J. Cole- KOD Album Review
(By: Thomas Rodriguez)
J. Cole releases a spotty commentary on greed and drug use.
J. Cole is easily one of the most controversial figures in rap music. Not because he says anything overly violent or offensive, not because he went triple platinum (with no features!), and not because he’s covered any new topics in the conscious rap scene. The North Carolina rapper definitely fulfills a more “relatable” persona for hip hop fans to follow; someone who seems like you could just sit down in a car with them and talk about life. No, Cole is controversial because of the Great Musical Debate about his albums: are they good, or actually trash? Many of his fans defend his work, saying it showcases hard hitting truths for a wide audience while others consider him average (or downright terrible) because of his mediocre lyrics and sleepy delivery. While not the biggest J. Cole fan myself, I can acknowledge that Cole has produced both great work (2014 Forest Hills Drive) and snore-inducing work (Born Sinner), so KOD, his newest project, was certainly a wildcard. This new album is definitely a continuation of pace for J. Cole in all aspects of its presentation, although Cole’s new message of anti-consumerism and greed is shown off throughout the project. Unfortunately, KOD didn’t live up to the hype, or its badass cover art.
What exactly is wrong with KOD? It seems to fill out his successful album blueprint to a T: He still refuses to have features on this project (with the only “feature” being his alter ego kiLL edward) and his trademark production and delivery are still relatively lowkey. Sadly, these come with many cringe-worthy decisions that pop up in spades throughout the album. There’s a metric ton of problems that arise in many of the album’s songs, which is a bit of a problem if you’re trying to preach a good message. It’s like giving a speech with a mic that gives loud feedback every five seconds. A song like “The Cut Off”, despite its one good verse, is absolutely hijacked by the ear-grating hook delivered by kiLL edward, making it a borderline pain to listen to. Tracks like “Photograph” and “Kevin’s Heart” (with their laughable lyrics, mediocre beats, and crappy singing) made me doubt the fact that Cole can make a good song, even with the druggy trap banger “KOD” playing right before! Cole obviously pushes for an important societal message throughout KOD, and when he gets it right, it can be surprisingly effective, an example being the last verse of “Brackets”. Only problem is, you have to wade through 3 minutes of boring singing and skits for the actual verse, so the song is automatically skippable. Unfortunately, the issue of bad parts clashing with the good is the case for several of the album’s songs; they tend to have more holes in quality than a slice of Swiss cheese.
However, despite my issues with the bulk of the album’s tracklist, I cant deny that the album does have a few good moments. The previously mentioned “KOD” is an electric opener for the album, and sets the bar too high for the rest of the project based on how good it is vocally and instrumentally. “ATM” is one of the few standout tracks in the first half of the project, mainly due to its great choral vocals and beat playing a backdrop to some solid commentary on addiction to money. The second half of the album doesn’t necessarily pick up the sleepy energy from the first half, but does bring a better dose of lyrics. “Once An Addict (Interlude)”, despite being an interlude, is one of Cole’s best written songs ever. Its delivery is emotionally charged, the lyrics actually bring a personal edge to Cole’s storytelling on familial alcoholism, and the dramatic beat complements it very nicely. “1985”, despite being completely unfitting for the album as a closer, is another jolt of energy that the whole album sorely needed in its middle. The track’s simple boom bap beat is pretty great, and Cole’s advice to younger rappers to not overdo their hedonism and keep themselves in check is maturely delivered and wise. It sucks that it was too little, too late.
When it comes to the overall quality of KOD, you can consider it as a “value deal” version of the great hip hop released in the past few years. Sure, it sounds smart, there’s definitely effort in there somewhere, but the cracks start to show once you look at it beyond a surface level. KOD is trying to be the next great conscious hip hop album of the 2010’s, but unlike the modern classics released in the past few years by Cole’s contemporaries, it lacks consistency. Why go for the spotty, value brand version of rap music when there are so many better albums to listen to?
Tracks to Save: “KOD”, “ATM”, “Once An Addict (Interlude)”, “1985”
Tracks to Skip: “Photograph”, “The Cut Off”, “Kevin’s Heart”
Did you like this album? Any comments or criticism? Comment down below and let me know! I’d love to hear what you think!