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Empathy Is The Heart of J Cole's New LP 'KOD' : Album Review Inside

Dreamville founder, J Cole released his newest LP, 'KOD ' on April 20th, 2018. This is his fifth studio album following his last two albums, 4 Your Eyez Only and 2014’s 2014 Forest Hill Drive, which were included in his four consecutive No. 1 albums. The second track off the album just set a Spotify record for biggest opening day with 4.2 million streams. KOD is projected to top the Billboard 200 in its first week.

A few hours before the album dropped, the title was given some context via trailer. KOD, is an exploration of addiction which carries three different meanings: Kids On Drugs, King Overdose, and Kill Our Demons.

Personally, I feel that J Cole should be commended for his dedication. There are a few things you need to know as you dive into the new album. Across the 12 tracks, he talks politicking and the government, empathizes with depression sufferers and gun violence victims, turns a Kevin Hart cheating scandal into a monologue on infidelity, and re-evaluates his own childhood.

The cover art is a striking illustration of the rapper as a hollow-eyed king in a woolly cape concealing children smoking weed, popping pills, sniffing coke, and sipping lean. Above his head is a disclaimer: “This album is in no way intended to glorify addiction.” Ten out of the twelve tracks touch on a handful of characters at various stages of dependency to sex, drugs, money, and the internet.

1. “Intro” — Sounds of soft instruments playing with underlying harmonies from Cole while a woman talks about newborns and the way they communicate through tears and laughter. Speaking on her pain and her methods for coping with the demons through drugs.

2. “KOD” — A switch up from the 4 Your Eyez Only vibes given in the intro, the hard hitting bass mixed with the charged in drums make for a banger with this track. His modern flow transitioning is smooth and effortless. He kicks off his rap slow then speeds it up, similar to the cadence he spit on his 2014 energized- hard hitting metaphorical track, “GOMD.” The infectious combination of the hook paired with the high tempoed beat makes it hard for one not to bop to.

3. “Photograph” — Cole chooses to go with an interesting vocal pitch as if it’s an enhanced version of auto-tune. It sounds as if Cole is subconsciously going back and forth with himself. His voice resembling a self-conscious zombie through his melodic singing discussing his perception of the dating world through eerie hooks like most of “today’s” rap sound. He brings to life a lonely young man who falls in love with a beautiful woman through her social-media profile, and is in love with the feeling he gets when he creeps her page. But for some reason he can’t man up enough to tell her. Touching on how social media became the go to in matchmaking and finding love. We fall in love with photos hopelessly waiting for a follow back...

4. “The Cut Off” feat. kiLL edward — Cole slows up his flow and presents his alter ego “Edward”. Through the stacked verses, Cole goes on to talk about the people who owe his apologies.

5. “ATM” — Shows off the pristine mixing done on this album. The lyricism in his bars are captivating and his energy is on a 100! His swift flow circulates smoothly over the sound of a money counter.

6. “Motiv8” — This video game-esque produced record reveals a more southern sound from Cole. Much like a track straight from the Hustle & Flow soundtrack. This ones a banger. His vocally ambitious cadence snapping over the hard hitting beat makes it easy to become motivated.

7. “Kevin’s Heart” — None of these themes glorify the actions but as heard earlier, Fame is included with the drugs. This track focuses on cheating. Considering that the strongest drug of all is love, this track appears to dramatize comedian Kevin Hart’s confession on marital infidelity as it ponders secret sex addiction. Although a lot of guilt is heard on this one, the catchy melodies intertwined with the great production make it easy to enjoy.

8. “Brackets” — A skit about show business narrated by Richard Pryor. He uses his informative and wise lyrics to complain about Uncle Sam, Sallie Mae, and tax money.

9. “Once An Addict” (Interlude) — just like “The Cut Off” this track illustrates the harm that a person’s using can inflict on everyone else around them. The interlude consists of a woman who seems to be struggling with substance abuse and speaking about her pain. With a voice full of conviction, Cole fires off with the emotions. This one is deep. He talks about his alcoholic mother and his decision to go to college to escape her alcoholism. Hmmm, it’d be a hell of a plot twist if the woman‘s voice that’s heard is his mother...

10. “FRIENDS” feat. kiLL edward — “I wrote this shit to talk about the word addiction” A woke Jermaine digs into the discussion of using drugs as coping mechanisms. His passion is influential. He’s passionate in his lyrics focusing on the choice to meditate over medicate.

11. “Window Pain” — The second to last track consists of a looping beat, and a child who speaks on hearing gunshots that killed his cousin. Following is a singing Cole about the change that he hopes to see in his hometown.

12. “1985” — This is the year that J Cole was born. He raps about how rappers and the art of rap now a days has “fallen off”. He is in full lecture mood and is spitting out advice to the new and aspiring rappers. Cole seems to be dissing these new mumble rappers and their craft in the most respectful way.

After listening to KOD we see that his last album, 4YEO, was only a warm up for more singing. And if you ask me, the North Carolina MC’s singing has become more pleasant. On this project, the Dreamville founder is way out of his comfort zone but sounds so at ease.

As per usual, KOD makes for a 1 listen fashion: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding and no stopping. Each song is more enticing than the last, from start to finish. Empathy is the heart of this album. Cole reveals how he perceives and absorbs the world by the amount of empathy expressed in his music.

KOD’s music suggests J. Cole isn’t coming from a rude place even with the shots that were hinted at in “1985”. His lines are full of flows that show he’s actually been listening to a lot of the new rap. Cole feels that the generation of rappers behind him should know that it is possible to try to use stardom to push their peers to greater heights. One can celebrate hip-hop’s growth, worry about it stagnating and plead with its stars to be better stewards without malice.

Check out the album’s trailer below:

J Cole - KOD - Spotify

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