Kids on Drugs, King Overdosed, Kill Our Demons are just some of the ways J Cole tells us we can interpret the acronymic title of his fifth studio album, “KOD.” With a heavy hand and in a tidy 42 minutes, Cole speaks on the pit falls of addiction and drug abuse past, present and future.
“J. Cole went platinum with no features” is the meme you won’t have been able to escape since his 2014 Forest Hills Drive offering where Cole disregarded the feature heavy blueprint of previous albums to reveal his true lyrically stark and proficient identity as a note worthy rapper. His soulful follow up, 4 Your Eyez Only and now KOD prove that Cole continues to be carefully tuned into mainstream rap’s never-ending turmoil.
Title track KOD launches into a bop of a hook where Cole’s narrator confesses to suffering from his own addiction while seemingly being able to profit from the demons that are weighing him down; “This is what you call a flip/ Ten keys from a quarter brick/ Bentley from his mama’s whip/ K.O.D., he hard as shit.” The narrator is boasting in his suffering while we continue to admire the persona he is fronting.
Cole again takes aim at addiction in all its manifestations with Photograph. On this track, Cole is caught up in the world of social media as he lusts after an Instagram baddie whose name he doesn’t know beyond her handle. “Fell in love through photograph, I don’t even know your name/Wonder if you follow back, I hope to see you one day,” Cole grumbles along to the hazy beat. “Love today’s gone digital/ and it’s messing with my health.” He know’s this isn’t the healthiest option to pursue, but he’s addicted.
The Cut Off and ATM both deal with the power of money. On the former, Cole is disappointed with friends and family from home who feel entitled to share in his success without offering anything in return, “Time will just who is on my side.” He has to make the tough decision to cut off the parasites. On the latter, Cole talks about being money hungry and the traps of chasing dollar signs. “Can’t take it when you die, but you can’t live without it,” is the line that hits you right between the eyes. The sentiment of money being it’s own vice is repeated again on Motiv8 – remember the aforementioned heavy handed approach?
Sex is next on Cole’s addiction list in the form of Kevin’s Heart followed by the poignant “Once an Addict (Interlude)” where Cole reminisces on his mother’s addiction during his childhood and it’s impact. “Window Pain (Outro)” is probably the most harrowing track on the album with an upsetting conversation between Cole and a recipient of his Dreamville foundation.
Cole chooses not to end the album on this sombre note, instead leaving us with, arguably, the album’s best track, “1985 (Intro To “The Fall Off”).” The first eleven tracks almost become reduced to a vocal warm up for Cole to flex lyrical on the new generation of ‘lil whatever’ rappers. “Come here lil’ man, let me talk with ya,” Cole pulls the young ones in close to deliver a stinging reproach. “I must say, by your songs I’m unimpressed, hey / But I love to see a black man get paid / And plus, you having fun and I respect that / But have you ever thought about your impact?” Cousin Cole is dropping knowledge and disses with zero subtlety – pay attention kids.
KOD is characterised by substance-over-style. Much of the production is stripped back with bare melodies which makes for a hard listen in places, forcing you to wonder if Cole was trying to induce the 4/20 mood that stamps the album release date without having us partake. The album is a smooth climb at the beginning that does have a sharp drop towards the middle, levelling off right at the end, much like most highs – we see what you did there. The album is lyrical caution to his fans, fellow rappers and general society about this delicate and pertinent set of topics. You should go listen.