So as I’m sitting here watching J. Cole‘s ¨She Knows¨ video right now I have to acknowledge that it’s still as dope as it was the first time that I saw it.
Everything about this video just hits. Let’s breakdown why J. Cole and Sam Pilling’s “She Knows” is one of best videos in a long time.
J. Cole’s decision to play a minimal role in the video is the first thing that sets it apart from most. Your normal rap video devotes at least 80% of the video to the artist and the other 20% to the girls/entourage/subject — whatever it may be. “She Knows” switches it up and features Cole playing the role of the antagonist and only appearing in the video for about 4 seconds.
The selflessness displayed by Cole with this move lets us focus in on the story.
“She Knows” approaches the broken family story from a different perspective from what we’ve seen in the past. We’re introduced to Kyle, a young kid who maybe 14 or 15, who seems to get off on mischief as he steals from his strict father and skips school to skate and smoke. He enjoys a day of hookie until he walks in on his mother cheating on her father with J. Cole. The boy bursts into tears and runs away. That night the family says grace at the dinner table as the silence due to secrets almost deafen the room.
This story of working class suburban family life hit hard – it’s not all a Cosby show and it has its own problems as you would expect. The cheating housewife being caught by the mischievous son, both holding secrets which they’ll use as leverage upon the other if the father/husband ever found out. I can honestly say I’ve never heard a story approached from that angle, fresh in it’s style – the video was thought provoking.
In hip hop, we’re so used to the male being the aggressor or bad guy and the problems always having to deal with violence from drugs, gangs, or domestic abuse. The families never make it to the level of having a respectable home life, at least from an outsider’s perspective. Cole establishes the family as well put together which is refreshing in itself. The issues dealt with in “She Knows” deal with secrets, lies, and deception, things which are sadly more relatable than we’d like to think they are in today’s society.
With one video, Cole captured issues that are relevant to today’s family life, while presenting a better image for family life in hip hop, still flawed, but no longer hopeless.
As I watched “She Knows” I sat back and thought of how enjoyable that was. The way that this visual compliments the song was unreal. If every video took a more artistic approach to it I could watch MTV Jams all day. The monotony of videos where guys pop bottles in a white room with a car and girls has gone on for 6 years too long.
Others rappers have already started taking cues. Vince Staples‘ video for “Nate” from his Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2 mixtape is a testament to the influence that “She Knows” will have. Vince’s visual bores a striking resemblance to Cole’s video, from the light skinned afro-child, to the troubles of family life, to the two second cameo by the artist themselves.
Great visuals always accentuate great records, and if anyone has got it right in recent times it has to be Mr. Cole and director Sam Pilling. Hopefully this pushes the bar for the future.