J. Cole: KOD Album Review

Everything about J. Cole’s fifth studio album KOD is brave – from its brutally honest storytelling to its contrarian content in the face of modern Hip-Hop. The veteran rapper, as he has done with previous projects, elects to explore a singular core topic across the entirety of the 12-track album. This time, J. Cole tackles the struggles of addiction – using his own experiences as a backdrop to make comment on a societal issue.

The album title, KOD, is an acronym with three meanings: Kids on Drugs, Kings OverDosed, and Kill our Demons. The rapper explains in a teaser trailer for the project the three elements that go into the title. Kings OverDosed is about his own personal struggles with addiction to not just substances, but also women and technology. Kill our Demons is about facing our issues and overcoming them, while Kids on Drugs examines our Laissez-Faire attitude toward prescription medication.

The latter of the interpretations is arguably the most intriguing, as it takes aim, in part, to the Soundcloud rapper influx occurring Hip-Hop currently. A large discussion point in this new forming sub genre circulates around prescription drugs, and Cole may be making commentary on the potential glorification this movement may bring to society. In addition, while the wildly popular Soundcloud rap genre is predicated on trap beats and a plethora of artist features, Cole elects to stay away from both of these elements on KOD – going against the grain of modern Hip-hop trends.

In lieu, the rapper produces a highly focused, engrossing album that is driven by clear storytelling and fleshed out ideas.

The words “This album is in no way intended to glorify addiction” are subtly featured at the top of the projects cover. Certainly, the album does no such thing. No more is this made apparent than on the track “Once an Addict – Interlude”, where Cole discusses his mothers attachment to alcohol. At the time, Cole was just a teenager, preparing to go to college.

He raps “Gotta leave this house ’cause part of me dies when I see her like this // too young to deal with pain // I’d rather run the streets than see her kill herself.”

Cole admits his frustrations towards his mother at the time, saying he hated how she slurred her words and questioned why she was drinking when she had work the next day. However, as Cole moves off to college, he wonders if he could have done more to help the situation.

He raps “Little did I know how deep her sadness would go // Lookin’ back, I wish I woulda did more instead of runnin’”

The admission is gut-wrenching. Not just because of his mothers addiction, but for the position Cole was placed in as a teenager.

On the track “The Cut Off” Cole tragically sums up the cycle of addiction with his opening few lines, saying “I know heaven is a mind state, I’ve been a couple times // Stuck in my ways so I keep falling down.”

The rapper, who yearns for a addiction free life, has seemingly achieved it multiple times only to then fall victim to his vices again. The chorus on the song is sang by a disenchanted, haunting voice which repeatedly says “Gimme drink, gimmie smoke” before finishing with “If I die, I don’t know // I don’t know, I don’t know.”

This disenchanted voice plays the role of the demons that Cole talks about when discussing the Kill Our Demons aspect of the album. While the rapper admits he has been to heaven, his demons have unfortunately pulled him back down at times. The song, and album, do a fantastic job of giving life to the everyday inner struggle of an addict.

The beats on the album range from slightly jazzy to rather foreboding, with a high use of vocal distortion for hooks and choruses. For the third straight album, J. Cole has elected to feature no outside artists on his album, meaning the way Cole is able to alter his voice is paramount in keeping the 45-minute project feel fresh. Thankfully and effectively, we are exposed to a plethora of different voices thanks to distortion.

The main focus of addiction on the album comes in the form of substance abuse, the North Carolinian rapper also discusses infidelity on “Kevin’s Heart” and social media dating on the track “Photograph.”

While a lot of current Hip-Hop artists are concentrating on producing killer hooks and banging trap beats, J. Cole focused on making an honest critique on himself and our society. The lack of any standout radio hit on KOD means you probably won’t be hearing Cole played extensively in the club, or on the airwaves.

Nevertheless, this latest offering from J. Cole ensures the rapper remains amongst the upper echelon of Hip-Hop. His ability to provide thought provoking material that keeps the listener discovering more each time they play the album is a true testament to the thought and nuance that goes into each J. Cole project.

Feature Image by Daniel Gregory via Flickr — Creative Commons used