“This album is in no way intended to glorify addiction.” These are the select words that adorn the cover of Fayetteville, North Carolina rapper J. Cole’s fifth studio album, “KOD,” which dropped Friday, April 20.
Cole is an artist known for the hard-hitting poignancy of his lyrics, and on this project, he provides just that with his signature blend of party-ready rowdiness and depth of content. However, as this is an album created as a warning against the dangerous drug culture of modern rap and hip-hop music, the songs that seem on the surface to be mere turn-up anthems ironically send a much deeper message.
The opening song begins with a sweet piano chord progression overlapped with rolling conga drums and a sultry trumpet playing as a woman explains that a baby has “two primary modes of communication,” laughing and crying, symbolizing love and joy or fear and pain.
“Life can bring much pain. There are many ways to deal with this pain. Choose wisely.”
The second song on the album is “KOD,” reflecting the album title, which Cole said in a tweet, has “3 meanings. Kids on Drugs, King Overdosed, and Kill Our Demons.” The song serves as a kind of reintroduction to the constantly reinventing rapper, who spits on the addictive hook, “This is what you call a flip / 10 keys from a Carter brick / Bentley from his mama whip / KOD he hard as sh*t.”
Next up is “Photograph,” a beautiful blend of ballad and banger, finding Cole struggling with “the strongest drug of them all: love.” In an age when love has “gone digital,” the rapper tries to balance his desire for genuine connection with strong feelings of lust for women he knows only through social media.
“Fell in love through photograph / I don’t even know your name / Wonder if you’d follow back? / I hope to see you one day.”
One of my personal favorite cuts from the project is “The Cut Off,” featuring kiLL Edward, J. Cole’s alter ego in the concept album’s story. Edward begins the song, singing, “I know heaven is a mind-state, I’ve been a couple times / Stuck in my ways so I keep on falling down.”
Cole’s lyrics on this song center around the theme of loyalty. As his success grows, he begins to see friends and family turning on him or using him as a financial crutch. Cole sounds entirely self-aware and poised on the song, and sincerely hurt by the fact that some of those closest to him would use him for personal gain.
“Once an Addict” and “FRIENDS” both deal exclusively with the issue of addiction, with the former touching on J. Cole’s fractured relationship with his alcoholic mother, and the latter addressing two of Cole’s friends, whose names were scrambled but can be heard when played in reverse, who are struggling with drug addictions. Cole raps, “I know you say it helps and no I’m not tryna offend / But I know depression and drug addiction don’t blend.”
The final song, “1985 – Intro to “The Fall Off,” serves as a segue into J. Cole’s next album, but also plants the rapper’s feet firmly in the ’90s and 2000s era of hip-hop. The production is reminiscent of Mobb Deep and Wu-Tang Clan, and the bars aim to cut the drug-crazed generation of Soundcloud rappers such as Lil Pump down to size.
The album walks the walk as much as it talks the talk. By the end of its first week after release, “KOD” was the number one album in the U.S., with the highest first week consumption of 2018, according to Roc Nation.
Grade: A+, Jermaine heals the game with flames.