With KOD, J. Cole has carved out his own path that looks much different from the one he was on when he first burst on the scene.
J. Cole has become one of the most polarizing figures in the 2018 hip-hop landscape. Praised by fans of potent lyricism while simultaneously being held up as the ultimate hater by mumble rap loyalists, Cole has found himself very much on one side of the generational power struggle in hip-hop today.
Cole, who was one of the hottest young prospects in the game not too long ago, has become the “old head” mumble rappers love to hate. SoundCloud sensations Lil Pump and Smokepurpp have been very vocal about their distaste for the Dreamville co-founder and see him as someone who simply hates the new generation because they came into the game on a different wave.
KOD (which stands for ‘Kids on Drugs,’ ‘King Overdosed’ and ‘Kill Our Demons’) is Cole’s most urgent album to-date. Unlike previous releases like 2014 Forest Hills Drive and 4 Your Eyez Only, which really focus on his personal story, KOD is very much a commentary about the state of hip-hop today which, to some extent, has become the state of mainstream youth culture as a whole.
On the opening title track, Cole comes out swinging and addresses being baited by mumble rappers and questions around why he continues to have no features on his albums. His delivery has an air of cockiness, it’s as if he’s taunting his adversaries for not even being on the level they need to be at to respond. This sets the tone for much of the concepts explored on KOD and the album begins to take the shape of a lesson in hip-hop ethics.
“Photograph” explores trying to find romance in the social media age. The chorus is haunting as Cole assumes the role of young man creeping a girl on Instagram and obsessively desiring a relationship. This theme of relationships extends to the mellowed-out “Kevin’s Heart,” which explore relationships with drugs as well as challenges staying faithful as a high-profile celebrity. Relationships with money is the key on the track “ATM,” which is definitely one of the more upbeat songs that features Cole’s signature dark comedic undertones.
“The Cut Off” and “FRIENDS” both “feature” kiLL edward (who is actually Cole with a different vocal pitch) and serve as an interesting case study as the persona seems to represent the part of your brain that wants you to indulge in your vices without limitation. Interestingly enough, Cole’s older brother Zach appeared on a YouTube video reviewing the album and explained that “Edward” is the name their ex-stepfather who he referred to as an “asshole.”
The final track “1985 (Intro to ‘The Fall Off’)” is straight out of Jay-Z’s ‘4:44’ playbook as Cole kicks game to young mumble rappers in the most direct way possible. Some people have interpreted the song as a diss to rappers like Pump and Purpp, but it’s really more so potent words of advice:
One day, them kids that’s listening gon’ grow up
And get too old for that shit that made you blow up
Now your show’s lookin’ light cause they don’t show up
Which unfortunately means the money slow up
At its core, KOD is a manifestation of where Cole is in his hip-hop life cycle. Somewhere between Drake and Kendrick Lamar, the North Carolina rapper has carved out his own path that looks much different from the one he was on when he first burst on the scene. His message of growth and evolution is an immediate one that needs to be heard by young mumble rappers, but the big question remains — do they even want to hear it?
Words by Patrick Cwiklinski – Photos by Anthony Supreme.