I’m tired. Maybe it’s because it’s the end of the semester, another year of college in the books. Or maybe it’s because J. Cole has now released his fifth (!) very-average-but-somehow-platinum-selling studio album. The North Carolina rapper occupies an interesting space as a man of abundant talent who somehow fails to deliver on expectations time and again, and “KOD” meets status quo.
“KOD” could be interpreted as either King Overdose or Kids On Drugs, with subliminal messaging in its April 20 release date. The 12-track project breezes by in 43 minutes and begins with an intro track that emphasizes the importance of choosing wisely in life. It’s a boring and vapid opener that delivers on precisely nothing.
The title track follows the intro and sets the tone of production, with hints at dark and disconcerting themes without creating much of a pervasive atmosphere. The beats are simply too skeletal to offer powerful emphasis one way or another.
The lyrical content of the track is somewhat odd for the drug-soaked meaning of “KOD,” as Cole delivers a verse where he complains that people just beg him to get features on his album when he is supposedly above them: “How come you won’t get a few features? / I think you should? How ’bout I don’t?/ How ’bout you just get the f*** off my d***?/ How ’bout you listen and never forget? / Only gon’ say this one time, then I’ll dip / N***** ain’t worthy to be on my s***.”
It’s a fun and catchy flow without much substance. Cole cuts a similar figure as Carmelo Anthony of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He is clearly talented but just not effective enough to be considered truly great.
The rest of the album follows suit. There are a few standout cuts, along with some uncomfortable, corny records that just beg the question of why Cole is taken so seriously. But Cole is at his best when he is at most his most personal, delivering his message from his heart and his own experiences, and the latter half of the album proves that.
“Photograph” functions as an odd anthem for Instagram creepers with lines like “I hope to see you one day / I won’t show my n***** now / I’ll keep this one for myself / Love today’s gone digital.”
“The Cut Off” introduces listeners to the pseudo feature, artist kiLL edward, who is just Cole with his voice altered. The vocals are jarring and dissonant, pulling listeners out of the enjoyment of the song.
Tracks like “ATM” showcase Cole’s technical ability even if the track offers a redundant, loosely structured hook that does little to further the song’s progression. The track is truly enjoyable, however, and the bridge is especially quotable as it shows the recklessness so often glorified in today’s rap: “Don’t give a f*** if it kills, it mix well.”
“Motiv8” was intended to run as a motivational track, but it runs an odd two minutes and change, hardly enough to pump listeners up. It’s decent for the time it’s playing, but it doesn’t beg for another spin or show any artistic evolution from Cole.
“Kevin’s Heart” explores the dichotomy of addiction through the temptations of drugs or sex out on the road, a la Kevin Hart. Again, Cole fails to deliver a memorable, truly analytical message that stays with listeners long after the last note rings out. It’s a catchy track, but not one worth revisiting often.
On “BRACKETS,” Cole starts with a yawn-inducing verse before delivering a powerful critique on the use of tax dollars as rough neighborhoods only do worse. The ensuing track, “Once an Addict (Interlude),” continues the compelling messaging as Cole raps about seeing his mother struggle with alcoholism while he was preparing to leave for college. It’s one of the deepest and hard-hitting tracks on the project but it’s puzzlingly labeled as an interlude.
“FRIENDS” attempts to continue the earnest depth and passion of the preceding tracks as Cole builds on his and others’ battles with substance abuse, but the base Cole builds never reaches an impressive height as he ends with simple saying, you know, just meditate! The track epitomizes Cole: it clearly showcases talent and promise but it fails to deliver a memorable sound or truly insightful lyrics.
The album closes with the controversial advice track “1985,” an odd cut that somehow ruffled a few feathers on social media as a Lil Pump diss. The track is hardly delivered in an aggressive tone and offers only advice over another skeletal beat that just doesn’t do enough to make the track enjoyable. Cole’s boring flow lazily delivers reasonably insightful lines on the state of rap like “I remember I was 18 / Money, p****, parties, I was on the same thing / You gotta give a boy a chance to grow some.” Cole laments, however, that flimsy, overly-drugged-up content is not a sustainable way to make a living: “One day, them kids that’s listening gon’ grow up / And get too old for that s*** that made you blow up / Now your show’s lookin’ light cause they don’t show up / Which unfortunately means the money slow up.”
KOD again shows Cole as an artist of true talent. The rapper and producer had his hands on every piece of the project, but his inclination towards solo work seems to have trapped him in an artistic limbo, restricting his ability to evolve. Cole has failed to take the next step and craft a true masterpiece, and after five full length projects one has to ask if he ever will. KOD is simply an average rap record propped up for cursory thoughts on topical issues from a mainstream name.