On April 19, 2018, J. Cole released KOD, his eighth studio album. KOD’s 12 tracks explore typical J. Cole themes: drugs, life in poverty, ascent to stardom, copious cash, and the complexity of love, all topics Cole has discussed in past albums, such as 2014 Forest Hills Drive 4 Your Eyez Only. However, unlike previous projects, KOD also discusses temptation, guilt, commitment, forgiveness, and drug addiction that have come with Cole’s adult life. The overarching theme of the album is that challenges and pain comes at us all, and it’s up to us to ‘choose wisely’ on how we cope.
KOD strikes a fascinating middle ground between the fast-paced bass-bumping 2014 Forest Hills Drive and the introspective and tame For Your Eyez Only, with injections of modern ‘Lil’ era beats. KOD is a vast departure from Cole’s previous works, yet it still feels like a culmination of his growth throughout 15 years in the rap scene. At the dawn of his career, Jay Z, Nas, Dr. Dre, and Eminem dominated the market. Complex lyrics, enjambment, and technical rap was the the gold standard. Cole blew up in the end of that era, and enjoyed critical and commercial success for the better part of a decade. Before long though, the aging rapper found himself in a strange new era that was a direct and deliberate contradiction to the rap that he knew.
These days, the producer is often what makes a track popular, not the lyrics, meaning, or technicality. Glorification of hard drugs, constant pursuit social media clout, and focus on trap style music has changed the game in what seems like an instant. A few months ago, it looked like Cole was becoming a relic of a time past, but again, the harmony that is struck in KOD proves that not only can he roll with the times and adapt to the new school, but can do so without losing his identity.
‘KOD,’ ‘ATM,’ and ‘Motiv8’ were the most uncharastically new school songs on the album: an overpowering beat, simple rhyme scheme, and even trap drums that he so lambasts throughout the album comprise these songs. ‘BRACKETS,’ ‘The Cut Off,’ ‘Kevin’s Heart,’ and ‘Window Pain’ are the slower, quintessentially Cole songs on the album; ‘Photograph’ and ‘1985’ strike an interesting balance between the two.
This album largely revolves around an issue that is certainly topical, especially in today’s rap culture: drug addiction. Eight out of 12 songs on KOD revolve around the perils and complications that come with drug use, and how substances like Xanax, lean, and marijuana plague the black community. Cole takes a somewhat hypocritical stance on drug use; one moment he says “slip me a xany (xanax) at once, I got the earth in the blunt” and the next he raps “meditate, don’t medicate.” This contradiction has lead many to believe that Cole is rapping from multiple perspectives in his album, which would further explain the incongruent styles of music in KOD, and shed light on why the mysterious kiLL edward exists.
Cole is famous for going double platinum without features in 2014 Forest Hills Drive, so many were confused when the artist kiLL edward featured on ‘FRIENDS’ and ‘The Cut Off.’ It turns out that kiLL edward is Cole’s alter ego, a persona in which cole adds a deepening effect on his voice and sings without autotune. kiLL Edward is a direct reference to both the main themes of the album, ‘choose wisely’ and drug addiction, and also may shed light on the supposed hypocrisy of KOD. Many believe that kiLL edward represents the part of Cole that didn’t chose wisely, and decided to take the path of drugs to soothe his pain. The existence of kiLL edward validates the multiple perspectives theory, and explains the strange hypocrisies that are prevalent in KOD.
The theme of drug abuse has been the main clue fans have used to guess what KOD really means: King of Overdose, Kids on Drugs, and Kiss of Death are prevailing theories, but at the time of writing Cole has neither confirmed nor denied any fan theories.
In my opinion, ‘Kevin’s Heart’ is the best song on the album. Cole speaks about cheating on the girl that he loves, and how that guilt leads him to drug addiction.Whether or not the story told is true, the flawless storytelling that made ‘Wet Dreamz’ a hit is found in ‘Kevin’s Heart.’ The song is a must hear for anybody who enjoys rap, whether old school or new school.
KOD doesn’t have the hit of the summer or the song that Cole will be forever remembered for; however, the album proves his versatility, skill, and intelligence. There are rowdy and mellow tracks, blunt and eloquent lyrics, words of wisdom and those of youthful naiveté. In short, KOD is a tour de force that will resonate with rap fans everywhere.