“KOD” May Not Top The Charts, But It’s the Biggest Success Since “Forest Hills”
by Noah Liedtke
Lately, J. Cole has been seen as a bit of a divisive figure: people either think he is boring or one of the most clever current rappers. Jermaine Lamarr Cole recently released his latest album “KOD” through Dreamville Records. This is his fifth studio album, but Cole may be best known for his third LP “2014 Forest Hills Drive,” which was certified double platinum with no features. “KOD” follows in the footsteps of 2016’s “4 Your Eyez Only,” with a much more down to earth approach to songwriting combined with a more urgent message.
The title of his album “KOD” has multiple meanings: “Kids on Drugs,” “King Overdosed,” and “Kill Our Demons.” Cole understands his current influence in the game, which is seen in his strong anti-drug and anti-addiction message. Even the cover art contains a disclaimer that reads, “This album is in no way intended to glorify addiction.”
The album kicks off with the “Intro,” where a female narrator warns listeners to “choose wisely” when dealing with pain. The title track, “KOD,” is one of the best on the album, with a thumping baseline and lyrics that showcase Cole’s confidence in his music and disregard for critics. He also begins to unveil the main meaning of the album, alluding to “Kids on Drugs” by talking about his own past and brushes with addiction.
The next track, “Photograph,” sees Cole talking about the pervasiveness of social media in today’s culture and the effects it has on society and mental health. “Photograph” shows Cole’s struggle with addiction to social media (“King Overdosed”) and how commonplace it is in today’s society (“Kids On Drugs”). The song is more reliant on its hooks rather than verses, and the instrumental is pretty bare-bones, like much of the album. “The Cut Off” features “kiLL edward,” Cole’s drug-addicted alter ego. Nearly the entire song is sung by kiLL edward, with lyrics about running away from problems. The one exception is a verse by Cole, who raps about actually dealing with negative people by cutting them out of his life.
The next song, “ATM,” was the first song from the album to receive a music video, and the trap-influenced instrumental and repetitive hook is a clear satire of mainstream rap music and its obsession with money. “Motiv8” also follows the structure of “ATM” by satirizing today’s Soundcloud rappers with a repetitive hook and trap beats, while criticizing the same artists in his lyrics.
The next song, “Kevin’s Heart,” takes a break from the bass-heavy, satirical past two tracks. The song personifies drugs, and Cole sings from the point of view of someone who is trying not to become addicted again, using infidelity to show the struggle between using and staying clean. “BRACKETS” is a highlight of the album, with lyricism that is less in-your-face and more reminiscent of his older work. With a sampled intro, Cole comes in with verses about his journey through the tax brackets, while criticizing the politicians and leaders who have ignored underprivileged communities through their policies.
The album takes a break with “Once an Addict (Interlude),” which goes back to the meaning of the title “KOD” by detailing Cole’s reactions to his mother’s alcoholism. The instrumental is minimal, with a quiet synth and muted drum beats taking the backseat to Cole’s words, which makes the song one of the most emotional of the entire album. “FRIENDS (feat. kiLL edward)” picks the album up again instrumentally, but continues the somber lyrical tone by showcasing the duality between Cole and his alter-ego. The contrast between kiLL edward’s “cop another bag and smoke today” and Cole’s “meditate, don’t medicate” is one of the clearest examples of Cole’s anti-drug message to listeners. The short verses and impactful chorus drive home this message.
The next song, “Window Pain (Outro),” seems like the album closer, opening with a little girl narrating the story of her cousin getting shot, and Cole reflecting on his life as a result. He wraps things up nicely, reflecting on what he has and thanking God for it. The last line, “Choose wisely,” mirrors the intro nicely. After it seems like the album has wrapped up, Cole comes in for one last song: “1985 (Intro to ‘The Fall Off’).” On this song, Cole takes his anger out on today’s Soundcloud rappers who not only glorify a life of addiction, but also have dissed him in the past. This song sees Cole diss these rappers while also hoping that they learn lessons from their younger years. The real album finale ends the story of “KOD,” while setting up his next project, “The Fall Off.”
King Cole is back, and he brought along a conscious album pleading to bring attention to the problems of current society. While it can feel a bit preachy or barebones at times, “KOD” serves as a great contrast to today’s mainstream repetitive, bass-boosted rap.