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J. Cole’s word is king on ‘KOD’

| Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Claire Kopischke | The Observer

Patrick Star once uttered what has since become law: “When in doubt, pinky out.”

And on the cover art of J. Cole’s newly released album, “KOD,” he, in agreeance with Patrick Star, stands a king with pinky finger extended. His pinky is meant to alleviate doubt, make you believe in him and his music. In “KOD,” J. Cole is certain, and he will do anything to make you certain as well.

“KOD,” the titular first track of the album, hits hard. Cole effortlessly spits about his come-up and hyperbolizes motifs of drug use over errantly-rumbling 808s. “KOD” and other album highlights like “ATM” and “Motiv8” all function in a thematically similar way to Kendrick Lamar’s “untitled 07” from his “untitled unmastered” mixtape. These types of songs use the rapper’s voice to represent the pressures they feel outside of the music. Kendrick grits out, “Shut your f—– mouth and get some cash, you b—-,” whereas J. Cole fires off, “Count it up,” repeatedly. The two rappers have unapologetically never been about money, but that does not stop them from living in a world that is.

While that more thematic type of song allows J. Cole to make high energy, mainstream songs while staying true to himself, it is not a trend on which his music is reliant. “1985,” the final song on the album is a pseudo-diss-track at the newest wave of hip-hop. He sympathizes with the juvenile pitfalls that new-coming rappers often fall into, while at the same time giving some words of warning and restraint. Cole performs this old-head shtick in a manner worth listening to. He is a capable wordsmith, and “KOD” does not tell you any differently.

But not everything J. Cole says on “KOD” is truth. On “Photograph,” he makes a clumsy attempt to disparage the current state of love in a world defined by social media. But he ends up saying nothing of substance other than that it is “messing with my [his] health.” “Brackets,” another low point on the album, finds Cole proposing a smartphone-based direct democracy and illogically ripping on taxes. In this case, he chooses a low-hanging issue and approaches it with a lazy solution.

While “KOD” is a well-built and enjoyable album, it does not have what has always made J. Cole great. His best music, “Wet Dreamz” from “2014 Forest Hills Drive” and “Neighbors” from “4 Your Eyez Only,” are narrative songs that are grossly lacking on “KOD.” J. Cole paints pictures of events that have affected him and invites the listener to remember with him. Through the stories of his experiences, J. Cole makes his distant pain understandable.

This narrative approach is all but absent on “KOD.” J. Cole shows instead of telling. Instead of describing how and why he came to his conclusions about drugs and moderation, J. Cole assumes his authority is enough to convince the listener.

It is here that J. Cole becomes polarizing. If you are willing to accept his authority, you’ll enjoy the album and what he says will resonate with you. If you don’t think J. Cole has earned the right to state his conclusions definitively, then the album may be a little harder to stomach.

“KOD” became the most streamed album on Apple Music in its first day. Whether J. Cole has something important to say or not, there are a lot of people out there willing to listen. The album further solidifies J. Cole’s position in the industry as an artist who creates strong feelings: you either love him or you hate him.


Artist: J. Cole

Album: “KOD”

Label: UMG Recordings, Dreamville Records, Roc Nation, and Interscope Records

Favorite Track: “ATM”

If You Like: Pusha T, Jay Rock

3.5/5 Shamrocks


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