To honor this tweet J. Cole made five years ago, this article is coming after a week of listening and absorbing each track in order.
Your 1 listen reviews are fucking up hip hop.
— J. Cole (@JColeNC) June 19, 2013
J. Cole dropped his fifth studio album on 4/20, a day many recognize as the International Cannabis Day. Ironically, (or maybe not), this album is heavily thematic in its discussion of addictions. In a sense, the album is familiar. It incorporates all the intricate details and storytelling that Cole fans are used to, but it is also quite different. Entitled KOD, the 12-track album has three meanings: Kids on Drugs, King Overdose and Kill Our Demons. KOD sticks to specific themes as it tackles addiction and drug culture, depression, money and even the government, but it also calls out other artists. Throughout the album, a reoccurring seed is planted into listeners ears as they are encouraged to choose wisely.
While some tracks have simple beats and heavy lyricism, other songs have trap beats through which Cole spits repetitive minimalistic, and catchy hooks much like traditional trap music. With songs like “ATM” (Addicted to Money) and “Motiv8”, the listener must dig deeper under the surface to really secure the message. Upon first listening to those songs, it could appear that he is taking on the norm of trap rappers by performing catchy braggadocios rhymes. However, it seems he is conveying that money can be an addiction too.
In his messages about drug culture, Cole points directly at the new school rappers.
He presents himself less like a judgmental parent, but more like a big brother who’s lived his own experiences. His interlude “Once an Addict” gives insight to one of those experiences. Cole details watching his mother suffer at the hand of alcohol addiction and the impact this had on him growing up. This ends up being one of his more personal songs, and it certainly doesn’t feel like a traditional short interlude.
In “Friends” he poignantly warns his loved ones and listeners of the dangers of drug addiction. He encourages the use of meditation as an alternate way to deal with traumas because “I know depression and drug addiction don’t blend”. Cole evades the line of coming off as preachy and conveys his message to the audience from a place of real concern. He reminds artists who glorify dangerous drug usage of their impact, and puts accountability in their court.
J. Cole is sparking a conversation worth having.
A beautiful sort of renaissance has happened within hip hop as a whole. In general, the background of the genre has been to openly discuss personal experiences. Thankfully, it’s become even more normalized to speak of bouts with depression and addiction. This isn’t Cole’s first time talking about them. Kendrick Lamar, Big K.R.I.T., Logic and many other artists have discussed these issues in their lyrics regularly as well.
With KOD, J. Cole takes a bold step to call out prevalent drug culture and its impact on the youth. The truth is, drug culture is real, and it is dangerous. No matter how fun, carefree, and trendy it is portrayed; the depiction of this lifestyle has an impact on impressionable listeners. People suffer and/or die every day from these vices. It is refreshing to have a voice at least attempt to bring balance back into the fold by not glorifying this culture but rather applying a warning label.