Seem like half the race is either on probation, or in jail
Wonder why we inhale, cause we in hell already
‘The race’ is referring to Black — J.Cole is biracial. In terms of race and ethnicity, blacks have the highest incarceration rates in the US. There are various theories as to why this is – for example police discrimination, marginalisation and relative deprivation.
The second line could possibly be people [in a better position] wondering why the poor bother breathing (inhale), because they are in hellish surroundings already, they might as-well die.
Alternatively, the line could be a sort of question/answer.
The ‘question’ would be people wondering why the sin of abusing drugs is so prevalent in impoverished areas [which J.Cole refers to as ‘hell’] — In particular, the drugs you ‘inhale’ — so possibly either marijuana or crack cocaine.
The ‘answer’ is that they commit such sins because they feel they are already in hell, so have nothing to fear in the after-life, as hell is all too familiar to them.
A similar themed multi-layered word-play displayed here with ‘inhale/in hell’ has been used previously by J.Cole in 2011’s ‘Before I’m Gone’ with the following line:
Breathing slow man, I’m in hell
And has also been used by friend Kendrick, in the line from H.O.C.:
I’ll let you inhale, like an atheist
To help improve the meaning of these lyrics, visit "Crooked Smile" by J. Cole (Ft. TLC) Lyrics and leave a comment on the lyrics box