“Rest in Peace to Michael Brown and to every young black man murdered in America, whether by the hands of white or black,” reads the text accompanying the song on SoundCloud. “I pray that one day the world will be filled with peace and rid of injustice. Only then will we all Be Free.”
Reactions to the song have been generally positive. Time
“one of Cole’s rawest, most emotional recordings to date.” Billboard said it was “gut-wrenching” and noted that “Be Free”
“the most-talked about track on Twitter in the U.S.,” landing it the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s
Friday morning. The song also won Twitter praise from rapper Talib Kweli, who has
about Brown’s death and the police response to the unrest in Ferguson.
But some people took issue with J. Cole’s cover art, which originally featured a photo of Brown lying dead in the middle of a Ferguson street. Brown’s body
for hours after he was killed.
The cover art has since been updated to a photo of Brown’s mother,
being comforted by her husband, following the death of her son. The new cover art was
of J. Cole’s record label, Dreamville, with this message: “We were unaware of Mike Brown’s mother’s request to not use that picture. Art has been changed out of respect for her wishes.”
This isn’t the first time controversy has surrounded one of Cole’s songs. Last year, the rapper
as a lyrical insult during a guest appearance on a Drake song.
As Vibe notes, it’s also not the first time Cole has used music to protest police-involved shootings. The music video for his song “Crooked Smile” was dedicated to Aiyana Stanley-Jones, a 7-year-old who was fatally shot by a police officer in 2010 during a nighttime raid in her Detroit home. This post has been updated since it was first published.