For some reason, people love to antagonize J. Cole. Ever since he started releasing mix-tapes back in 2007, diehard fans have praised him for his clever lyricism. On the other hand, haters believed there was a lack of focus on his earlier projects (a la Cole World: A Sideline Story).
Ever since his breakthrough album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, Cole has progressed towards a more introspective route, especially on his surprise release (from 2016), 4 Your Eyez Only. The latter project failed to receive the recognition it rightfully deserved, especially since it was Cole at his most raw. Now, he surprises us again with his fifth studio album, KOD,
The album title takes on many meanings (Kids On Drugs, King Overdosed, Kill Our Demons). Regardless, the message is clear from the “Intro” track; there’s better ways to deal with anxiety and depression other than drugs. Ironically, he releases it on the infamous date of 4/20.
It doesn’t surprise me that Cole admitted in a recent profile in Vulture that KOD turned out to be a product of watching Kendrick Lamar perform Damn. The difference is Cole made this his own.
The Ville rapper notably understands his influence in the game right now, and takes full advantage on his latest effort. The narrator for the album begs us to “choose wisely” when dealing adversity, and a majority of the songs find ways to educate without feeling too preachy.
Cole displays versatility on the trap-influenced title track, and claps back at people who believe he needs features to enhance his music “(how come you won’t get a few features/I think you should/how bout I don’t”). He also proclaims that the strongest drug of them all is love, which amusingly leads into the very bouncy “Photograph.” Sure, tackling the subject of finding love on social media is not the most original or critical thing in the world, but there’s certainly something to be said here.
My one gripe is his love songs aren’t as fully-developed as his other themes. KOD is essentially an album about money, bitches, and drugs, but rather than glorifying that lifestyle, Cole offers alternatives. Sure, you can have the women, but respect in a relationship is key, as he states on “Kevin’s Heart.”
Rather than attempting to dabble in hard drugs, why not meditate and ask for help, as declared on the powerful “FRIENDS.” Cole uses short verses and an impactful chorus to get straight to the point (There’s all sorts of trauma from drama that children see/type of shit that would normally call for therapy”). He’s also clever when explaining his own personal drug habits (my saddest days are without it/my Saturdays are the loudest, blowin’ strong).
He can be satirical as well, specifically on the sure-to-be radio hit, “ATM,” or the short-lived ‘Motiva8.” Cole excludes himself from the typical rapper lifestyle to demonstrate how little money really means in the end.
He puts out some of his best work to date when the final third of the record comes around. “BRACKETS” is virtually a literal “fuck you” to our government for how they handle people’s taxes (“where do my dollars go? You see lately I ain’t been convinced/I guess they say my dollars supposed to build roads and schools/but my n****s graduate man they ain’t got the tools”). He even adds in a silly skit, where he pretends to call Uncle Sam boasting about receiving his first million-dollar check.
Cole then ventures into a more personal territory on “Once an Addict (Interlude).” The emotionally-driven trip down memory lane focuses solely on the Ville rapper reminiscing about his mom’s alcohol abuse. Rather than feeling bitter though, he instead wishes that he could have done more to help his hero out. Nonetheless, the harrowing track ties into the message perfectly.
The outdo song, “Window Pain” reminds me a lot of 4 Your Eyez Only, where Cole wraps things up nicely with another poignant verse about ambition and thanking God for his blessings. Respectfully, Cole has always understood that people from his hometown have had it worse than him.
Even the intro track for “The Fall Off” (whatever that means), “1985,” is a teaching moment for Cole. After Lil Pump inadvertently went after him on social media, Cole constructively criticizes him, and the new wave of rappers. He acts as a professor who’s been doing this for years, rather than an immature 18 year-old. It’s a triumphant song that will surely be heard amongst the younger community. Money doesn’t last forever, and simply riding trends complies with that notion.
King Cole is back, and he brings with him a beautifully constructed album about redemption, finding true love, and figuring out what’s important in life. KOD is a masterpiece.