"I'm tired of being desensitized to the murder of black men," rapper J. Cole said in a statement on the Dreamvillain website with the release of his surprise new song "Be Free." "I don't give a fuck if it's by police or peers. This shit is not normal."
"Be Free" is Cole's response to the police shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager, Michael Brown, in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. The shooting has sparked widespread discussion over police authority and racial profiling as well as protests around the country, including rallies in Detroit, Nashville, New York and Chicago, among other places. Cole recorded the piano ballad, with lyrics like "All we wanna do is break the chains off/ All we wanna do is be free" – and samples of a news report about the police shooting – after identifying with Brown' story.
"There was a time in my life when I gave a fuck," Cole said in the statement. "Every chance I got I was screaming about it. I was younger. It's so easy to try to save the world when you're in college. You got nothing but time and no responsibility. But soon life hits you. No more dorms, no more meal plan, no more refund check. Nigga need a job. Nigga got rent. Got car note. Cable bill. Girlfriend moves in and becomes wife. Baby on the way. Career advances. Instagram is poppin. Lebron leaves Miami. LIFE HITS. We become distracted. We become numb. I became numb. But not anymore. That coulda been me, easily. It could have been my best friend.... I made a song. This is how we feel."
In a statement on the song's SoundCloud, Cole dedicated the song to "every young black man murdered in America," regardless of the race of the person who killed them. "I pray that one day the world will be filled with peace and rid of injustice," he wrote. "Only then will we all Be Free."
Earlier this week, rapper Killer Mike wrote a powerful essay on Instagram calling for people to consider a photo of Brown's grieving parents. "No matter how u felt about black people look at this mother and look at this father and tell me as a human being how u cannot feel empathy for them," he wrote. "How can u not feel sympathy for their pain and loss."