I was interested when J. Cole announced the release of a new album. People have built a mythical status around him, and it’s hard to ignore his past accomplishments. The psychedelic cover art and general animosity towards “mumble rap” displayed a flavourful, different project than the rest and I became almost excited. However, throughout the album, J. Cole frequently disappoints with half-baked ideas and dry instrumentation.
The intro is polished, featuring an almost lo-fi style instrumentation behind the narration of a woman describing the effects of pain on humans. However, it sets the tone of how deep our message will really go, simply demanding, “choose wisely”, referring to drug and alcohol abuse. In the title track, “KOD” J. Cole sets the mood and tone of the album. The track leads with simplistic and stiff trap drums, and a flow both reminiscent and maybe even mimicking the scene he’s currently ridiculing. It’s decent, but why this is the title track is confusing, and a loss of potential. This is the headliner song, a track that’s supposed to represent the rest of the album in its message.
The instrumentation on “Photograph” gets a bit more flavourful, but the track is easily drowned out by mediocre vocals and a flow that sounds similar to xxxtentacion. The commentary, “our generation is addicted to social media”, is completely over analysed and has been done to death at this point. The mental fight between peace and violence when dealing with untrustworthy friends is an interesting idea in, “The Cut Off”, but J. Cole’s annoying feature of the character, kiLL Edward, adds almost nothing to the track.
The song “ATM”, is really the first high point of KOD as J. Cole delivers fun, addictive, repetitious triplets. It’s fast and extremely energetic, but the theme, “money is the root of all evil”, is quite the easy answer when it comes to tying in topics with addiction. In front of a choppy baseline, “Motiv8” is completely forgettable, with and quite possibly the most irritating refrain I’ve heard. Distorted sing rap never blends well. “Kevin’s Heart” actually delivers on its message, using laid back but powerful bars to connect drug use to cheating on a partner, hence the name, Kevin’s heart in reference to the personality’s love affair. Added to a haunting albeit a bit simplistic instrumentation, the track is one of the few on the album to legitimately deliver on both fronts.
The song “Brackets” is long, and its moody sampling and vocal segments fail at keeping your attention for very long. However, the second verse is beautiful, finally making sensible points as J. Cole rants about how tax dollars are misimplemented into his community. It’s one of the strongest verses on the album unfortunately drowned in an otherwise sleep-inducing track. “Once an addict (Interlude)”, displays the albums full potential, where instead of rapping about drugs and how they affect him, he explains how they affect the other people around him, specifically about his mother in a coherent story. And unlike the song, “Motiv8”, a fantastic baseline plays in the background and creates a unique background. However, rapping about a family figure abusing drugs is nothing new, and has already been done better by other artists, but it’s a well-constructed track and rises to the top nonetheless.
“Friends”, is a painful track about the cycle of crime and poverty that drugs initiate, but is symbolic of a greater problem in the album. “Don’t medicate meditate” is laughable and is almost insensitive to people struggling with drug and alcohol abuse. People understand that money, social media, and drugs are bad, and we don’t need J. Cole to tell us that. It’s finding a solution and our unwillingness to do so for one that’s the problem. We’ve been hearing about these issues all our lives, and a million times before by other artists. And the self-righteousness shines even brighter on the track, “Window Pain (outro)”, as J. Cole continues to annoyingly beg his audience about the state of gang violence in urban communities, but offers no real solution. And finally, 1985 is an essentially an advice track to younger rappers and talks about their influence on teens and substance abuse. An idea that hasn’t necessarily done before yet, and a solid track at that. The real question is, will they listen?
Cole delivers quite a mixed bag on KOD. His flow from start to finish is consistently impressive, but he sets up an expectation game he fails to follow through with. Music can be silly and have no meaning, but it’s the artist’s job to lead the audience on for what they’re getting into. His self-righteous attitude results in a few salient commentaries, but mostly half-baked, obvious ideas that have been talked about many times before with stronger delivery. There are a few shining moments, but the supporting production also falls through, with scarce and boring beats creating unmemorable tracks in an album that fails to live up to the hype surrounding J. Cole.