You know the thing with hip-hop and surprise album announcements, right? Anything can happen, and some stuff can be dropped without warning. Hell, there was a project called Without Warning last year from 21 Savage, Offset and Metro Boomin that dropped……without warning.
But we did get an announcement, and no, it’s not the Kanye, Kayne X Cudi or Pusha T (OR Nas) album announcements (although I got dibs on reviewing the latter when that comes out), but it is all about Mr. Jermaine Cole aka J. Cole aka Mr. Double Platinum with No Features.
For those that don’t know, J. Cole is a rapper hailing from North Carolina, signed to Roc Nation and has his own imprint, Dreamville Records, along with that. This is his fifth studio album, following 2016’s 4 Your Eyez Only, and yes, that album went platinum with no features because his fans will say that shit a lot, and that was the first album of his under the new distribution with Interscope Records, as the former three were with Columbia/Sony Music.
Now here’s the thing with J. Cole for me: while the guy is a decent rapper and by no means terrible, he’s also one that never left me in awe or wanting to go back and revisit his projects. I know in his later projects he does have some concepts, like how his last album was about a man going from selling crack to falling in love to starting a family, but died and recorded a tape for his daughter. Now I do like the concept, but the execution in the tracks left me feeling exhausted and not that impressed, especially doing a song called “Foldin’ Clothes.” And now we get into KOD, and what does that stand for?
KOD. 3 meanings.
Kids on Drugs
Kill Our Demons
The rest of the album I leave to your interpretation.
— J. Cole (@JColeNC) April 19, 2018
Yeah, that. The album’s themes are centered around drug-fueled hip-hop (basically a lot of stuff involving Xanax, lean, etc.), regarding some of the recent SoundCloud rappers popping up and the deaths from that (which includes A$AP Yams, Lil’ Peep, Pimp C among others), the effects of it on the youth, and of course various topics like depression, money, addiction. To be honest it does show some promise, and the idea sounds good on paper, whether it be about taxes on “BRACKETS,” where he ponders on how being more financially successful means he pays more taxes, how those taxes are going into a lot of shit that he doesn’t mess with, and feels like he should choose what he should put his taxes on, cheating on your spouse on “Kevin’s Heart” (HA! Get it? Kevin’s Heart? Kevin Hart? Because he did cheat on his spouse before? HA! *gets slapped by editor and the rest of the SR crew*), or with money on “ATM” and about how it contemplates his current status and for him and his community.
But with that said, there’s nothing mind-blowing about the content or how J. Cole speaks about it here. Sure he does spit some real shit here, but most of it is common sense at this point, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, the hardcore J. Cole stans or Dreamers are eating it up like he wrote the greatest masterpiece on Earth, and no one can do what he do…….except they have done it better than he has.
Oh, and I need to mention the production here. Yeah, he’s doing trap production on here since he’s the primary producer on (well, he does produce his own beats sometimes) along with other producers like T-Minus, Childish Major, Mark Pelli and Deputy, and damn this production feels like the leftovers Metro Boomin’ or Zaytoven just gave away. The trap production barely leaves a mark and it just sounds like any other trap production. It just sounds all very blah to me.
“BUT, MARK, J. COLE INTENDED TO MAKE IT SOUND LIKE THAT TO MAKE FUN OF THE TRAP RAPPERS!!!”
Yeah, so? Most of it doesn’t always work on them, and guess what? J. Cole doesn’t get a pass from me. Trap production can actually be great if it sounds interesting and dynamic enough to bump or be into it, but if I had some positives for it, the 2nd half of the album actually has some better-sounding beats from the first, like “Kevin’s Heart” with its skittering melodic sound, and the “Intro” and “Once an Addict (Interlude)” have some nice production, although the latter is more of a regular song than interlude.
Oh, and I want to point out one set of bars in here that really irritated me, in the title track “KOD”:
How come you won’t get a few features?
I think you should? How ’bout I don’t?
How ’bout you just get the fuck off my dick?
How ’bout you listen and never forget?
Only gon’ say this one time, then I’ll dip
Niggas ain’t worthy to be on my shit
One thing: he sounded bitter as hell mentioning that, and guess what? They’re right. Now I’m not saying get a bunch of rappers on there to fill it up because sometimes features aren’t needed that much, like Ka’s 2016 album Honor Killed the Samurai, but the difference is Ka is compelling on his own. J. Cole can’t carry a project by himself, and further proof of that is his singing. No, the man isn’t a good singer or great at hooks, and since I mentioned features, the one “feature” here, kiLL edward, is really just J. Cole’s alter ego: a lazy way of him lowering the pitch of his voice. In short: no, it wasn’t that good. Also, I find the song “Photograph” mostly annoying as the track is basically about Instagram models and Cole trying to mack on them, and to me it just sounds like an Instagram creeper overthinking if the girl in the pic would follow him back or talk back or whatever. It just screams “You’re thirsty.”
Oh, and one last thing about this album to point out is the track everyone has been talking about when discussing the album, and that is “1985 (Intro to “The Fall Out)” where many have speculated that J. Cole dissed Lil’ Pump (he didn’t say his name but it’s very blatant it’s him), but it isn’t framed as one to be completely honest. It’s actually an advice track where J. Cole tells him that while Pump has some success right now and is having fun, eventually he has to plan for his future and progress as a rapper as he can’t go on doing “Gucci Gang” clones for the rest of his life. Eventually his popularity will fade away like so many pop rappers like him before, and yeah, Cole has a point. As much as I’m not a Cole fan, I see more longevity in him than Pump.
In the end, this is yet another album where, while J. Cole does show he has some talent and promise to him (and he can fulfill some good concepts despite him being preachy in some tracks), as a whole, he is still woefully unable to carry a whole album. With some of the bland production choices, the addition of kiLL edward that didn’t help anything, his singing still not being that good, etc. And while the themes he talks about are good, it’s nothing we haven’t heard before, and it’s not as profound as most of his fans think it is. It is needed? Yeah, but overall, it falls into just being an OK album.
Final Verdict: Stream it. You’ll still get some content out of this if you’re curious but unless you’re a J. Cole fan (normal or diehard), you’re not going to have this on repeat.
KOD is available from Roc Nation/Dreamville/Interscope Records on CD, digital download and streaming services.