Review of J Cole's 'KOD' album
So I am finally getting around to reviewing this album, and I am really excited to talk about it. I have had a really busy few weeks, so I do apologise for the lack of posting!
One of the most exciting things about this new album from J Cole and certainly the first thing that stood out to me when I saw the tracklist, was that there were two tracks with features on from an unknown artist called 'kiLL edward'. The one thing everyone knows about J Cole is that his albums hardly EVER feature other artists – after his album 2014 'Forest Hills Drive' broke a Spotify streaming record, the phrase 'J Cole went platinum with no features' turned from endlessly repeated boast to internet memes. And in the self titled song of the album, Cole goes on to say /How come you won't get a few features?I think you should? How 'bout I don't?/Only gon' say this one time, then I'll dip/N****a's ain't worthy to be on my shit/.
Despite having 'kiLL edward' on two tracks, it actually turns out to not be an unknown artist but to actually be J Cole himself, in a more pitched down way. J Cole’s brother, Zach revealed that, growing up, their ex-stepfather’s name was Edward. Cole’s alter ego, “kiLL edward,” may be an allusion to the abuse that their stepfather inflicted upon their mother. In the track 'Window Pain (Outro)', Cole repeats /All I wanna do is kill the man that made my momma cry/.
Prior to the release of 'KOD', Cole hosted two exclusive listening parties where he played the album in full. According to Chris Uño, who was in attendance at J. Cole’s surprise listening event, the title “KOD” can be interpreted in three different ways:
- Kids on Drugs
- King OverDosed
- Kill Our Demons
The album’s release date, April 20, 2018, may also be a reference to the “420” code in cannabis culture, which includes smoking at 4:20 p.m. on April 20th (4/20).
With 'KOD' garnering 64.5 million streams in its first 24 hours in the U.S, J. Cole set a new record on Apple Music for most album streams in 24 hours, eclipsing Drake's 'Views' by almost a million streams, according to Apple, while his album clocked a record 36.7 million first-day streams on Spotify in the U.S.
What is also interesting about this album is it is mainly produced by Cole himself. I particularly like the production on the third track of the album 'Photograph' which explores the theme of finding love in the social media era we live in, this is expressed in the chorus /Love today's gone digital/And it's messing with my health/. This is a fragile, and simple two note guitar track, with his voice seeming out of time with the beat.
J. Cole uses 'Once an Addict' to detail the development of his personal feelings concerning his mother’s relationship with alcoholism. Cole uses this track to show that he also struggles with drugs and substances like alcohol, in his personal circle. He ends up reminiscing and wishing that he had intervened more.
As a whole, 'KOD' is an exploration and expression of addiction, and the theme of drugs is evident throughout.
'The Cut Off' is the first of two tracks featuring 'kiLL edward' and is appropriately named. It talks about Cole having to cut people off who were close to him due to lack of trust and being taken advantage of. /I had to cut some people off 'cause they was using me/My heart is big, I want to give too much and usually/.
He realised that he was giving a lot of himself to others and not getting anything back in return. He also expresses his desire to retaliate, but reminds himself that revenge is the Lord’s work. /Yeah, I got some n***as that still owe me an apology/I'ma be the bigger man just like I always be/Eventually but right now that's hard for me/I'm dreaming violent, I can't tolerate disloyalty/.
It is extremely important to emphasise the opposing character that 'kILL edward' represents. J. Cole is advocating against drugs because of the experiences he has seen of those who use substances around him. He knows the toll that substance abuse can take on individuals – Edward is an l example of an addict who is manipulated by the drugs that he is using. Cole wishes to be helpful and prevent the possibility for further victims in his community, as well as at a larger scale in society.
'ATM' is a reminder to us of the way that Cole's flow can rip up a track alone. An energetic track about his relationship with money, the song an abbreviation for 'Addicted to Money', yet another exploration of the theme 'Addiction'. A money counter sound effect is used throughout to also drive home the monetary theme.
In 'Kevin’s Heart', Cole is singing from the perspective of a person in love with drugs. Throughout the track, he references taking Xannies and smoking blunts. Throughout the track, he also relates the use of drugs to potentially cheating on his partner.
The title itself is a reference to actor and comedian Kevin Hart, who admitted to cheating on his wife and mother of his child. The music video to the track prominently features Hart, receiving judgement from people in the public but ultimately recognising his own mistakes as a growth opportunity. This runs parallel with Cole’s own cheating nature, and also ties into the overall message of 'KOD', to make better choices and let our lessons help us grow.
The lyrics could be a reference to an actual woman that he doesn’t want to cheat on. 'She' could also be Cole personifying the drug that the person may be attempting to sell him as later in the same pre-chorus he says 'If I take this cookie now one day I’ll do the time' which could literally send him to jail.
Understanding and accepting that 'kiLL edward' is Cole himself, on the second track with a 'feature' on, 'FRIENDS' is integral to understanding the ping pong affect of this track, as Cole battles with his alter ego.
Edward is the victim of drug addiction and abuse and is evidence of how controlling and overtaking these substances can become. J. Cole's words are in contrast to him as he discusses the reasons why drugs are such a problem. It could be the type of drugs, the political climate of the United States, the user’s environment, or the influence of music itself.
However, the reasoning for why drugs are so problematic is more complicated as Cole attempts to break down. It comes down to many factors such as upbringing, mental health issues, historical trauma and other causes. According to him, the roots of many of these addictions come from atrocities experienced during childhood. All in all, Cole is emphasising that the battles fought by victims of substance abuse are caused by deeper, darker reasons. Their reliance on drugs is deeper than the surface; to them, it is internally straining. He wants individuals, including his own friends, to feel comfortable with themselves again. He knows if they can find a way to get out of the hole that drugs have dug, they can find their true identity again. Cole suggests that drugs can be avoided with healthier substitutions, in particular, meditation. Meditation can provide means of mindfulness and positivity as an alternative to drug abuse and medication.
'1985 (Intro to The Fall Off)' is the last track on the album and an introduction to the forthcoming project 'The Fall Off', as he reflects on his life and sends caution to other budding rappers.
While I don't mind Cole's thematic consistency, it can make the album drag in parts, especially since his tracks are stripped down, with minimal melody and the spotlight focused on his harsh, truth-telling words. I love that about rap, and indeed about this album, but I can understand why that can be boring for listeners. It isn't the EASIEST listen, I can identify with that, and it isn't the happiest or most positive album, however, I love it. I love the themes of addiction throughout, and the idea of substituting 'medication' for 'meditation' /Meditate, don't medicate/. I love the different music influences throughout the album, the funk and the jazz influences and the old hip hop feel to it, like Cole always provides us with. It is gripping, it is dark and it is honest. Make sure you give it a listen!