J. Cole isn’t one for tip-toeing around the unsaid. In fact, I’d say he is the champion of bringing what’s unsaid into the center of our societal forum.
Before you continue reading, this must be known: I have been a J. Cole fan since his Friday Night Lights mixtape. So yes, I’m one of those. Therefore, it may go without saying that I love K.O.D., and I think it’s one of his most insightful and thoughtful albums to date.
K.O.D. is in fact, a concept album with many layers, meanings, emotions and flows. Cole’s 5th studio album centers around the idea of addiction and the vices that have seemingly taken over rap culture. K.O.D., which stands for Kids on Drugs, King Overdosed, and Kill Our Demons, was appropriately released on 4/20 after it was announced only a week prior.
An argument can be made that K.O.D. does fail the average listener in some regards. Some argue that it definitely isn’t as exciting as 2014 Forest Hills Drive and yes, I believe there are legitimate shortcomings in K.O.D. But we’ll get to that later. First…
Where Cole Succeeds
J. Cole does a fantastic job of of matching flows and beats to mirror those of whom he criticizes. The first half of the album has trap drums, trap flows, and accounts from the common young person (or rapper) in our society. The title track K.O.D. is the first jab at trap rappers. Cole spits a bouncy chorus flow with lines like “This is what you call a flip/ Ten keys from a quarter brick/ Bentley from his mama’s whip/ K.O.D., he hard as shit.” It’s almost like he is saying, “Yep, I’m about to show you all what it means to be a good ass rapper.”
Another instance where J. Cole does a great job at throwing jabs at people is in “Kevin’s Heart.” The title is clearly a shot at Kevin Hart and his affair, but the song itself is about lust as an inner demon. The narrator in the song is talking about the habits that come with cheating, and how it’s a downward spiral. “Kevin’s Heart” also has my favorite line in the entire album (DOUBLE MEANING ALERT!)
Slip me a xanny at once (somebody)
I got the earth in a blunt (smoke)
I get the skirt when I want (skrrt!)
I get the skirt when I want (skrrt!)
Due to the money aroma (somebody)
My girl she got a diploma (smoke)
She got wife written all over
The album without a doubt picks up after “Kevin’s Heart” with “BRACKETS.” It’s at this juncture where Cole starts to go in about the government’s ignorance towards underprivileged communities, as well as taxation and where your money goes. If you want to be satisfied with Cole’s woke ideology, then “BRACKETS” is a MUST LISTEN.
In “Once an Addict (Interlude),” he brutally paints the picture of his mother’s alcoholism, as well as the reasons behind her depression and how it affected his life. This track, in my opinion, is one of J. Cole’s most thoughtful and cathartic songs of all-time. In “Apparently” off 2014 Forest Hills Drive, he briefly touches on the subject matter saying how he left for New York after his mother’s home was foreclosed on. He asks, “So tell me mama, please, why you be drinkin’ all the time? Does all the pain he brought you still linger in your mind?” in “Love Yourz.” Now we know why, and in heart-wrenching detail. It’s easily the most intense song on the album.
J. Cole is widely considered to be one of the heavyweights in today’s rap game and he goes way past the point of subtly chastising some of the modern day youth-rappers. He reasserts himself as one of the greats in songs like “KOD” and “1985 – Intro to the ‘Fall Off’.” These two songs rip the proverbial bandaid off. It needed to be done, and Cole had to be the one to do it.
Mumble rap has flooded the industry with poor lyricists and no-talent artists who make it big off one or two fluke hits. Some critics of K.O.D. will argue that J. Cole is undeserving of making these assertions, or that he’s flat out wrong. These are likely the same folks who go crazy over “She said ‘do you love me?’ I told her only partly/ I only love my bed and my momma I’m sorry,” and the same folks who defend DJ Khaled as a musical visionary.
Where Cole Fails
While K.O.D. is a great concept album, is lacks flair and flash in its entirety. I won’t lie, this isn’t an album that I can throw on for background music, or drink to during a pregame (irony, much?). Nor does it have tracks that you can genuinely look forward to when you throw your library on shuffle.
K.O.D. also fails in satisfying his own cultural criticisms with poor advice and grandeur. For example, in “FRIENDS,” Cole does a great job of depicting what drug abuse looks like, as well as the reasons for drug abuse (i.e. upbringing in poverty, trauma, mental health, and childhood experience). That’s all great, until he offers up the hook—“Meditate, meditate, meditate. Don’t medicate, medicate, medicate.” I can appreciate the message, but the build up plus deliverance is mediocre at best.
K.O.D. is a necessary follow up to For Your Eyes Only. While the album isn’t a masterpiece like 2014 Forest Hills Drive, it’s certainly some of J. Cole’s best work. The album provides a thoughtful and timely reflection on addiction, our societal vices, and the state of rap culture.