Music is an enormous role in adolescents’ understanding of sex, relationships, and self-identity. ‘Entering relationships are part of the adolescent experience and factors contribute to the nature and potential of these relationships’. The avenue most adolescents take to learn about relationships, sex, drugs, etc. is music. The way an adolescent learns about relationships, where and whom they learn it from, all contributes to the potentiality of their future relationships. Considering the importance of music as a major social and cultural influence on the development of gender norms, sexual attitudes, and behavior among adolescents, it is noticeably important to understand the context of the music.
The title of the song is about actor, celebrity, and comedian Kevin Hart, who admitted to cheating on his wife and mother of his child in late 2017. In ‘Kevin’s Heart,’ Cole is singing from the stance of a person addicted to drugs & sex. This is also a reference to the name of the album ‘KOD’ which J.Cole explained had three meanings: ‘kids on drugs, king overdosed, and kill our demons’. Throughout the track, he references taking Xanax, smoking blunts and relates the use of drugs to potentially cheating on his partner. The music video of the track prominently features Hart, receiving judgment from people in the public but ultimately recognizing his own mistakes as a ‘growth opportunity’. Now having explained important background information we can begin to depict the song and further analyze the meaning behind its’ lyrics.
‘She my number one, I don’t need nothing on the side’, ‘But my phone be blowing up, temptations on my line’. What Cole is expressing in these two lines is self-awareness, knowing he (Hart) has a committed relationship but still has temptations on his mind because of women calling. This feeds into the gender stereotype that men are weak to temptation and eventually fail to stay committed to one woman. ‘I stare at the screen a while before I press decline’, ‘But she plants a seed and it still lingers in my mind’. In these two lines, Cole describes Hart rejecting a women’s phone call and not being able to let go of the thought of being with her because she planted a seed in his mind. The meaning of this line is trying to blame women for being malicious and planting promiscuous thoughts into men. A common gender stereotype in hip hop/rap music is women being easy and deceitful with bad intentions.
‘Told myself I’m strong enough to shake it and I’m trying’, ‘But I’m only human, I know loving you’s a crime’, ‘If I take this cookie now one day I’ll do the time’. The first two lines are explaining Hart’s efforts to shake off his thoughts but ultimately he tries to justify his cheating because he’s ‘only human’. The last line explains if he takes this ‘cookie’, (cookie is slang for female genitalia) that he will end up paying the consequences. ‘I get the skirt when I want’, ‘Due to the money aroma (somebody)’. Here Cole describes Hart’s success and accumulated wealth, the women around him can smell the money on him and they know he’s rich so they throw themselves at him, this is a continuation of the previous line and is saying he can get the ‘Skrrt’ (women) due to his wealth. Fueling the gender stereotype that women are ‘gold diggers’ and are willing to do promiscuous things in return for money and luxurious gifts.
‘ ‘Cause love wouldn’t lie like I lie and it’s wild’, ‘Wanna have my cake and another cake too’, ‘Even if the baker don’t bake like you’, ‘Even when the flavor don’t taste like you’. The first line is referencing that the cheater has now even confused himself, as he knows full well that people who truly love each other aren’t supposed to lie and cheat. The guilt and shame he feels are now making him think that if he loved his wife and mother of his child, he wouldn’t and shouldn’t be unfaithful to her. He’s manipulating his wording so that his wife feels bad for him because he is also ‘confused’. The following lines ‘have your cake and eat it too’ is a phrase that describes having two good things happening that typically never happen together. Cole plays on this, saying that Hart wants two cakes, alluding to his wife whom he loves, and the women he cheats on his wife with. He takes the phrase a step farther, saying that he doesn’t care who bakes the cake or if the flavor is even the same; he craves many different women, regardless of whether they pale in comparison to the woman that he is with. These lines project objectifying messages towards women, they have no significant value to him.
‘My ego get stroked and I bruise her’. Like the rest of this track, this section is about infidelity. Cole is saying that Hart sleeping with other women makes him feels like he’s the man, hence, his ‘ego gets stroked.’ But every time he gives in to his ego-gratification by cheating, he ‘bruises” his wife, a metaphor for the damage and pain he’s inflicting on her. He continually fails to learn from this mistake, as it happens again and again, which is why he repeats the line. This gratifies the gender stereotype that men don’t care about women as he seems to keep repeating his mistakes. ‘On the road I’m a mack, I’m a chooser’, ‘I’m a addict, I’m maskin’ that’, ‘Kevin’s Heart’. A ‘mack’ is a player, a man who is proficient at getting women. At home, Hart is a great man in his relationship, but once he hits the road he’s with multiple women. Cole discusses sex addiction throughout the song. He’s masking his cheating ways to hide them from his wife, as shown in the previous lines ‘my actions, I know they confusing, at home I look happy as usual’. He makes it seem like he’s happy and things appear to be normal with him, but it’s the mask he’s using to hide his demons (him being a mack and a chooser, and cheating when he’s away) from his wife.
‘Of the songs sampled, 18.3 % involved males valuing sex above all else. 18 songs were categorized as R&B/HipHop, and 11 songs were from the rap genre’. From research samples collected from the article, it is clear to see the view of male artists and how they analyze themselves needing and asking for sex. This speaks on higher levels, why does the male artist feel the need to describe themselves in a way of being needy for sexual activity? My interpretation is men stereotype themselves as ‘the man’ a glorified view of a man being a player or always desiring and receiving sexual interactions. Just like the song did when Cole stated Hart wanted two cakes, not just one (referring to women) and also his referencing sex addiction as a gender norm for men.
‘Females in music are portrayed as naive, submissive creatures in need of male protection, adoration, and direction’. At the end of Coles song, the last lines are: ‘I done did so much that when you see you might go blind’, ‘What’s done in the dark will always find a way to shine’, ‘I done did so much that when you see you might go blind’. This is a gender norm in music that women can’t ‘handle’ difficult or hard information, projecting them to be submissive and in need of men like the research of the article found. He’s explaining she might go ‘blind’ from the light of his infidelities, she wouldn’t be able to cope with it.
To further understand why most hip hop/rap lyrics and music videos project men to write scandalous, sexist, and misogynistic lyrics about women and how they treat them. I’ve extended the topic to research the culture and background of hip hop/rap lyrics. ‘ For the most part, scholars agree that images of manhood in rap music are hypersexual, misogynistic, and violent. They include the importance of historical controlling images; sociology of black life in the ghetto, media constructions of black male sexuality and the impact of corporate influences of rap’. Images of African American masculinity in rap and hip hop have been a common staple in lyrics and music videos. The media also constructs African American male sexuality; there are stereotypes as to how African American men should be perceived as masculine and what their sexual desires should be. This construction of gender and racial bias to African American men can be the cause behind the lyrics to sustain certain ‘manhood’ beliefs.
To gain further insight into the African American culture of rap and hip hop, and firsthand interpretations, I watched ‘Free Meek’ a documentary on amazon prime video; about Philly rapper Meek Mill and his incarceration story and the come up of his career in the music industry. ‘It’s cold at night, and I ain’t talkin’ about the weather, they layin’ down in a bed without nobody to tell ’em they love ’em every night’. Meek Mill provides us with inside knowledge of how children and youth growing up in his communities feel. This could be the reasoning for lyrics providing information such as not loving or valuing women came about and how it’s perceived as normal. ‘You want to protect yourself now, because you could smell death when you go to the door, and you goin’ to the door like, man, it smell like somebody goin’ die today’. Once again we gain more insight into the environment that some rappers endure, and could explain the violence in some of these rappers’ lyrics; this also connects to another statement made by Meek Mill. ‘I was raised in how to stay alive, how to stay out of prison, what’s the right moves to make so you don’t lose your life’ (Meek Mill, Free Meek, Season 1: Two Americas). Rapper Meek Mill speaks about the cultural differences in how he was raised. This proved to be of big influence in his music as well. The documentary analyzed his lyrics to his life experiences the way he ‘came up’ and how he had to survive. Many of his rap songs describe gang violence, misogynistic views, drug use, and the harsh reality for many African American males; Which are a big influence in rap and hip hop lyrics and music videos.
Though the song I chose wasn’t as explicit as other songs in the hip hop and rap category. The connections to the lyrics, interpretation of the research of African American communities, and the documentary ‘Free Meek’ is visible. All the research tied together sheds light on why rap and hip hop music has misogynistic views, gender norms, hypersexual themes, etc. A related issue that could be explored is the shifts if there has been any, in the social context of sexual behavior in rap and hip hop music. For example, have there been major changes in association with social behavior and sexuality such as romance, alcohol and drug use, crime, and violence over time? Future research could focus on addressing these questions and provide informed relative theories.
- Bretthauer, Brook, et al. ‘A Feminist Analysis of Popular Music.’ Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, vol. 18, no. 4, 2007, pp. 29–51., doi:10.1300/j086v18n04_02.
- Herd, Denise. ‘Conflicting Paradigms on Gender and Sexuality in Rap Music: A Systematic Review.’ Sexuality & Culture, vol. 19, no. 3, 2014, pp. 577–589., doi:10.1007/s12119-014-9259-9.
- Cooper, B. Lee. ‘Women’s Studies and Popular Music Stereotypes.’ Popular Music and Society, vol. 23, no. 4, 1999, pp. 31–43., doi:10.1080/03007769908591751.
- ‘Prime Video: Free Meek – Season 1.’ Prime Video: Free Meek – Documentary , www.primevideo.com/detail/0FWOXRQY8Y833E80GLEDS6XO83.
- Collins, Patricia Hill. ‘Black Sexual Politics.’ Feb. 2004, doi:10.4324/9780203309506.
- Cole, J. ‘J. Cole – Kevin’s Heart Lyrics: RAPRNB Lyrics.’ RAPRNB, Cole, J. ‘J. Cole – Kevin’s Heart Lyrics: RAPRNB Lyrics.’ RAPRNB, www.raprnb.com/lyrics/j-cole-kevins-heart
- J. Cole – Kevin’s Heart – YouTube. www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufynqs_COF4.