Addiction is a polarizing topic in mainstream rap.
Historically, addiction is molded into something worth celebrating. I can’t count the number of times I’ve mouthed a lyric about alcohol or drugs mindlessly, and it’s almost always in a good context in the song. The new Soundcloud rap wave has brought a resurgence of glamorizing addiction in the context of prescription drugs (see: Lil Pump).
Recently, conscious rap has re-examined addiction from a critic’s lens as something deeper than a rap stereotype. Instead, addiction is depicted as having consequences. Lil Uzi Vert’s 2017 smash hit “XO Tour Llif3” critiqued the trend of addiction with lines like “I’m committed, not addicted but it keep controlling me/All that pain now I can’t feel it, I swear that it’s slowing me.”
J. Cole joins the anti-addiction battle with “K.O.D.” The album title’s three meanings: Kids on Drugs, King Overdose and Kill Our Demons, prove his testament without listening to a second of the songs. Running a tight 42 minutes, “K.O.D.” is a marked improvement over Cole’s last full-length project, “4 Your Eyez Only,” but is held back from being anything more than good by inconsistency and lack of risks taken.
The first half of this album is average at best, with “The Cut Off” being the only song that earned a relisten from me. Cole proved his haters right by delivering boring production and flows (triplets are cool but please change it up sometimes, Migos begs you). “Motiv8”, a “braggadocious banger,” might be the lowest point on the album.
“Double up my cream, now that’s a Double Stuff, yeah.”
You’re better than this, Cole.
And just like that, he proves that he is. The final six tracks on “K.O.D.” are fantastic. It’s almost like the first six efforts on the album were his warm-ups, and with the last six he finally unleashes what he’s truly capable of. Track after track is packed with the complex and excellent lyricism that I craved from this project. Cole reaffirms his storytelling prowess with “Once an Addict – Interlude,” a beautiful soliloquy regarding his mother’s troubled relationship with alcoholism.
“1985 – Intro to The Fall Off,” the album’s closer, might be the strongest point on the entire record.It’s a rapidfire, non-stop reflection on the current rap game. What could’ve been a cringy “get off my lawn” skipper is instead what many are taking to be a well-constructed takedown of the aforementioned Lil Pump. It’s pretty great. I can’t say the production is much better than the first half, but it doesn’t matter. just like great songs of Cole’s past, the lyricism more than carries the beats.
“K.O.D.” is a tale of two albums. At its best, this album is some of Cole’s best work in years, but at its worst, this album is dollar store early Kendrick Lamar. Half the songs are great, half the songs are forgettable. I still believe Cole has a classic album in him, the tools are there. All he needs is consistent execution.
Daniel Cohn is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.