“KOD” is J. Cole at His Peak: Being Good, Not Great

KOD

“KOD” is the fifth studio album from the “platinum with no features” rap artist, J. Cole. Cole’s last four albums all reached number one on the charts, and all of them have gone platinum, with 2014’s “2014 Forest Hills Drive” going double platinum. This album received very little marketing ahead of time, with no singles being released prior, and Cole himself said that an album was coming just four days before it’s April 20 release.

Cole has consistently been placed among the top rappers working today, with his conscious lyrics and hard-hitting flows striking a chord with many of his fans. For me, J. Cole has always been someone who has made good albums, but never great ones, and his fan base that seems to often hold him as a god doesn’t help. Still, I know the man has worlds of talent, and “Forest Hills Drive” was the closest thing to excellence he has made to date, so I was hoping that this would be the album to truly bring him to the top.

The Good

With “KOD,” aka “Kids on Drugs,” or “King Overdosed” or “Kill Our Demons,” Cole has a lot of strong conceptual ideas that are shown within this album well. The intro track sets the scene for a lot of them, with the split meaning of the title and the “choose wisely” ideas, I think Cole uses the concept of drug addiction rather well.

The kiLL edward features, which are just Cole with a distorted voice, offer a unique perspective on the title of the album that I liked for its meaning, not as much for its sound.

The title track, “KOD, is one of the hard-hitters on the album, and while I don’t think it’s the strongest lyrical moment he’s ever had, the beat is terrific, and the flow that Cole delivers is undeniably strong. The message of the song is as scattered as the trio of meanings that the acronym has, and I think it works strictly on the ability that Cole shows on the verses.

“1985” is another highlight, but not for what it brings to the album as a whole. This feels like a single that could have worked as something to get people excited about this album, much like “Everybody Dies” and “False Prophets” were for “4 Your Eyez Only.” Still, being on the album, this is an extremely strong diss track on the modern image of rappers, specifically Lil Pump, and J. Cole’s articulate breakdown of why artists like him are inferior is beyond impressive. The flow is great, the lyrics are brilliant, and it is equal parts respectful and brutal, which makes it all the more effective.

A relatively simple song at heart, “ATM” is one of the better upbeat bangers the album offers, as the use of cash machines in the production work wonders, and Cole’s more electric flow just adds to the excitement on the track. Sure, it’s no DRAM’s “Cash Machine,” but the song is fun and thoughtful, and quite fun to listen to.

The best track on the entire album comes in the form of an interlude, because “Once an Addict” is simply the best of what J. Cole does. This song has the potent emotion, the incredible lyrics, the powerhouse flow and the concepts to work in packing a dramatic punch. The themes of neglect and alcohol abuse from a mother hit so hard, and it is songs like this one that gives me the faith that J. Cole can come through with a top-tier album.

The Bad

Aside from the few major highlights, “KOD” consistently comes through with good, but not great tracks that don’t have enough to become memorable. “Motiv8” gets close, but is too short and too repetitive to get there. “Kevin’s Hart” has a cool concept, but lacks a proper chorus. These small things show up on most of the songs here, and they get in the way of me ever falling in love with what Cole is giving.

“Photograph” was probably my least favorite song on the LP, but it still is far from bad. There are strong moments in the verses, but the chorus was too slow and uninteresting to ever get me on board with its slower feel.

The “Window Pain (Outro)” has a strong sentiment, but it never hits as hard as it is hoping for, up to its questionable ending themes. As a real closer, because “1985” isn’t that at all, it doesn’t leave much of an impact at all, that is, until Cole drops a cringe bar like “Just because yo’ dick can spray semen, it don’t mean that you ready to let go of yo’ childish ways,” sheesh.

It feels like the lazy comparison to make, but J. Cole has forced my hand. This feels like a weaker version of Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” for much of the album, especially with the first three tracks. The strange intro to get into the concept, followed by the hardest banger on the tracklist (“DNA.”) and then moving into the calmer track afterward, Cole just feels to be biting off the success of his far-superior friend.

The end of “BRACKETS” had a lot of similar vibes to “FEAR.,” as did “Window Pain,” as both the tracks end on a peculiar sample that moves into deep themes not mentioned as much by the rapper themselves. It’s not a carbon copy, or really close to it, but it felt far too similar, and because Cole is quite a few notches below Lamar in talent, whether you like it or not, listening to “KOD” just reminded me of something I’d rather go back to.

The kiLL edward perspective works for the album, and Cole makes it very clear on the title track that he doesn’t want to do features. But, if Cole swallowed his pride, he could really use some features to spice up the monotony of his own singing voice. I’m not saying to go “Revival” levels of overboard on singers in choruses, but on a song or two, I think it would greatly add to the impact if he had a stronger voice delivering some of these choruses.

Conclusion

“KOD” is yet another album that is solid from J. Cole, but it is yet another album that does not put Cole up in the top-tier of rappers today. Lamar, Kanye West and even artists like Chance the Rapper, Vince Staples and Joey Bada$$ feel like they’re putting out stronger, more consistent albums than Cole has. There are some great highlights, strong concepts, and well-crafted lyrics. But, the themes don’t always work effectively, the production is merely okay and the lack of features hurt more than they help. “KOD” is a good album, but it still left me wanting more.

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Listen to “KOD” on iTunes here and on Spotify here

What did you think of “KOD”? Comment below with your thoughts.


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