If you didn’t hear, J. Cole is a married man. In a recent interview with Creed director Ryan Coogler, his union was made public, seemingly by accident, as Cole appeared a bit uncomfortable when Coogler asked about it, which Cole replied “there was, like, one thing to not do.”
But why would he be uncomfortable about this? There are many possible reasons, from just being private and wanting their relationship out of the public eye, to the more specific issue of monogamy (and especially marriage) being seen as “uncool” in hip-hop culture.
But is that really the case?
Dating back to The Beatles’ heyday, and even before that, pop stars, actors, and celebrities in general have been encouraged by their handlers to not make any monogamous relationship public so as to perpetuate the fantasy that so many young female fans have, dreaming of one day being with a dreamboat superstar. While Cole repeatedly claims (jokingly) he’s not much to look at in his music, his throng of female fans seems to disagree; this was clearly evidenced by the disappointed backlash on social media once it was revealed that the rapper was indeed married to his longtime girlfriend Melissa Heholt. Just look at some of these Tweets:
— Nia (@NiaRiverax) January 20, 2016
crying myself to sleep tonight because #JCole got married & it wasn’t to me
— Carmelita (@litasweeets) January 19, 2016
Oh and the love of my life got married to his love of his life #jcole
— A. (@AyeCee23) January 20, 2016
While a good deal of these are admittedly tongue and cheek, one couldn’t be surprised if at least a couple of the folks on Cole’s marketing team were less than thrilled that this information went public. Any artist who makes music that could be seen as catering to women, from rappers like Cole and Drake to the boy bands of the 90’s and early 2000’s like N*SYNC and the Backstreet Boys, are often projected as single even when they’ve been in monogamous relationships for years, just to keep the fans’ marriage fantasy going. Unless, of course, they’re involved with another celebrity; then it’s a whole different, much more marketable story.
From Jay-Z & Beyonce, to Kanye West & Kim Kardashian, to Meek Mill & Nicki Minaj, celebrity “power couples” have long been the exception to the industry’s rule of covering up committed relationships for marketing purposes. Publicists know tabloids eat up famous couples, since it’s seen as a “2 for 1 deal” for their paparazzi, and it creates a further fascination with young fans vicariously living through these superstars, modeling their own relationships after the ones they see in magazines, on Instagram, and on shows like Love & Hip-Hop. So as long as an artist is married to or involved with another famous person, then it’s a marketing team’s dream. But what about a case like Cole’s, where the star’s wife/significant other DOESN’T also have paparazzi following them around?
Not too much is known about Melissa Heholt (even with outlets like XXL now publishing articles about her), we mainly just know that she’s a beautiful wedding planner (ironic, huh Drizzy?) with a master’s degree and her own event planning business, and has been romantically involved with Jermaine Cole for years. Then again, we don’t need to know any of that; but we do, and it’s most likely because media outlets are trying to make this into a “power couple” situation by publishing as much info about her as possible. We can’t have the “Cole Miners” in the dark regarding every little detail of their idol’s life, now can we?
A relevant parallel to Cole and Heholt’s relationship is the rapper’s peer Kendrick Lamar recently making longtime (and much less famous) girlfriend Whitney Alford his fiancee. Despite Kendrick’s music targeting women considerably less than Cole’s, the marriage still caused some fans to be upset; a couple were mad at Alford’s complexion being light, but there were still fans saying they were let down, heterosexual males included. Marriage, and commitment in general, has often been viewed as “uncool” in a lot of rap song lyrics; even Jay-Z, who is now married to longtime beau Queen Bey, had a song about his “Big Pimpin’” ways as a very eligible bachelor.
UGK, the Houston legends featured in “Big Pimpin'”, had a song of their own called “Int’l Player’s Anthem” with another fantastic southern rap duo, OutKast. In the video’s opening skit, Andre 3000 is preparing to get married while Bun B, one half of UGK, simply asks him “why get married, pimpin’? Why?!?”. Andre then delivers an incredible verse detailing the thought process of a man immersed in the hip-hop lifestyle leaving all of his groupies behind to get married to a woman he loves. UGK then deliver back-to-back, also great verses about maintaining an extremely single lifestyle, but still, Andre’s message was triumphantly sent: if you wanna get married to someone you adore, regardless of your profession, do it. No one can, nor should, stop you.
Marketing teams and record labels want their artists to maintain a certain “mystique”; they can’t be seen in public with “normies”, regular civilians with jobs that…brace yourself…aren’t in the entertainment industry. The goal is to proverbially dangle these heartthrobs in front of their fanbase like a living, breathing doggie treat, keeping the dream of a fan one day being ‘wifey’ alive, but also making them seem super-human and “untouchable” by only personally associating with other celebrities; you know, people on their level. But, now more than ever, hip-hop artists especially seem to be taking a stand against this age-old industry marketing design, as two of the biggest rappers on the planet right now have announced their commitments to high school and college sweethearts who had been kept out of the public eye for the most part.
Sure, J. Cole’s admission that he was married came off a bit reluctant, but he couldn’t hide his sheepish, lovestruck grin when discussing it. That’s because of the basic principle that a lot of celebrity-obsessed society forgets: we are all human, at the risk of sounding like a complete hippy. And we all have a right to be with whomever we please, regardless of fame or the archetypal idea of “class”. Regardless of your views on the construct of traditional marriage, you can’t deny love out here in these streets, fam. Rappers can claim they “don’t love these hoes” and will be a “player for life” all they please, but as Andre himself said in the “Int’l Player’s Anthem” video, ain’t nobody trying to be the only old, lonely motherfuckers in the club, desperately clinging to our bygone youth while being shot down by women half our age.
So it seems that while young fans may temporarily lash out on Twitter, and some dinosaur publicists who still think it really matters may get upset, in recent years, hip-hop artists have had less and less restraint about being in public relationships, especially with less-famous men and women. There are still performers who keep their counterparts a secret in order to maintain the illusion of being single and keep their romantically obsessed fanbase hanging on; but that has to come to an end, eventually, and even the most pimpinest of pimps in the rap biz doesn’t want to wind up dying alone. After all, most the rappers claiming that in their music are usually married or in monogamous relationships behind closed doors.
Cole and Kendrick’s recently publicized relationships are another sign of the progress hip-hop is making as a culture, outside of just the music. The de-mystification of artists continues, and it’s really not a bad thing on the whole. Talent alone is what sets these men and women apart, not their marital status, and not who they’re romantically linked with. However, to any rappers reading this, don’t feel like you need to go out and get married tomorrow, or at all; just make sure if and when you do, you’re sure about who it’s with, and you’re sure you don’t give a solitary fuck what anyone else thinks about it.