J. Cole has never shied away from speaking the truth or showing his pain through his music.
His latest album, "K.O.D", is no different, and sees the rapper bestow more of his wisdom on us through powerful storytelling and open, raw honesty. On this album, Cole has very much assimilated the role of a big brother; using his past experiences, pain and mistakes to try to warn and advise his younger peers against the dangers they face. Namely, these dangers come under the umbrella of addiction – to money, sex, power, success, social media, and of course, drugs.
“K.O.D”, “ATM”, and “Motiv8” cover money and power, with Cole playing the role of the cocky rapper, spitting catchy hooks over trap-style beats. But even on brash tracks like “ATM”, under Cole’s fiery tone lie the dark realities of chasing money: “Proceed with caution/I heard if you chase it only results in/a hole in your heart/Fuck it, I take the whole cake and I won’t leave a portion”.
“Photograph” muses our generation’s obsession with social media, exposing the dangers of falling in love from behind a screen. “Kevin’s Heart” describes two addictions at play, with the temptations of infidelity, and subsequent feelings of guilt being masked with drugs (“Slip me a xanny at once”). The song’s title, a clear pun referencing comedian Kevin Hart’s notorious adultery, also stars him in the video. While it in no way excuses what he did, it at least shows that you can make better choices. Watch the video below:
While addiction is the most prominent theme, pain sears through many of the tracks on “K.O.D”. From Cole’s heart-breaking reflection on his mum’s alcoholism (“Once an Addict (Interlude)”), to his forlorn thoughts about disloyalty, assisted by the rapper’s intriguing alter-ego, kiLL edward (“The Cut Off”). It’s the pain that the rapper discloses to the listener that avoids him sounding judgmental on the album. For example, on “FRIENDS”, Cole comes close to sounding preachy and self-righteous, but he pulls it back with his own self-reflection and blame. He’s speaking from a place of experience, not from a moral high ground, and is just speaking his truth – a simple concept that’s surprisingly hard to pull off.
Cole’s gift of storytelling has been a distinct element of his music since the beginning of his career, and continues to grow and improve on each record. On this album, the rapper seamlessly switches between the past and present, telling both his own stories and those of others to convey his message, much like what he did on 2016’s “For Your Eyez Only.” He provides honest narratives on the state of the rap game in “1985”, on the ongoing issue of systematic racism in “BRACKETS”, and on the vicious cycles that people are trapped in within his community on “Window Pain (Outro)”.
"K.O.D" is cyclical in the way that it starts and ends with warnings – “Intro”’s narrator eerily warns us to “choose wisely” in how we deal with our pain, a motif that is repeated through the album, creating a rhetoric feel for the listener. The album’s finale, “1985 (Intro to the Fall Off)”, sees Cole himself offering advice to today’s new school of rap. This isn’t surprising, with Cole’s distaste for the ‘Lil whatevers’ clear on his 2016 single “Everybody Dies” - however the North Carolina rapper isn’t so dismissive this time around. While many will call it a diss track, that’s not Cole’s aim - it’s a warning of what’s in store for these young artists riding the wave of trends, and promoting a culture of drugs and materialism. Having said that, his slick delivery of both the track and album make one thing abundantly clear: J. Cole is still very much a force to be reckoned with, and whose name shouldn’t be played with lightly.
All I can say is, choose wisely.
Must Listens: BRACKETS, 1985, ATM, Kevin's Heart
Listen to "K.O.D" below:
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