Headphones: KOD proves J Cole Is Still One Of Rap's Best
It’s been nearly two years since J Cole released his last studio album, 4 Your Eyez Only. On April 16th, Cole announced he was dropping a new project four days later. The album, titled KOD, took the hip-hop world by surprise with no promotion for its release prior to Cole’s announcement just four days before it dropped. Now, a little over a week after its release, the album already sits in the top spot on the Billboard 200 list.
Often, J Cole is regarded as one of rap’s best alongside names such as Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West despite, his under-the-radar presence. As was the case with KOD, J Cole has never been one for worldwide promotion of his music. J Cole simply lets the music speak for itself and this is one of the many reasons he is considered one of the industry’s most talented and influential artists.
One of the strongest attributes of Cole’s music making talents is his storytelling ability. One each album, fans are given more of a glimpse of his life growing up in Fayetteville, North Carolina. However, on his past two albums, beginning with 4 Your Eyez Only J Cole has used his personal stories to highlight social issues and inequities. KOD follows a similar pattern as we hear Cole speak on issues such as guns, tax dollars, and teacher’s influence on students. While many artists attack social issues directly in their lyrics, Cole has the ability to bring these issues to light through his personal stories and experiences.
As is the case with most of his music, KOD is almost entirely produced by Cole. His production skills and techniques shine through on the album’s title track, “KOD”. Cole has released that the album’s title represents three different acronyms: Kids on Drugs, King Overdose, and Kill Our Demons. While the album certainly highlights social issues, it also tackles Cole’s personal issues like addiction, grief, and past traumas. Although these are delicate personal issues, Cole has no problem pouring his soul into his music. His ability to produce music that exposes and addresses personal trauma is part of what makes him such a highly praised artist. Cole has found a way to keep his artistic vision consistent across all of his albums illustrating social injustice and personal problems through detailed stories.
Another factor in Cole’s greatness is his ability to create these complex stories entirely on his own. Not only does he showcase his own personal experiences in his lyrics along with producing his own beats, but he also does so with no features. Since his 2013 album, Born Sinner, none of Cole’s albums have featured another artist. However, when J Cole released the tracklist for KOD there was one additional name listed on two of the songs. Both “The Cut Off” and “FRIENDS” feature the name kiLL edward which Cole has recently explained is his alter ego inspired by his stepfather. On both tracks featuring his alter ego, we hear a much lower-toned voice singing and speaking, switching back and forth with Cole’s traditional voice. Cole follows a number of other artists such as Mac Miller and Kendrick Lamar who have introduced alter egos influential in their music. However, Cole has set a new standard for these alter egos as he has actually listed his as a featured artist on his most recent album.
A number of tracks on the album stand out compared to the rest not only for their unique beat production but, for the stories they tell as well. Another primary topic of the album is Cole’s addiction. The addiction he speaks of is not exactly what you would expect. While he does cover topics of addition such as drugs and alcohol, he also explains more unorthodox addictions to women, technology, and money. “ATM”, as Cole has explained stands for “Addicted to money” is just one example of Cole detailing his addictions. The bouncy chorus of the track leads directly into Cole’s opening verse in which speaks to his rising fame leading to a dependency on money. This addiction is beautifully illustrated with lyrics like, “But money, it give me a hard-on it’s typical/I want it physical/A million dollars, I count up in intervals/Without it I’m miserable”. The track is carried by its perfected drum beat, utilizing snares and high-hats as the primary components. The track is just one of several songs on the album that describes Cole’s fame-induced addictions.
“Kevin’s Heart” plays on the public cheating scandals of comedian Kevin Hart, using them as motivation to speak on addiction and temptations of women. The track features one of the catchiest choruses on the album as Cole rhymes, “Slip me a xanny at once/I got the earth in a blunt/I get the skirt when I want/I get the skrrt when I want”, before introducing his elegant flow on the first verse. The track exposes another one of Cole’s unconventional addictions, this time describing his sexual and romantic temptations over a much more melodic beat with his rhythmic voice doing much of the work.
“BRACKETS” takes the topic of discussion in a new direction directly after “Kevin’s Heart”. This is where Cole finds variety in his lyrics, transferring from personal stories and experiences to verses rooted in analyzing societal issues. Cole makes his argument against topics such as allocation of tax dollars through complex narratives and detailed story-telling. In this track, Cole describes a woman forgetting to pay her taxes on the day of her son’s funeral. The overarching theme of the track is the criminal manner in which the government demands tax money. As he has done on albums in the past Cole uses his complex lyricism to sway his listeners against a common enemy, such as tax dollars or the government in general.
One of the most fascinating tracks on KOD is “1985 – Intro to “The Fall Off”. The complexity of this track can be observed in two ways. Looking at the title first, many speculated what “The Fall Off” was and if it was a sign of Cole releasing more new music. Since the album’s release, Cole has explained the title and confirmed that “The Fall Off” will be the title of his next album only creating more hype around the track and the album. Along with confirming an upcoming project titled “The Fall Off”, Cole also announced he would be releasing an entire album dedicated to his alter ego kiLL edward. Another way this track can be analyzed is obviously through the lyrics themselves. Recently, artists like Lil Pimp and Smokepurpp have voiced negative opinions towards Cole in the form of “Fuck J Cole” chants at their shows. On “1985”, Cole addresses the hate he’s been receiving and shows that he is clearly unfazed by their comments. He raps, “I remember I was 18/Money, pussy, parties, I was on the same thing/You gotta give a boy a chance to grow some/Everybody talkin’ like they know somethin’ these days”, clearly calling out the aggressive and outlandish viewpoints of these younger artists. Cole has found a way to indirectly calling out his haters, even saying “I heard one em’ diss me, I’m surprised”. J Cole has achieved royalty in the hip-hop game and on “1985” he shows that negative comments about him from the younger generation of artists clearly do not affect him.
KOD, J Cole’s fifth studio album, displays the range and depth of his beat production and lyricism. The album also shows a series of consistencies in Cole’s music such as his ability to tell stories of personal struggles as well as uniting listeners over highly-debated social issues. J Cole has had a rather strange come up in the way he promotes himself and his music, doing so in a quiet and low-key manner. Album after album, J Cole proves that he is to be considered one of rap’s best and most talented artists. KOD, just a week after its release has already broken the record on Apple Music for most streamed album beating out Drake’s Views with 64.5 million streams in the first 24 hours after its release. There are few that can produce beats and complex lyrics in the way Cole does and as long as he continues to release music somewhat frequently, which it appears he is doing, he will continue to keep his name at the top.