Dreamville’s conscious king is back once again for his fifth studio album and despite it’s flaws, it gives us a side to J Cole we very rarely see; producing some of his best songs and ideas to date, as well as some of his worst.
J Cole is far from a stranger in the eyes of music fans, often seen as one of the most idolised rappers of his generation thanks to his anecdotal style and understated approach. Memes are made of the fact that Cole doesn’t get features on his recent albums and still finds success, and it would appear that this album here is no different; breaking the 24 stream record on Apple Music that was before held by Drake for his 2016 album ‘VIEWS’.
There is one name ‘featured’ on this album and it is that of KiLL edward, a completely unknown name to anyone. He features on the songs ‘The Cut Off’ and ‘FRIENDS’ but when you listen to his voice, it becomes apparent that it is in fact an edited vocal delivery from Cole himself, in true Cole fashion he is the only feature on his own damn album. I personally feel like this move and the performances the name goes under aren’t really worth shouting home about, but I can understand why he would do this.
The one obvious change to J Cole in this album compared to others is that he appears to have got more aggressive in his songs, opting for more of a trap sound with boom blast tracks like ‘KOD’ and ‘ATM’. With these harder beats came a less reflective rapper and instead a side to J Cole which flexed about his immense wealth and fame, mentioning sex and drugs loosely like he’s a Soundcloud wonderkid. Speaking of which, on ‘Photograph’ Cole opts for a slightly different to usual flow at times and he raps it with more energy which is great. The only problem is that it sounds like a straight grab from how Ski Mask The Slump God raps, this may be a reach but as far as I see it this is an obvious flow grab which isn’t cool.
This album isn’t all weed and women though, there are so many crucial themes that J Cole discusses and the layers provided by the Hollywood bred rapper are, as always, flawless. The tackling of his mother’s alcohol abuse towards the end of the album is insightful and agony on the heart but heaven on the ears. ‘Once An Addict (Interlude)’ shows a real vulnerability to Cole as he recalls how much he struggled to console his mother in the right ways during her difficult times; the story is compelling as it always is with J Cole and his delivery makes the song all the more personal.
Important messages are aplenty on this album, and none more so than on ‘BRACKETS’ where Cole looks at the crooked system he feels America are living in at the moment. The first half, in all fairness, passes by smoothly thanks to the fantastic beat but it’s the second half that really needs to be discussed. It is the tale of a mother who loses her son after he gets shot in the street, shot by guns that are funded by taxpayers and brought into dangerous urban ghettos like the one Cole himself was raised. On the day of the child’s funeral, the mother remembers she has her taxes to file in a poignant finale to a gripping story of tragedy in Trump’s America.
Cole plays the prophet role on the final song which is intriguingly titled ‘1985 – Intro to “The Fall Off”‘ which could possibly tease another project after this one. J Cole is often given an old head label in the rap game because of his style and the ideas he has of being a voice for the youth with his music, so when Lil Pump called him out last year, we knew the response would be an epic. Cole drags him on occasion, but for the most part it is advice for young rappers, telling them to stop riding trends and splashing money, instead asking they think about impact and security. The last line is a real mic drop moment as Cole claims “in five years you gon’ be on Love & Hip Hop” which is a truly damning verdict for any rapper currently blowing up.
In reality, this is a real return to form for J Cole who always has something to say, but no matter how hard he tries, I fear that we will never hear a Cole album as good as the mesmerising 2014 Forest Hills Drive. Look, ‘KOD’ is good, bordering on really good with some of Cole’s greatest performances ever, with the title track surely being an upper tier song of his now; the only issue is that there are dull moments on this and there is also the feeling that Cole likes to fall back into the trap of his old tricks. The worst thing Cole can do is try too hard and there are a couple of times he falls victim of this on here, but the good outweighs the bad without a shadow of a doubt.