’t wanna be you/bail you out for your daughter and I pray to god/a n*gga never pull ya card and she won’t ever get to see you …” It’s not that he likes hurting his cousin. It hurts him to not help his cousin out. It’s that his cousin can potentially harm Cole, and sometimes it’s better off to let people find their own way instead of trying to help them along.

While my particular situation doesn’t mirror something as serious as his, I’ve long made up my mind that I’ve worked entirely too hard to get where I am now. I can’t afford to do anything or let anyone jeopardize my progress. As much as it hurts to turn my back on people I grew up with, there’s only so much I’m willing to do to help their situation.

The only way their situation is going to truly approve is if they do it themselves.

In conclusion, the Cole verse has been on repeat all day, and I can honestly say if it’s not his best verse, it’s damned close to it. I hope you enjoyed the breakdown of the song. If you have a similar story, hit the comment box and let me know. In the meantime, feel free to enjoy the song posted, and if you want the rest of the tape, here’s the link for it.


For more on RealGoesRight’s opinions on things other than sports,  feel free to follow him on Twitter at @RealGoesRight and subscribe to his blog at RealGoesRight.Com.

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