Everyone knows J. Cole. Some people like him, some people don't. Some people thinks he creates great content and others think he makes lullabies. Either way, you have to respect the man for constantly creating content that keeps a fan base entertained and thinking. That was the plan for his new album K.O.D. There's a few meanings behind the acronym: Kids on Drugs, King Overdose, Kill Our Demons. Realistically you could probably split the album into three distinct sections that deal with each of these.
It's becoming the norm for J. Cole to release an album that's J. Cole all the time every time and that's what we get here. We even get J. Cole performing under a pitched down alias, kiLL edward. He address this on the second track "KOD" with the lyrics:
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 forger? Only gon' say this one time, then I'll dip. Niggas ain't worthy to be on my shit.He's also not going to be getting a lot of outside help with production. He's credited as a producer on all but one track, "Kevin's Heart." The instrumentals are simple, especially for Cole's production which can sometimes seem overly produced. He stated the album was made in two weeks because he had a message to get out. They're not bad, and lean heavy on trap stylings. It's just odd for Cole to not overproduce and it creates a different sound for KOD than his previous albums. Which is a good thing, I like Cole's work, but after 4 Your Eyez Only, it's probably good for him to switch it up. That was the first time I really understood why people think he makes lullabies. KOD is a welcome change and refresher to his discography.
Kids on Drugs
I think the album is really easy to break down into sections and that's how I'm going to look at it. The first section I like to call Kids on Drugs. The intro tack alludes to this by pointing out that babies only have two forms of communication. Children don't have many more and are often crying out in pain, through ways we don't understand as adults. Because of that they never get to deal with that pain as children so the pain grows into demons we face as adults. At the same time, kids choose to numb that pain the best way they can with some choosing drugs.
"KOD" is the next track and it seems like a pure parody of a lot of the music coming out now. Lyrics about abusing drugs, trapping and not caring about anything fill this one. The first verse is Cole just being braggadocios Cole, something we haven't gotten to hear in a while since he's been riding around on bicycles and taking the bus. The second verse is him parodying trap rappers. Most telling are lyrics like:
My homie got the pharmaceutical plug, I smoke the drug and it run through my vein, I think it's workin'm it's numbin' the pain, don't give a fuck and I'm somewhat insane. Don't give a fuck and I'm somewhat insane [...] Y'all niggas trappin' so lack-sical-daisy my nigga sell crack like it's back in the 80s, know a young nigga he actin so crazy, he serve a few packs and he jack a mercedes, he shoot at police, he clap at old ladies, he don't give a fuck if them crackers gon' hang himThe lyrics are there, but it's still kind of funny to hear J. Cole trying out a trap style flow. I feel like without calling out names, he certainly takes shots at artists who glorify drug usage. Everyone probably had someone different come to mind, but my first thought was Future, especially with the bars about Actavis, a staple of futures lyrics. The song concludes with telling us that love is the strongest drug of all.
The next song "Photograph," is from the perspective of someone falling in love and how that's dangerous. You may think love isn't dangerous but in this case, the person has fallen in love with someone they know only from the internet. They don't know the person's real name or anything. Yet they're becoming anxious and possessive. Even stating he won't show anyone the profile for fear that they might steal her away, even when he doesn't know her or never interacts with her. He even states that he's too nervous to shoot his shot. But he feels like he's in a committed relationship with this person and can only hope to meet one day.
"The Cut off" isn't labeled an interlude, but I view it as a transition from our Kids on Drugs portion to our King Overdose portion. The song has Cole's alter ego kiLL edward singing about needing more drugs and alcohol to numb his pain. Cole raps about his own paranoia and distrust of friends. Cole cuts these people off from his life. Edward cuts people off from his life as well, but that's because he needs more. He's officially an addict.
"ATM" is the first single from the album with a Busta Rhymes style video and deals with someone overdosing on money because of their greed. Some people think having more money will solve all their problems and don't care how they get it. They look to spend money on objects to help deal with whatever sorrow they have and don't care if it puts a hole in their heart as Cole points out repeatedly:
I know it's gon' solve every problem I have, I balled on the principal, remember the teachers as all on my ass now look all of them, pitiful. And all of a sudden I'm good at math [...] Proceed with caution, I heard if you chase it only results in a hole in the heart, fuck it, I take the whole cake and won't leave a portion, it's only an organ [...] I flip my misfortune and grow me a fortune, my rollie scorchin, them niggas that hated is slowly endorsin, now Cole he important.Greed might have been Cole's own personal addiction. If you go back to some of his older tracks, after he was first signed he was super boastful about everything. Mr. Dollar and a Dream even turned into "Mr. Nice Watch" for a while there before he readjusted. In the track the person just doesn't care how much it costs him on a personal level as long as he can get money to solve problems. Not realizing it's a vicious cycle.
I feel like the track "Motiv8," is another track depicting the greed that comes along with being addicted to money as a way to deal with your problems. It makes me think of an old joke. I think it was Chris Rock who said 8 million dollars won't fix all his problems but he'd rather cry in a Lamborghini. It even features a sample of the old Junior M.A.F.I.A. song "Get Momey," but as BIG told us all "Mo Money, Mo Problems."
"Kevin''s Heart," is a hilarious song title. It's a song about cheating because you need more love in your life and we all know Kevin Hart cheats. It's a depressing album, but it's good to see Cole still has a sense of humor and I've been laughing about that title since I first heard the song. Jay Z said "I'll fuck up a good thing if you let me," Cole parallels this with "All I know is how to fuck up a good thing." In the track Cole confesses love for his wife, but at the same time he loves another woman. He doesn't want to hurt his wife as he states loving another woman is a crime. He's addicted to the love, not the sex. He says he can get sex whenever he wants it, but having more love is what gets him in trouble. The cheating is his way of overdosing on the love. In the first verse he raps:
Love get confused in the mind of a child cause love wouldn't lie like I lie and it's wild. Wanna have my cake and another cake too, even if the baker don't bake like youHe continues on the second verse:
I love her, I don't want to lose her. I'm selfish, I know that I use her. My ego get stroked and I bruiser her. Me ego get stroked and I bruise her. may actions I know they confusing, at home I look happy as usual, on the road I'm a mack. I'm a chooser. I'm a addict, I'm maskin that Kevin's HeartCole knows he's wrong to cheat, but at the same time he's an addict. He does it because it makes him feel better and his ego grows. But at the same time he knows it's bruising his wife's ego. He doesn't really understand how much more she can take and he doesn't want to lose her, like Kevin Hart. But he's an addict and can't stop. At the same time he's hiding it because he knows it's all the way wrong to do that to her.
"BRACKETS," is another track that deals with cash, but unlike the previous ones it really looks at that problem with addiction. A clip of Richard Pryor joking that his dad would never believe how much he really made. Cole being shocked that almost half his money goes to taxes but never helps a single person in his community. He raps:
Maybe cause the tax dollars that I make sure I send, get spent hiring some teachers that don't look like them and the curriculum be tricking them dollars I spend got us learning about the heroes with the whitest of skin one thin g about the men controlling the pen that write history they always seem to white-out they sin. Maybe we'll never see a black man in the white house again, I'll write a check to the IRS and my pockets get slim. Damn do I even have a say bout where it's goin, some older nigga told me start votin. I said Democracy is too fucking if I'm givin ya'll this hard earned bread I wanna know, better yet let me decide bitch it's 2018 let me pick the things I'm funding from an app on my screen better than lettin wack congressman I've never seen dictate where my money go, straight into the palms of some money hungry company that make guns that circulate county and then wind up in my hood making bloody clothesCole seems to finally be understanding that making more money won't ease his problems but he still needs it. The part that really gets to you later in the song is a woman who lost her son. He was a kid, doing good in school and he was killed by a stray bullet. Then on the day of his funeral, she remembers she needs to file her taxes. This song serves as the wake up call to addiction. The moment when someone realizes that the addiction isn't actually helping solve their problems at all.
Kill our Demons
Cole raps about his mother's addiction on an interlude titled "Once an Addict." I see this as the track that lets people know they can overcome their addictions no matter what they are. Cole talked about his mother using drugs, being hurt by love and alcohol as well. But, she over came those addictions so it's possible for you to overcome your own as well.
"FRIENDS," can be seen as an intervention. Cole calls out to his friends doing hard drugs because he sees them in a downward spiral. They don't hear him trying to give them the keys to success because while he's grown up they haven't. At the same time he's trying to let them understand that he feels their pain and he knows why they do drugs to medicate. The same reason he was using money. He knows that the hardest, or saddest, days they have are without the drugs. The most telling lines:
Feeling like the only one that made it, and I hate it for my niggas. Cause they ain't got ambition, fuck did you expect, you can blame it on condition, blame it on crack, blame it on the system, blame the fact that 12 got jurisdiction to ride around in neighborhoods that they ain't ever lived in [...] There's all sorts of trauma from drama that children see, type of shit that normally would call for therapy, but you know just how it go in our community. Keep that shit inside it don't matter how hard it be, fast forward them kids is grown and they blowing trees and popping pill due to chronic anxietyIt calls back to the old Atmosphere song "Scapegoat," where they go through a list of reasons people blame for their problems. I think these are the most telling lines on the album. It addresses the fact that a lot of us, especially in the black community, are dealing with trauma from our childhoods still. Yeah, we've got issues as adults but there's still stuff we didn't ever talk about. It doesn't matter if it was seeing a friend die, police brutality, abuse or whatever happened. We're still grown adults, addicted to something because of problems we had in childhood and we just didn't deal with it. So it doesn't matter if you're 16, 26 or 36, you're still just a kid on drugs.
Cole urges people to find relief in something other than addiction. If you won't go to therapy he suggests that you meditate instead of medicate. It might not work for everyone but it works for a lot of people. There's a school in Baltimore that replaced detention with meditation and so far it's helped change the student body for the better. It's not a perfect answer but it's something. His alter ego Edward sings:
I got thoughts, can't control, got me down, got me low, rest my mind, rest my soul, when I blow, when I blow, am I wrong let them know, feels so right, to let things go, don't thing twice this is me, this is how it should beEdward knows he's using drugs just to cope but he only feels like him when he's using drugs because he can let things go. Edward is feeling what a lot of people feel every day. We walk around not feeling like ourselves because we're stressed out about the future or stuck on our past and we just need to let it go. But it's hard. In the end we need to kill our demons, but a lot of us never take steps to do so.
"Window Pain," opens with a little girl Cole met on one of his school visits. She talks about how her cousin Rod used to pick her up her was murdered. I see the song as telling people we have to kill our demons, if not for ourselves, then for future generations. This little girl is in so much pain and nobody is really there to help her out because everyone is off fighting their addictions. If nobody is there for her she'll grow up to be an addict too. He says:
The results are deadly because that child will suffer and that's what can most affect me. The little girl I met this past summer said do't forget me. I won't forget you how could I with all you went through. A bullet hit yo cousin in temple while he was with you and while you was talking I was tearin up, where's the tissue? If you was my sister then I would kiss you and tell you that I'm sorry for the pain you had to live through. I know I'm blessed because yo stress is realer than anything I don been throughIt's a touching track and hopefully the kick that some people need to finally kill their demons. It's best that we learn to put our demons to death before the next generation grows up and deals with theirs the same way.
"1985," is the track that everyone is talking about, and I don't actually consider it to be part of the KOD story. It honestly deserves it's own breakdown and review. The track takes aim with new rappers who do outlandish things to get fame, but then fall off because they weren't smart with their careers. He warns them they only have a moment before the kids listening to them grow up and stop listening because they're making the same music. He also points out that a lot of these rappers fit into the Pitchfork category as I put it. Childish Gambino once rapped "Pitchfork only like you if you crazy or hood." That's where a lot of these guys fall, either crazy like Lil Uzi Vert or hood like Kodak Black. But nobody is going to pay attention to guys like Ezri because he's not crazy or hood. The thing is they don't actually want hood, they want want what they thing is hood. Cole points out the fans of these people are mostly white people who deep down want to be black and the music gives them a taste of what they think it's like to be black. The track already has a lot of rappers in their feelings and it should because it's all true.
I feel like KOD was a great album for Cole. It might not be the perfect album as he has only one trap style flow and he uses it on multiple tracks, it would have been nice to see him grab more outside production because the trap style is out of his wheelhouse, but it served it's purpose. I will say it did come at the perfect time. It does create a discussion and if you follow Cole on Twitter that's what he really wanted so I guess he won.
You should buy Darrell's Book, watch him on the Blerds Online YouTube Channel or The CP Time and Powerbomb Jutsu podcasts.