J Cole has to be one of the most divisive artists in hip-hop. Always adored by his dedicated fanbase, never loved by music critics, KOD is sure to revive the debate. In the past Cole has been accused of lacking a distinct style that puts him above his peers. Cole aspires to be a storyteller like his legendary idol, Nas, yet many claim his stories are incoherent. In addition, he’s been criticized for bad production and the occasional corny lyric. About a week before the surprise release of KOD, J. Cole claimed that he was crafting a classic. So how did the North-Carolina rapper fare?
The tracklist and a snippet from the listening party revealed Cole rapping in a triplet flow, as well as a feature, by the name of kiLL edward. Turns out kiLL edward is actually the alter ego of Cole, who of course insists on having no features, yet again. KOD, which stands for “Kids on Drugs” is clearly going to be a topical album. The intro kicks off with a woman’s voice describing the reasons why a child cries at birth. One of the reasons is pain, to which the woman cautions by saying there are many ways to deal with the pain. She then warns: “Choose wisely”. The next track opens with trap-like hi hats and a booming base. KOD immediately enters controversial territory with several verses, which will likely ruffle a few feathers in the rap industry. For starters, he claims that other rappers have been “cramping his style”. He then responds to the idea of having features on his album by claiming that no one is worthy to be on his tracks. The track closes with “power, greed, money, molly, percs, xannies, lean, fame and the strongest drug of them all, love”. It doesn’t take much to guess by now that Cole’s clearly aiming at the new generation of rappers, Lil Pump, Purpsmokke and Ski Mask the Slump God to name a few.
Next up is ‘The Cut Off’, and it’s jazzier this time. Our first look at kiLL edward! kiLL edward is J Cole, his voice pitched down and slowed down. The words are slurred, which likely suggests that kiLL edward is the impulses in Cole’s mind… or the soundcloud rappers? kiLL edward demands drink, smoke and getting high, as he wants to return to the heaven-like mindstate brought by the high. We then get Cole, who’s talking about being the bigger person despite not wanting to forgive someone. He claims to be resisting urges of wanting to inflict pain on someone? It seems to be a crisis in his relationship, possibly with someone he’s romantically involved with. It’s not fully clear, ostensibly someone has hurt Cole and now he’s resisting the urges of vengeance. The rest of the song is the kiLL edward chorus. Frankly kiLL edward is intolerable, the pitch change has not made Cole a better singer and it doesn’t really add any value to the song.
‘Motiv8’ stems from the same line as ‘ATM’ – it doesn’t really add anything of note to the fold. ‘Once an Addict’ is one of the best tracks, finishing far too abruptly. Cole goes back to his childhood, reflecting on how his mother resorted to alcoholism to cope with her depression. It’s one of the tracks that resonates the most and provides an interesting scope for looking into the life of Cole growing up.
Finally, ‘1985 (Intro to the Fall Off)’ is the track that sparked the most discussion amongst Cole fans and critics alike. Cole definitely drops some truthbombs on the excess of the current generation of rappers. More often than not, however, it just comes off as condescending and resentful, from an artist who likely is his own biggest fan. Nevertheless, the comment on the consumers of what is supposedly Lil Pump’s music is one of most hard-hitting criticisms made on the entire album.
Cole’s output remains solid on KOD, each song presents the potential that many claim the rapper shows. For all this potential, overall the album is just about as average as any Cole project. Going platinum with no features is impressive, but in truth J Cole would be better off getting a feature to do the singing. kiLL Edward, which seems to be an “experimental choice” is the most unpalatable addition to his craft. The vocal mixing and production continues to be standard, but nothing special. His own fans will laud him for being deep and profound, but throughout the entire album he’s just telling you things you would agree with. He’s always pointing out the obvious. It seems that at this point, J Cole has plateaued as an artist.
Image: Kirstenmgreene via. Wikimedia