Source Text: Verse 2, ‘03 Adolescence, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, J. Cole
Got home snatched my mama keychain
Took her whip, the appeal, too ill to refrain
I hit the boulevard pull up to my nigga front do’
His mama at home, she still let em’ hit the blunt though
I told her hello, and sat with my nigga and laughed
And talked about how we gon’ smash all the bitches in class
I complimented how I see him out here getting his cash
And just asked, “What a nigga gotta do to get that?
Put me on,” he just laughed when he seen I was sure
17 years breathing his demeanor said more
He told me, “Nigga, you know how you sound right now?
If you wasn’t my mans
I would think that you a clown right now
Listen, you everything I wanna be that’s why I fucks with you
So how you looking up to me when I look up to you?
You bout to go get a degree, I’ma be stuck with two choices:
Either graduate to weight [wait?] or selling number two
For what? A hundred bucks or two a week?
Do you think that you would know what to do if you was me?
I got, four brothers, one mother that don’t love us
If they ain’t want us why the fuck they never wore rubbers?”
Destination Medium: Novel
In my mama’s whip I pulled up to my friend’s front door. He lived in a house, not so big, with his mother and four brothers. On the front lawn to the right was a rusty bicycle abandoned, lazing on its side. To the left was an ash tray with a still lit cigarette resting on the seat of a lawn chair. My mama got me the same one.
I gave the door two short knocks. Smiling and shifting I waited, thrilled to see my friend. I wasn’t seeing him so much at school anymore but had heard he was making money pushing dope. I was fascinated. He was a businessman, doing his own thing and doing it well.
His mother finally opened the door for me, slowly, seeming not to match my level of excitement. Out of the house wafted a heavy scent of invisible grey and green smoke. I said “hello” and walked into the living room. I found my friend sitting down on the couch, shook hands, and joined him. His hand felt strong, but weak at the same time.
We started smoking and talking. Money, women, fame, the dominating themes in our conversation; laughing and smiling– until I brought up his business. He went to his room and came back showing off two fat wads of cash, one in each hand. He started smiling, giddy, and passed me the money to examine so tenderly, as if he believed it would vanish into nothingness if dropped.
I complimented him and asked, “What [I] gotta do to get that?” and added, “Put me on.” My teeth were showing, edges of my mouth and eyebrows slightly raised. I was looking straight at him but his eyes shifted towards the wall. I thought I wanted what he was having, a piece of the action.
He laughed, halfheartedly, and took another hit. His mother walked through the room, going where, I couldn’t tell. He didn’t look up, his focus now anchored on the floor as he inhaled.
My friend’s face hardened. Smoke was forced out of his lungs. “Jermaine, you know how you sound right now?,” still looking down. He continued, “Do you really think this petty cash is worth it? Do you think it’s enough to live?
“Look at what you have, your blessings, your education. You’re about to head to college and what will I have– a fleeting existence dependent on selling– going, going . . . where? Certainly not forwards, that’s struggling to stay where I’m at. I see myself in you and not one day goes by without wishing that I had your life. I want to have kids, man, get married, get a real job. Do you really think–” he broke off, breathing heavily, eyes wandering about on the floor looking desperately for something, what? His face said it could have been anything.
Both the limitations and virtues of the song medium arise from the need to market a tight and catchy piece without putting too much of a burden on the listener’s ears for the just under five minute listening time of ‘03 Adolescence. With this in mind I tried to explore further some of the relationships and emotional dynamics presented by Cole.
My attention was caught by the friend’s relationship with his uncaring, at least from the friend’s perspective, mother who lets him smoke blunts in the house. I used his eyes, what they were doing and where they were looking, to convey how uncomfortable he was with his mother that he would not, or lacked the control to look up at her as she passed through the room. A similar, but more desperate and controlling force takes over the friend’s eyes when he realizes that he has unintentionally enticed Cole by displaying the lucrative, but ephemeral nature of the drug game with his stacks of cash. These affordances were granted by the novel form because there is more space to discuss reactions and facial expressions while the song faces pressures to be marketable and catchy, which restrict Cole’s ability to dig deeper into his friend’s emotions, although they are surely addressed.
Another affordance the novel gave with the extra space and attention span of the observer was room for ambiguity whereas in song, there is more pressure on the artist to get his or her message across in a clear and pithy manner to reach a wider audience. Specifically I used the bicycle and cigarette as symbols of progress and stagnation respectively to draw a parallel between Cole and his friend, representing the choice his friend made and serving as a warning for Cole in the decisions he would have to make in the future. This flexibility is not as apparent in song form because of its need to be palatable.
The greatest sacrifice made in going from song to novel was Cole’s voice. It is heartfelt, pleading, and angry to a point where he almost is screaming desperately into the microphone. His tone cries out tragically ‘why!? What circumstances could have placed us on such divergent paths?’ Leaving aside the ornamental lyrical devices of rhyme and rhythm, the ability of voice to impress such a raw, authentic, and evocative sentiment into its listeners with its tone, quality, and volume is song’s most powerful affordance. It is also arguably the novel’s, and any other nonverbal medium’s, greatest weakness. Although novels are written and read by people, they are packaged into books, which, granted, can scream, but not to the degree or immediate effect that a human voice can. I could have wrote that J. Cole felt remorse and went home to hug his mom after hearing and seeing this from his friend, but I doubt that I could have made my reader feel what was being said to the same degree a listener of Cole would.
The translation itself was fun. ‘03 Adolescence was a song that stuck with me after listening through J. Cole’s double platinum, feature-less 2014 Forest Hills Drive. Although not the most popular track on the album, it communicates a message that resonates with me. Cole tells a story of him going to his friend’s house, eager to ask if he could join him in the drug game to be reprimanded and reminded of his privileges which boosted him to a position to not lead a life like that. I look at my friends and I look at myself, thinking what life would be like if I had made some different decisions, or had been trapped by unfavorable and greater forces, pushing me to take paths I wouldn’t have necessarily wanted to. This duality between Cole and his friend touched me, and I jumped at the opportunity to remediate it into novel form and reflect on my work. My only hope is that it stayed faithful to the heartfelt message Cole broadcasted.