If J. Cole’s “Power Trip” video seemed cinematic, he ups the stakes with “Crooked Smile,” which takes his recent commitment to narrative-driven visuals and injects powerful commentary. Few rappers would dare to get this heavy ever, let alone for a single performing as well as “Crooked Smile.” The TLC-assited tune is 36th on this week’s Billboard Hot 100 chart this week, and 8th among R&B and hip hop songs.
The video, directed by Sheldon Candis, is dedicated to Aiyana Stanley-Jones, and recreates the Detroit Police Department’s Special Response team raid that led to the 7-year-old’s death in 2010. Cole plays Aiyana’s older brother, a drug dealer under investigation by the DEA, who raid his home on the evening of his sister’s birthday. True to the story, one of the DEA agents then shoots the young girl, turning their drug bust into an indefensible nightmare. The video closes with a short message from Cole: “And please reconsider your war on drugs.”
Candis, who previously directed Common in “Luv,” explained the idea of the video in a recent Vibe interview, saying that it was Cole’s idea, and praising the rapper for his work. “I’m very proud of him,” he said. “This is his first experience acting. He nailed it. He gives a very conflicted performance and it’s all a very non-verbal, silent performance. He’s my Ryan Gosling (Laughs).”
Analogies aside, all respect goes out to Cole, who uses his platform to make a social statement, and a moving one at that. The video is a tear-jerker, dealing with loss and making strong points about the priorities of law enforcement. Between a back yard grill, fireworks and the national anthem, one can infer that this is all taking place on the 4th July. What, then, does it say about the American way? That the war on drugs is misguided, ineffective, and in the worst of cases, terribly detrimental.