One of the most useful ways to understand J. Cole’s new music video for “MIDDLE CHILD” may be to look at the opening shot versus the closing one. When the video begins, J. Cole is standing in the center of the frame, surrounded in the background by silhouetted figures and dark, blue-tinged clouds of smoke and fog. Everything is in shadow. When it ends, he is no longer standing, instead sitting in a grocery cart in a brightly lit store, surrounded only by junk food and fluorescent lights. 

Exploring two different visual extremes makes sense for a song that’s largely about being caught between two worlds. “MIDDLE CHILD” spends time exploring the feeling of existing between different and disparate generations of rappers, so it feels fitting that pinned amidst all of this exploration is J. Cole himself, kept in the middle and in the focus of the video the entire time.

The visuals used in the “MIDDLE CHILD” video are very evocative: Between the lit-up marching band, the covered dead bodies, the stuffed rappers’ heads on the mantle and the woman at the end picking a Saran-wrapped head out of a sale freezer at the grocery store, it’s almost hard to land on which theme (if any) might be the most significant. What does seem clear is that J. Cole is asserting his readiness to dominate the music scene no matter which direction it takes next.

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