Story by Isong Maro / Contributing Writer
The year 2018 has been an interesting one for hip-hop music and will probably go down as a landmark year for the culture in the future. This is a year that has so far seen a successfully released hip-hop-themed movie soundtrack for “Black Panther,” a rap artist replace himself atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart with Drake’s “Nice For What” unseating “God’s Plan” and Kendrick Lamar being awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his album “DAMN.” – a first for artists not in the classical or jazz genres.
With Drake set to release an album in the summer and Kanye West slated for back-to-back releases — one a solo project and the other a collaboration with Kid Cudi — Jermaine Lemarr Cole, better known as J. Cole, has, in the midst of all of this, released his fifth studio album, “KOD”
In line with Cole’s methods, this project had little to no promotion before its eventual release. The album’s title has been stated as meaning “Kids on Drugs,” “Killing Our Demons” and “King Overdose.” The album’s painted artwork of children partaking in drug use also seems to support this claim.
The project is 12 tracks long and the production, with the exception of a few tracks, is handled primarily by Cole. For the musical landscape on this project, Cole continues to explore jazz themes, much like he did on his last album, “4 Your Eyez Only.” Sonically, the album blends trap hip-hop and jazz sounds. Noticeably, Cole does have a featured artist on this album, which was something he avoided on his last two studio albums. However, the only featured artist on this project is an artist named Kill Edwards, who is rumored to be Cole himself.
Lyrically, Cole explores a lot of contemporary themes on this project. On the track “Photograph,” Cole rhymes about the dilemma of online infatuation. On “ATM,” he speaks on the pitfalls of materialism. Cole is in his storytelling element as well on the songs “Brackets” and “Once an Addict.” On the former, he epitomizes the woes of paying taxes, calling for a review of the current system and a more modern approach. He wraps up the album with the track “1985,” giving some advice to contemporary new-wave rappers on the financial pitfalls of the rap game.
Throughout the course of his career, Cole has always taken a simplistic approach to the themes that he explores. He has an innate ability to make the listener feel like he’s having a conversation with them. This album might be his riskiest artistically because he toes a more satirical line here, attempting to hold a mirror to contemporary society. Yet for the duration of the album, he is able to keep his conversational tone, which is key to his delivery.
“KOD” is an album in which Cole really branches out sonically with a few more contemporary up-tempo sounds here and there, but simultaneously maintains his usual aesthetics. There are maybe a few songs that the album could have done without, but overall, the album is a step in the right direction artistically.
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