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Confused and let down by J. Cole’s new album: KOD

When J. Cole announced two weeks ago that he was releasing his fifth studio album  titled KOD on 4/20, many of his fans were initially confused. Back in 2011, Cole had publicly quit smoking, telling Pound Magazines Cass Juradinho that he was, “never a really big smoker” and  “when I talk about it [smoking] in songs it’s really just to relate to the people who are really listening.” Two days before the release, he unveiled the cover art which depicted a crowned J. Cole with a cape around his neck which flowed open to reveal several young kids consuming illegal drugs. Finally, the day before the album, he revealed the three meanings of the acronym KOD, Kids On Drugs, King Overdose, and Kill our Demons. 

It was clear from the build up that J. Cole had drugs on his mind, however as the album played out it was clear that he a much larger idea for the project. The aptly titled “Intro” track introduced us to the premise of the album which was pain and the way humans deal with the pains of life. In the first five tracks, Cole bounces around from crooning over a Instagram baddie in “Photograph”, to declaring that no rapper is “worthy to be on my shit” on the title track “KOD”.

The lack of coherence from Cole is surprising to hear and with the energy leading up to the album it was disappointing. It was almost as if Cole himself was on drugs when he made the first half of the project. When you go through the first six tracks on the album there is no doubt that they are good songs, with decent lines and punchy beats, but they don’t work as a collective unit trying to talk about the idea of pain. Cole is talked about as one of the top five rappers alive and at times is criticized for being “too intellectual,” however, he seemed to abandon both these titles for much of the first half of the project.

It is once we hit “BRACKETS”  that Cole seems to settle into his comfort zone. While the first half of songs are peppered with hooks, bridges, and choruses the final half of the album consist of cole rapping for minutes on end without stop. It is here where his talent really shines as his simple, but poetic way of telling his stories comes out as he pours his heart into the songs. One of the stand out tracks, on the album is “Once an Addict (Interlude)” in which Cole details his mothers alcoholic tendencies when coping with heartache. The song itself is heartbreaking as we can hear the pain in the thirty-three year old’s voice as he takes us through his mothers decline. The raw emotion surrounding his mother’s story can only be compared to tracks like “Fear” by Kendrick Lamar or 2Pac’s “Dear Momma”

With “Once An Addict” we start to get the narrative that Cole setup with his pre-release antics. In tracks like “FRIENDS” and “1985 (Intro to “The Fall Off”)” he addresses the drug use into days culture and the effect it is having on the youth. He pulls from his own drug use to detail the lazy and unconcerned rambling of an addict with lines like “Don’t think twice, this is me/ This is how I should be.” In the final track Cole talks directly to the young rappers in hip-hop who glorify the consumption of drugs. While he does do a bit of winger wagging, he talks from a grown man’s position and it would be stupid to neglect his message.

It is the final half of the album that rescues the project from being a question mark on the resume of J. Cole. While the first half of the project has decent songs, it leaves me with more questions than answers, which may be his intention but nonetheless frustrating. It feels like Cole bit off a bit more than he could chew and once he had swallowed a bit he was able to get down to the point he wanted to cover. Drugs have been taking the lives recently at alarming rates and Cole did a good job at addressing that issue however he made the listener sit though seven tracks before he got there. Don’t get me wrong this album is great, but it’s hard not to be critical of one of the top rappers in the game. While he crowned himself on the album cover, he will need to step it up if he wants to be recognized as the king of rap.  

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