I really wanted to enjoy this album. I really did.
When I saw the announcement for “KOD,” J. Cole’s newest album, via Cole’s Twitter page, I was instantly transfixed. J. Cole is a rapper with limitless potential. Whether it be riveting guest verses (see “Boblo Boat” or “Night Job”), a polished, hypnotic flow, or an almost unparalleled ability to emotionally connect with audiences, Cole has all the skills to put together a masterpiece of an album. Yet here we are in 2018, and while Cole has put out very good and very important songs, he still hasn’t released a project which is focused enough to be considered truly great.
Nevertheless, when I saw his announcement for “KOD,” I couldn’t help but get excited. I genuinely hoped that finally, finally, this would be the album that J. Cole could call his classic.
Sadly, “KOD,” despite its promises of being an intricate breakdown of the systematic and societal implications of addiction, fell prey to some of Cole’s worst habits.
J. Cole not only took to Twitter to explain the triple-meaning behind the album’s title (Kids on Drugs, King OverDosed, and Kill Our Demons), he also released a short trailer for the album, offering a sneak peek of the project’s content through visuals and audio snippets. After listening to the album several times, I had an epiphany that applies to all great art: artists shouldn’t have to give an excessive amount of explanation for their creations, but rather the art should tell the whole story. With the release of the trailer and his multiple explanations, Cole was very plainly describing all of the things the album fails to.
Instead of offering some sort of societal panacea for the addiction and drug issues Cole loves to allude to on this album, he resorts to either insubstantially describing the literal actions of drug users, or he offers a Reaganesque “Just Say No” pseudo-intellectual proclamation that attempts to shame the bad habits of addicts affected by what is classified medically as a legitimate mental affliction.
What “KOD” essentially boils down to is a cubic zirconia version of Kendrick Lamar’s “Section 80”: not terrible to look at, not completely void of any value, but nonetheless disappointing in the fact that it isn’t nearly what it could be.
Throughout the album, Cole attempts to justify his preachy narratives and pretentious attitude toward rap’s rising stars with insistences that he isn’t doing the exact thing he proceeds to do. For every “I’m hoping for your sake that you aren’t as dumb as you look,” there’s an “I ain’t judgin’ you,” when that’s explicitly the thing he is doing.
And that’s the most frustrating thing about this album: if Cole could any attain of self-awareness, one of the tools that many of rap’s most successful artists thrived on (think Eminem or Kanye West), it would take the snobbish edge off of every “meditate, don’t medicate” claim he makes. Instead, these patronizing assertions result in Cole sounding like he thinks he’s better than everybody else, which is a terrible look on what should’ve been a humanizing, cathartic album.
For as completely pointless and meandering as some of the songs on the album are (“Photograph,” “Motiv8”), there are a handful of moments that bring some insight and excitement to the rather hollow project.
“Once an Addict (Interlude)” offers a sincerely introspective look at addiction, as Cole speaks candidly about his mother’s battle with her vices. The song is heart-wrenching; you can feel the pain in his voice as he croons “Something’s got a hold of me/ I can’t let it go/ Out of fear I won’t be free.” But, for whatever reason, Cole merely chalks up one of the most vulnerable and engrossing moments in his catalogue as an interlude despite it being longer than most of the other songs on “KOD.”
While “Once an Addict,” works as a rare moment of tender honesty on “KOD,” “ATM” works purely off of Cole’s fast-paced flow and undeniable catchiness. While the song doesn’t really accomplish much in the grand scheme of the concept of the album (although neither do most of the other songs on the project), it has its moments of clever quick-hitters and eccentric quirks. It’s a breezy, enjoyable moment that would be easily appreciated if it wasn’t for the drowning pretentiousness Cole employs during the rest of “KOD.”
While J. Cole’s self-righteousness spoils most of the pleasant moments on “KOD,” his supercilious attitude isn’t nearly that of some of his preachy contemporaries, namely Russ. Nevertheless, his divulgence into these hard-to-swallow tendencies hold “KOD” back from reaching its true potential.
Sadly, this seems to be the case for Cole’s entire career.