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Rapper J. Cole on Income Inequality

The uproar over income inequality in America has simmered down of late, but it has far from disappeared. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) recently echoed President Obama’s rhetoric, arguing that income inequality is the “issue of our time.” And with rumors swirling that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) will run for president in 2016, her liberal populist platform is sure to bring income inequality once again to the forefront of America’s attention.

Meanwhile, into this conversation steps hip-hop artist J. Cole. His message? Love yourz (sic).This comes from the second to last song (warning: contains explicit language) on his newly released album, “2014 Forest Hills Drive.” Cole tells the story of his rise from relative rags to riches, and offers a word of caution. “For what’s money without happiness?” he sings. In retrospect, he wonders if “being broke was better….”

While making it clear that he sympathizes with those currently struggling to get by, he also wants to send a message from the other side:

Always gon’ be a bigger house somewhere, but…

Long as the people in [it] love you dearly

Always gon’ be a [car] that’s better than the one you got

Always gon’ be some clothes that’s fresher than the ones you rock

Always gon’ be a [girl] that’s [more attractive] out there on the tours

But you ain’t never gon’ be happy till you love yours…

What is it that we truly desire in life? Most people would say happiness or fulfillment. Here, Cole is merely repeating age old wisdom: money can’t buy those things. The problem with counting on material things to fulfill us is that we will always have the ability to acquire more. As a result, this way of life leads to a cycle of envy and gratification that leaves us with little true satisfaction.

In our life experiences, most of us have learned this lesson already. As Cole suggests and we know, happiness doesn’t come from having more stuff, but from loving what we do have—especially the people. Our daily actions may not reflect this reality, but deep down we know it to be true.

“Reducing life to the amount of money in one’s bank account is a recipe for unhappiness.”

Aside from the real problems of poverty and wealth earned through unjust means, a crusade against income inequality on the societal level is merely a macrocosm of the failed way of life that Cole sings about. In simple terms, the narrative goes: “That group of people has more money than we do. That’s not fair; we should have some of it. Once we do, life will be better.” Is this cause really worth our efforts? Is it truly the “issue of our time”?

I have no idea what Cole’s political leanings are, but regardless, the message of his song has important implications. It suggests that a crusade against income inequality itself (not including true poverty or cronyism) is a bad idea and a waste of time. Even if it were successful, would our lives end up being happier or more fulfilled? Unlikely. In the end, reducing life to the amount of money in one’s bank account is not only dehumanizing, it’s a recipe for unhappiness.

So, let’s take Cole’s advice. Personally, we should appreciate what we already have and invest in what will truly bring us happiness: loving others—and God, I might add. And politically, let’s focus our efforts on more productive endeavors, such as increasing the opportunity for all to have work and live meaningful lives.

  • real Macaroni

    Give everyone the opportunity to have a meaning life?? That’s a big ask… Compared to that, solving income inequality and poverty sounds pretty simple. Even if you are employed and make a “living wage” (got your cable TV package, car, iPhone, xbox; whatever the baseline is these days) if you’re working in retail or food service you’re going to have a really hard time self-actualizating.

    Living a meaningful life is the greatest challenge of all… Putting this forth as a universal goal for all members of our society is absurdly ambitious, and imagining that our government might play a role in that achievement is just absurd.

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