A Tale of 2 Cities
In 1985, Jermaine Lamarr Cole, more popularly known as J. Cole, was born inside of an American Army base in West Germany. Cole’s African American father and German Mother meet while Cole’s father was on duty for the Army. Cole’s stay in West Germany was rather short lived and would move to the small town of Fayetteville, North Carolina. Sadly, the land of opportunity brought nothing but bad luck for Cole’s family, as his dad would soon leave them soon after their arrival. Now with just his mom and his brother, he grew up in a small Trailer home, installed with a furnace. Cole began to chase his dreams at a young age.
As a kid, Cole idolized the famous rappers, Nas, Tupac and Eminem and at the age of 14 was inspired to take start taking rapping seriously. Though he made excellent grades throughout high school, Cole turned down the option of going to College to move to New York City and chase his dreams. Determined to give Jay-Z his mixtape demo, he waited outside of his office for over a day. After being ignored during their first meeting, Jay-Z eventually signed J. Cole to his record company. From here, Cole found much success, releasing multiple studio albums and winning two Grammy Awards for his music.
The year 2014 turned out to be a success for J. Cole after the release of his most popular album. Named after his old address in North Carolina, 2014 Forest Hill Drive would go on to take to music world by surprise. Winning BET’s “Best Album” award as well as Music Billboards’ best rapper of 2015, J. Cole had officially set his feet in the mainstream music world. The top songs from this album include, “Apparently”,” G.O.M.D.” and “A Tale of Two Cities.” In the first week of the album’s release, 2014 Forest Hill Drive sold over 350,00 copies, solidifying it as J. Cole’s best album yet.
Cole sings solo in “A Tale of Two Cities” to the rhythm of a rather heavy yet alternating beat. This plays continuously throughout the whole song and plays a huge role in the song’s identity. During the chorus and some other points in the song, a separate bass noise will accompany the beat. At 3:23 the music will begin and it seems as if the song is about to end. However, Cole includes a minute long outro in his song to close things off.
Cole not only chooses the name “A Tale of Two Cities”, but he also draws up many of the themes from the book, “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens. Like the book, Cole uses his lyrics to tell a story from two different perspectives. The first perspective, which is the song’s first verse, is of a perspective similar to J. Cole as a kid. In the lyrics, “Since a youngin’ always dreamed of getting rich,”, Cole is rapping about a boy who dreams of leaving the poverty stricken life he is in and to become successful. Some of the lines from the first verse are direct instances out of J. Cole’s life. This includes the line ”Picked up the paper, they say Eddie caught a body, I’m convinced anybody is a killer” which refers to when he found out that his best friend had gotten arrested for murder and how he had never expected that from him. In the last line of the verse, Cole raps that “he is trying to write a story, so can I get a glimpse,” in writing about how listening to other rappers and seeing how they have made it gave him his inspiration to be a rapper.
Going into the song’s bridge, Cole uses the old saying “I know that everything that glitters isn’t gold”, to say that he knows things aren’t always as good as they seem, but then questions how you can really know though until you get it. By questioning a widely accepted saying, Cole shows his true passion towards his dream of becoming a famous rapper.
After the bridge, J. Cole will begin the next verse in the second perspective. This time, the perspective is of another kid, who has the same dream of getting rich and is in the same position as the first perspective, but a different mindset. As seen in the lyrics “Cop some tree in some powder and make it flip,” which is slang for selling drugs such as cocaine and marijuana. The boy in the second verse plans to achieve the same success as the boy in the first verse, but through criminal means. Comparing the two different perspectives is key in analyzing the song, as J. Cole uses this as a way to differentiate one perspective as being driven and essentially good, while the other one as corrupt minded.