Review: J. Cole addresses addiction, rap culture on “KOD”

Posted on Apr 30 2018 - 5:25am by Blake Alsup

J. Cole’s fifth studio album “KOD” is about addiction.

Cole said the acronym has three different meanings, all of which are portrayed on the album cover. The meanings are “Kids On Drugs,” “King Overdosed” and “Kill Our Demons.”

The first track, “Intro,” presents the album’s theme by explaining that life can be painful. A female narrator says, “There are many ways to deal with this pain / Choose wisely,” which is repeated several times throughout the album’s 42-minute runtime.

On the title track, “KOD,” Cole sets the tone for the whole album. In the first verse, Cole responds to the question of why he won’t feature other rappers on his albums — a point of pride for Cole and his fans since his previous two albums with no features reached multi-platinum status — saying they “ain’t worthy to be on my shit” before diving into the topic of his own drug use.

On “Photograph,” Cole shifts his attention to social media addiction, rapping about a girl he met online. “Fell in love through photograph / I don’t even know your name / Wonder if you’d follow back / I hope to see you one day.”

“The Cut Off” introduces Cole’s pitched-down alter ego kiLL edward, who is the only person “featured” on the album. Cole explained on Twitter after the album dropped that the character was inspired by his stepfather, who broke his mother’s heart.

The album’s fifth track, “ATM” is a double entendre. ATM traditionally stands for Automated Teller Machine, but for the sake of this track, it also stands for “Addicted to Money,” which Cole confirmed in a tweet.

On this high-energy track, Cole addresses his relationship with money: “A million dollars, I count up in intervals / Without it I’m miserable / Don’t wanna fall off so I’m all in my bag / Thankin’ God like it’s biblical.” The chorus repeats the phrase “Count it up, count it up, count it up, count it.” It’s one of the less lyrical songs on the album, but it’s the track you’re most likely to hear people playing at ridiculous volumes while riding around with their windows rolled down.

“Kevin’s Heart” is about addiction to drugs and how it could lead Cole to infidelity. The title references comedian Kevin Hart and his admission to cheating on his wife in late December last year and Cole even had Hart star in the song’s music video.

The track’s final repeated lines – “They tell me ‘What’s done in the dark / Will find a way to shine’ / I done did so much that when you see you might go blind”– are about how any wrongs that are done will eventually be seen.

On “FRIENDS,” Cole clarifies the album’s theme by saying, “I wrote this shit to talk about the word addiction,” and addresses several acquaintances by name, although they were edited out. He subsequently lists many of the things people blame as the causes of their addiction — “the system,” police, single-parent households, politicians, trap music and more. “What I’m tryna say is the blame can go deep as seas / Just to blame ‘em all I would need like twenty CDs.”

The album’s outro called “Window Pain (Outro)” is bookended with audio of a little girl describing how her cousin was shot in the face, neck and stomach and why she believes his life was saved by God. It’s arguably the best track on “KOD.” The beat gives off an eerie vibe that works well with the subject matter.

In the chorus, Cole thanks God for the blessings he’s received and asks forgiveness for the times he was lost before contemplating everything he’s ever wanted and still wants. “All I wanna do is see my granny on the other side / All I wanna do is kill the man that made my momma cry.”

In the song’s only verse, Cole raps about violence in his hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina. He questions the gangs and drug use in the community before returning to the story of the little girl. “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 done been through.”

Following the outro, Cole included the track “1985 (Intro to ‘The Fall Off’)” which seems to be the intro to his next album. Many fans suspect this song is a direct response to rappers like Lil Pump and Smokepurpp who have dissed Cole. “I ain’t trippin’, listen good to my reply / Come here lil’ man, let me talk with ya / See if I can paint for you the large picture.”

Cole analyzes the current state of hip-hop and visualizes a less-than-stellar future for the “new wave” rappers of today. “Now you scramblin’ and hopin’ to get hot again / But you forgot you only popped ‘cause you was ridin’ trends.” He ends the song and album by assuring listeners and his adversaries that he isn’t going anywhere, saying, “I’ll be around forever ‘cause my skills is tip-top.”

On my first listen, I knew “KOD” was better than Cole’s last effort, “4 Your Eyez Only.” The subject matter, beats, lyrics and overall vibe are better. As of right now, “2014 Forrest Hills Drive” is still my favorite Cole album, but “KOD” is a close second. Hardcore Cole fans will love this album, but there’s plenty here for the average listener, as well.