When I found out that J. Cole was dropping his latest album, “KOD,” just four days after it was anounced, I was excited but wary. His last album, “4 Your Eyez Only,” left me somewhat disappointed, but I still remembered how excellent he was on past projects like “Born Sinner” and “2014 Forest Hills Drive.”
Though J. Cole’s production is pretty solid on “KOD,” he gives us more of the boring and uninspired delivery that’s become common.
Cole claims to have recorded “KOD” over the course of two weeks but maybe that’s not something to brag about. Knowing this, I can’t help but feel as if it could’ve been a little more fleshed out had he taken his time with it. Cole seemed to be more focused on the overall message of the album instead of the music itself.
From the get-go, Cole makes it clear that the album has a heavy focus on the themes of drugs and addiction. In the intro, the slow and sultry voice of a woman hints at this by telling us, “There are many ways to deal with this pain. Choose wisely.” He touches on topics such as mental health and relationships, but almost every song on the album revolves around the anti-drug message Cole is pushing.
This is made even clearer in a tweet following the release of the album in which Cole revealed the album’s title had three meanings: Kids on Drugs, King Overdosed and Kill Our Demons, all of which play on the album’s main themes of drugs and addiction.
When Cole dropped the tracklist, many were surprised to see only one other person on the album, an unknown by the name of kiLL edward. This mysterious artist released a song the same day the tracklist was revealed.
After listening, it was clear that it was simply Cole with his voice pitched down. The track carried a smooth beat and the pitched down vocals were interesting and different, though that might’ve only worked because the short length of the song kept it from getting tired.
It was only a small snippet, but it definitely piqued my curiosity for the album, and I was hoping I’d hear more of this. On the two tracks featuring kiLL edward, “The Cut Off” and “FRIENDS,” we see that this alter ego is used as another way to explore the themes of drugs and addiction.
It’s an interesting approach but it could’ve been executed a little better. When kiLL edward does show up on the album, he doesn’t really carry any weight or impact. On the album, kiLL edward is used as a foil to Cole. The embodiment of the dangers that come with drug abuse.
However, the concept isn’t given the chance to really develop on the album and he ends up feeling like a side note. I’m curious to see if we’ll see more of kiLL edward in the future, even though he seemed to be tied closely to the themes of “KOD” specifically.
On one of the better tracks on the project, “1985 – The Intro to ‘Fall Off,’” Cole takes shots at today’s young and often dumb new wave of rappers. Rapping over a conventional beat of steady drums, he offers advice on how to handle the money and fame that come with success, while asking them to consider the impact their music has. “These white kids love that you don’t give a fuck / ‘Cause that’s exactly what’s expected when your skin black.”
Maybe it’s because he seems to have a specific target in mind, but Cole sounds hungry and charismatic on the track, something that seemed to be lacking on other parts of the album.
This emotion can be seen on another highlight of the album: “Once an Addict – Interlude.” On the track, Cole tackles his mother’s alcohol abuse and reflects on how he could’ve done more for her. “Why she do this to herself? / Hate how she slurrin’ her words / Soundin’ so fuckin’ absurd / This ain’t the woman I know, why I just sit and observe?”
You can hear the sorrow and rage in Cole’s delivery, gripping the listener, almost forcing them to stop and listen to his story.
“KOD” has its moments where its emotionally charged message shines through the mostly underwhelming tracks. It isn’t a bad album but it still left me yearning for more of the alluring and cerebral rapper that earned Cole the adoration of hip-hop fans in the past.