Political music is no stranger towards police brutality. Their are countless songs made specifically to spread awareness on police brutality, especially towards African-Americans. J. Cole’s song “Be Free” was made strictly about the murder of Michael Brown. Brown was an unarmed black man who was gunned down by police in 2014. Cole made the song shortly after the news of that broke. The song’s lyrics have great meaning towards this matter, as well as the vocal performance. Cole’s specific performance creates bigger meaning towards the subject. His voice is pure and raw throughout the song, often straining his voice in certain points. Now to the blank ear, this could be unnoticed, but diving deeper, a listener can realize that this straining of the voice means so much more. Straining voice in a song is done on purpose by Cole. It was done to make us listeners feel solemn. There is nothing happy about the subject of the song, so Cole straining his voice emphasizes that.


“Be Free” on the David Letterman Show

J.Cole performed this song on the David Letterman show about 8 years ago. This performance was outstanding. Not only was Cole able to spread this message in front of many people, he was also able to change up his song to make it even more meaningful. To start, his vocal performance was incredible. In the original recording of the song, his voice was strained, but in this performance, his voice was even more strained than the original. It sounded raw, authentic and from the heart. To correlate to his vocals, Cole’s presence on the stage created a solemn tone. Cole for one, was dressed in all black, like he was at a funeral. He also had a very deep look on his face, a serious look. Throughout the performance Cole never left the spot of the mic, which indicated that this performance was all business, nothing was joyful about this song or performance. His entire performance was all business. Lastly, after the second chorus Cole begins free-styling, singing lyrics that were not apart of the original performance. The lyrics were hard to understand but the basic gist of them was again to emphasize political ideals. He sung about how African-Americans had struggles obtaining degrees, living a life of not poverty and he also mentioned Obamas name as well. Overall this entire performance had conveyed his message even better than the original publication of “Be Free”.


“Be Free” Cover by Eden Shibeshi

This version of the song was created by an artist by the name of Eden Shibeshi. The first thing I noticed that was different was the instrumental behind the singing. It felt like a pop song with the music. I felt I was listening to a song by artists like Halsey or Olivia Rodrigo. This version did not make the song feel like a political song about police brutality. The lyrics did not change at all, it was still the same lyrics that Cole wrote and sung, the only different part was the vocal performance and the instrumental. Cole’s version made me have a feeling of uneasiness about the situation, this song did not make me feel that in the slightest. This version made it very obvious that in songs, in order to portray a message not only do the lyrics need to do that, the vocal performance as well as the instrumental need to be on point with the message of the song. Had I not known any background to what this song was really about, I would have had no idea that this song was about a wrongful murder of an African-American man. This version was very well done and it sounded amazing, however, the message of the song definitely did not intend for the song to sound like this, or make us listeners feel like this song was a pop song by someone like Olivia Rodrigo.



The one takeaway from these different version of this song is that the most important part of a song is the vocal performances and instrumentals. The lyrics can say one thing, but the instrumental and vocals can portray something completely different.