"Middle Child" is a horn-heavy, contemplative look at being caught between the old and new generations of rappers.
I'm dead in the middle of two generations I'm little bro and big bro all at once Just left the lab with young 21 Savage I'm 'bout to go and meet Jigga for lunch
Cole feels as if he has to play both a "big brother" to newcomers on the rap scene like 21 Savage and a little brother when he meets up with those who he has been looking up to for years such as Jay-Z ("Jigga" is one of Jay-Z's monikers).
"Middle child syndrome" is where children with both older and younger siblings feel neglected. Cole is not a middle child in his family - he has one older brother, Zach, but no younger siblings. However, as a hip-hop middle child, Cole is declaring that he won't allow himself to be forgotten.
To the OGs, I'm thankin' you now Was watchin' you when you was pavin' the ground I copied your cadence, I mirrored your style I studied the greats, I'm the greatest right now
Cole is declaring himself the current king of the rap game.
Cole also discusses the idea that rap beef isn't always necessary. As well as showing love and support to fellow artists like 21 Savage and Jay-Z in his lyrics, he also raps about fans wanting to pit him and Drake against each other.
Just put the Rollie right back on my wrist This watch came from Drizzy, he gave me a gift Back when the rap game was prayin' I'd diss They act like two legends cannot coexist
Cole raps about how Drake gifted him a Rolex around the same time as when people expected them to be beefing. He questions why there can't be two successful rappers in the game.
The song was produced by T-Minus, a Toronto-based beatmaker who is signed to Drake's OVO Sound. He previously worked with Cole on 2018's "Kevin's Heart."
T-Minus explained in an interview with Complex how "Middle Child" came together one single day in late 2018.
"We filled this beat out, he started writing to it, he recorded it - it was pretty much done within that day," he said. "The whole record."
"Middle Child" is centered around a sample of Philadelphia trio First Choice's soul song "Wake Up to Me." T-Minus and Cole found the stem containing the horn section on the music licensing site Tracklib, which assisted them with clearing it for just $500.
J. Cole took home the gongs for Lyricist of the Year and Impact Track for this song at the 2019 BET Hip Hop Awards. He also won at the same ceremony Best Featured Verse for his bars on 21 Savage's "A Lot."