This essay uses J. Cole’s song “Wet Dreamz,” the artist’s boyhood tale about losing his virginity, as a case study examining how Black male hip-hop artists draw from ideas about the ordinary to position themselves vulnerably within the contours of the mainstream genre. I argue that Cole positions himself vulnerably by presenting himself as sexually insecure, making him susceptible to criticism around his masculinity and, by extension, mainstream marketability loss in a genre dominantly constructing Black men as sexually confident. Specifically, I explore how Cole discusses seemingly universal boyhood concerns about his penis size, “stroke,” and wet dreams, accentuating a sense of connectedness to his male listeners. Second, I argue that Cole rearticulates his masculinity through his heterosexual desire, which could otherwise be jeopardized by the song’s attentiveness to his sexual uncertainty. Through this case study, I demonstrate how Black male hip-hop artists can carve disruptive rhetorical space for expressing seemingly universal boyhood insecurities that commonly go unexpressed, depicting healthy sexual relationships, and representing Black boys as resilient and with sexual agency.
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