Reviewing albums requires a love of music. A love of music comes from enjoying an artist’s body of work. So, with all due respect, I am a fan of J. Cole yet his K.O.D project has missed the mark.
Jermaine Lamarr Cole (a.k.a J. Cole) released K.O.D on April 20, which can be understood as Kids on Drugs, King Overdose and or Kill Our Demons. As a whole, J. Cole’s fifth album feels more like an unreleased* chronicle of works pertaining to addiction across his life, that aren’t supposed to ‘glorify’ drugs (as alluded to in the cover art) but delivers tens of references in each song. Cole spits about his past (ab)use or association with drugs in a way that feels sanctimonious to anyone else who might be or was in a similar situation. Hypocritical right? In addition, key moments such as the hook, are the more memorable parts of his tracks due to their quick delivery and are brimming with drug nicknames – “lean”, “molly” and “xanny”. You would think an artist who believes they are above this lifestyle choice wouldn’t portray them in such an addictive fashion (e.g song hooks are just as addictive as the drugs they speak of). Jermaine’s overall message isn’t as black and white as he intended, which may be achieving the opposite effect via the over-intellectualisation of this issue.
The intro track boldly queries the listener to “choose wisely” between our methods of dealing with pain. Following on, the title track K.O.D is the early peak of Cole’s contradictory message. When listening, it is assumed Jermaine’s rap about “keys” – a kilo of drugs, and “flips” – upselling cheap drugs, is done in ironic fashion. To typify this point, the song is characteristic of the Atlanta Trap sound; a stylistic choice uncommon to Cole which is explored later in ‘1985’ as he states his dislike for rappers gaining quick fame off the trend. Moving forward, ‘Photograph’ is a tale of Cole falling in love with a woman through her photo but he doesn’t know how to ‘slide in her DM’s’. Once again, Cole is positioning himself in the song above the average man with his quote “So many done hit you with game”; however, his intentions are the exact same thing, which makes this laughable.
The big question arising from this album was, “who is ‘kiLL edward’?”. On ‘The Cut Off’ it seems Cole dabbles in the world of collaboration and from first impression, the song has more versatility than its counterparts. Yet after a few google searches alike eager fans, this two-time feature is Cole’s alter ego – a slowed down version of his voice. However, trying to convince Jermaine to experiment through musical collaboration is met with an emphatic no “How come you won’t get a few features? I think you should? How ’bout I don’t?”. In this manner, Cole has placed all his eggs in one basket (himself and his lyrical ability) and neglected his own natural progression with others.
After a few listens it becomes apparent, the instrumentals chosen for the album are quite predictable and does no favours for Cole, who has been faulted for this reason in previous albums too. ‘Kevin’s Heart’ is the saving grace of this project as Cole comes back to earth to admit his wrongdoings over a wavy backing track. The track ropes in and reflects on comedian Kevin Hart’s cheating scandal last year whilst relating to the “temptations” Jermaine has faced himself. “But I’m only human” is a line that doesn’t excuse the behaviour but helps the listener sympathise with both the cheater and the victim. On ‘1985’, J. Cole returns to his self-righteous ways with the persona of a wary father figure looking out for younger rappers by exposing the pitfalls of the industry. The song diverges on two aspects: you shouldn’t do that because I did versus you shouldn’t do that because your career will be shortened. Jermaine speaks with philosophical undertones from “33 years” of experience to rappers between the ages of 17 to 20 (in particular, Lil Pump and SmokePurpp respectively). To its credit, 1985 flows like a stream of consciousness and highlights why J. Cole gained success in the first place.
As mentioned above, one album missing the mark doesn’t break a career, and one opinion doesn’t make it fact; listen for yourself and form your own perception of J. Cole’s new release, K.O.D.