Mere days after announcing its inception, J. Cole dropped the unexpected album, KOD (an initialism for Kids on Drugs, King Overdosed and Kill Our Demons). After his hotly anticipated — though largely disappointing — 4 Your Eyez Only record dropped last year, many have been critical of both the rapper’s fanbase and his legitimacy as “one of the greats.”
Though this project rarely missteps and delivers itself in a nicely concise package, the higher self-aware thinking on the project does little in groundbreaking revelations. Rather, the observant and contemplative Cole uses his platform to throw a life preserver out to his less mature, more foolish contemporaries.
Hailing from North Carolina, J. Cole is best known for the outstanding Born Sinner and 2014 Forest Hills Drive. But on his latest project, the familiarity of conscious rap coincides with minimalistic beats, leaving a difficult question: Can solid production and a digestible message alone advance Cole’s place in the rap game?
The project’s grounded themes gravitate around the paradoxes of obsessing over money, finding love — or at least lust — through social media and the heavy weight of addiction. Cole plays with the concept of addiction and the variety of destructive habits people resort to.
But enough about the content of the album: Let’s examine its quality. Though never sluggish, the gradual pace of KOD can come off as stagnant to some, but listeners will discover the album offers a surplus of replay value. A lot of these tracks have double-coded messages with mirrored lyrics that bounce off of one another in a seamless and impressive fashion.
Tracks like “Kevin’s Heart” reminded me heavily of 50 Cent’s “A Baltimore Love Thing,” as they both personify drugs by giving them human traits. The former leaves it up to the listener to interpret the ultimate message, and that sentiment rings true throughout the entire project.
The most thoughtful tracks on the project come from the delivery of “BRACKETS” and the deeply personal “Once an Addict (Interlude).” The first song is a comedic response to the taxes Cole now has to pay, and it eventually turns into a thoughtful reasoning behind his disgruntled attitude toward the subject.
Tracks like “ATM” and “Motiv8” best reflect the absolutely stunning artwork that is the album’s cover. The juxtaposition between Cole and the children underneath his cloak is a stirring image I wanted to draw attention to, because it appropriately captures the project’s general mood.
The “rack it up” mantra on “ATM” rings true with our capitalist culture, and it creates an oddly infectious beat that is ironic to dance to. “Motiv8” features a tooting horn bumping across the track’s “Get money” line in the background. Cole’s ping pong-like delivery bounces between the listener’s ears as he says quality similes such as “I got bread like I’m Green Day.”
The project’s closing track, “1985 (Intro to “The Fall Off”),” is a hilarious gem that made me laugh out of my seat. The respectful big brother stance that Cole takes on throughout the track is the highlight of the album, and its end is especially satisfying: “Just remember what I told you when your sh*t flop/ In five years you gon’ be on Love & Hip-Hop.”
This track is best enjoyed when given some context. Two years ago, Cole spat venom across the rap game with the track “Everybody Dies,” calling out the “Amateur eight week rappers/ Lil’ whatever - just another short bus rapper.” This eventually led to a slew of SoundCloud rappers who aptly have “Lil” in their names dissing J. Cole.
Lil Pump, best known for his Gucci Gang and echoing “Eskeetit” adlib, is clearly the intended recipient of this tongue-in-cheek diss track. Every point in “1985” is hard to debate, especially the bit about Pump’s impact on hip-hop and the reasonings behind his mass appeal to a white audience.
KOD’s value comes with a grounded approach to its content. Calling it a masterpiece is inappropriate, as it is a good album, but not a great one. The themes and J. Cole’s delivery are well done, but nothing revolutionary exists on the project. I’d recommend artists like Clipping or Brother Ali for stronger cases of the deep-threaded analysis that Cole is chasing after on this project.
Readers should give this project a listen — if not for its depth, then for its quality production and sensible flows. Fans will not be disappointed, but Cole’s critics will likely keep his position among other rappers cemented in place.
Final Grade: B