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J. Cole Reminds Hip Hop Fans the Value of Lyrical Rap On New Album “KOD” 4.5 Stars

J. Cole’s latest project “KOD” was dropped on April 20, (4/20) without much promotion. The album’s title has no explicit meaning, but rather multiple interpretations. On twitter, J. Cole himself stated the three meanings he had in mind: Kids On Drugs, King Overdose, and Kill Our Demons, but he leaves it open to all other interpretations.

J. Cole’s albums have substance, a message through lyrics and story, making both the order and content of the tracks important to pay attention to as a listener. Here Cole is attempting to take a stance on a number of issues, but particularly drugs and substance abuse from the ignorant youth.

The album’s Intro track sets up the message for the album, addressing two basic emotions: love and pain, both of which can be plentiful in life. This is followed by the statement that frequents the tracklist: “There are many ways to deal with this pain. Choose wisely.”

The next song is the album’s title track “KOD.” On the chorus J. Cole takes an alternate persona for the first time on the album, and boasts about selling a quarter brick of cocaine and flipping the money for a new Bentley, an upgrade from his mom’s car. On the verse, Cole is back to himself, where he addresses questions about fame and his refusal to include features on his tracks. He raps rhetorically, “How much you worth? How big is your home?/ How come you won’t get a few features? /I think you should? /How ’bout I don’t?”

Cole is in full fledge arrogance mode, but on the first verse his personality is sincere, as he brags that he is too good to feature other artists on his music. On the second verse however, J. Cole travels back to his drugged out persona from the hook as he raps about smoking and sipping lean to numb the pain while drug dealers around him act recklessly: “Know a young ni**a, he actin’ so crazy/ He serve a few packs and he jack a Mercedes/ He shoot at the police, he clap at old ladies/ He don’t give a f*ck if them crackers gon’ hang him.”

The track is J. Cole’s interpretation of trap rap: bass heavy and conceited lyrics. The track is catchy, but remains unique due to J. Cole’s emphasis on lyrical wordplay. The track ends with a reminder of life’s most dangerous and powerful influences, including not only substances such as money, weed, xanax and lean, but emotions such as greed, fame, and “the strongest drug of them all, love.”

The next song, “Photograph,” switches gears as Cole talks about romance conducted through social media and virtual images in the digital age. Cole says he doesn’t feel built for the world where one-liner DM’s, follow requests, and selfies are the only way to connect with women.

“The Cut Off,” includes a mysterious feature from unknown artist, “kiLL edward” who sounds suspiciously similar to the slowed down voice of J. Cole. Here J. Cole’s alter ego begs for smoke, unable to cut off from addiction, yet the track’s repetition and slow melody make it relatively forgettable.

On the track “ATM,” J. Cole tells a story of someone who rises to the top, fueled by money, drugs, and greed, and their tragic descent into the bottom troubled by an addiction to lavish lifestyle all the way. On the refrain Cole wonders, “Will I fall? Will I fly?/ Heal my soul/ Fulfill my high/ Cross my heart/ And hope to die/ With my slice/ Of Devil’s pie” He seeks to characterize the struggles with addiction that many deal with, particularly those who’s meteoric rise is short-lived. The song’s repeating hook, “Count it up” is catchy, and the story that J. Cole tells is interesting and engaging.

On “Motiv8,” J. Cole raps about how drugs relieve the guilt and pain of the famed lifestyle and selling out for money. He describes a contrast between the truths that make him feel as though he’s “dying inside”, and the easy out: sipping lean and counting money to numb the pain and “feel alive.” The format of this song is very similar to that of ATM: verse, repetitive chorus, and introspective refrain, yet is similarly catchy in melody and interesting in message.

The next track “Kevin’s Heart,” describes a different kind of temptation: voluptuous women constantly begging for attention. The beginning of the chorus describes the dilemma, “She my number one, I don’t need nothing on the side/ Said that I was done for good and don’t want no more lies/ But my phone be blowing up, temptations on my line/ I stare at the screen a while before I press decline” Cole knows that loyalty is important, but the forbidden fruit is never far out of reach. The song is named after Kevin Hart, who famously admitted to cheating on his wife in 2017. Cole seeks to characterize the difficulty of this temptation, and his unfortunate nature to “f*ck a good thing up” and turn to drugs as an escape from the guilt.

On the song “Brackets” J. Cole takes a stance about taxes. While it can come off as somewhat short sighted or corny, his sentiments are valid. He feels frustrated that the tax dollars that he and his fellow members of the black community pay do not circulate back into programs or schools to support them, but rather feed the money hungry politicians that pay the NRA to make more guns.

The track “FRIENDS” is J. Cole’s most introspective, where he considers the consequence of his addiction to smoking weed. He raps regretfully on the Bridge, “But I’m aggravated without it/ My saddest days are without it/ My Saturdays are the loudest/ I’m blowing strong.” He goes back and forth from his sober consciousness aware of the damage of drugs, and his alter ego kiLL edward who falls victim to addiction. He acknowledges that life’s obstacles in front of him and those from his community are large and plentiful, but it does no good to blame them or turn to drugs. He warns that depression and addiction are not a successful combination, and advises that instead, people meditate, and reflect while sober instead.

The penultimate track, “Window Pain – Outro” is the perfect combination of a powerful message coupled with a catchy melody. The song begins with narration from a young girl whose cousin was shot and killed in the streets. J. Cole raps on the chorus about all his ambitions and motivations as a rapper, yet reflects on all the ways he has failed in his integrity, and the guilty realization that he is the only one to make it out of his hood. He sees that he has been blessed in comparison to so many others around him, and strives to find a way to elevate those left behind, while staying true to what has motivated him from the beginning. In addition to the thoughtful lyrics, the trap beat is heavy in bass and rattling high hats, making the song both fun to listen to and emotionally deep.

On the final track “1985 – Intro to ‘The Fall Off,’” J. Cole considers the impact of the new wave of hip hop. His message is not all negative, and is far from a ‘diss track’ as many have labeled it, but rather imploring. He relates to the young rappers’ desires for money, women, and drugs, and acknowledges the value of black youth seeing success in one way or another. While he understands their ignorance, he wonders, “But have you ever thought about your impact?/ These white kids love that you don’t give a f*ck/ ‘Cause that’s exactly what’s expected when your skin black.” Cole has the nuanced but slightly overgeneralized realization that many young people “wanna be black and think your song is how it feels.” He warns that riding waves and spewing catchy ignorance will likely not make a lasting career.

The album as a whole is very strong. J. Cole attempts to take a stance on a variety of issues, most notably addiction, whether it be to drugs, lifestyle, women, or money. His tone could come off as corny or condescending to listeners with a certain expectation, but the album lends itself most to listeners with an open mind and ear. Those who listen for both melody and lyrics will not be disappointed by J. Cole’s latest installment, KOD.

Click here for tracklist.

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