Photo via Youtube/J. Cole
Just a week ago at 12:10AM, I was laying down that early Friday morning on April 20th, I refreshed Tidal, and the album KOD popped up in the new albums category.
I’ve been a supporter of J. Cole since Late December of 2009, when a friend introduced me to the song, “Dreams” from The Warm Up mixtape. I’ve been listening to him ever since. As both a Hip Hop listener and a poet, I love artists who use their lyrical ability to tell stories, as well as confront the world’s current problems. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with fun anthems coming from artists like Cardi B and Migos (whom I usually listen to when I need a moment of fun), but it is also good to balance it out with music that grasps the consciousness of Hip Hop.
With that said, KOD (aka ‘King Overdose’ or ‘Kids on Drugs’ or ‘Killing Our Demons’) is remarkable in many ways. Addiction is a topic that some folks avoid discussing, due to the shame and ridicule that goes with it, and I love that this album serves as somewhat of a detox and intervention. Two weeks ago, I noticed a shift in focus on social media once Cole announced his new album. I realized that most Hip Hop fans just love what he has to say, especially since he usually stays away from expressing his opinions on social media. He represents a portion of Hip Hop that is unfortunately rare nowadays in the era of quick music consumption and mainstream success, and J. Cole’s music is art that you cannot digest in a day. In simpler terms, “the real is back,” and his album is bound to enlighten…and go platinum with no real features.
Since the Born Sinner album, I have refrained myself from shuffling his music during my first listen. I’m sure there was thought and reason behind the track-list order, which presents an experience, rather than just a few songs being thrown together. Additionally, you can tell that the album slowly changes the mood around the 5th and 6th song. Although I love the entire album, I want to talk about five songs that touched me the most, including a few mentions of others I either don’t like or still processing the meaning. Also, I hope to enlighten you with ideas that you may have overlooked. Let’s start with “Photograph.”
“Photograph”: I know all too well about social media addiction, and it’s incredibly hard to train your mind to stop looking at your phone. It’s literally a drug. If you consume too much, it becomes unhealthy for your mental space. I love that he has a record that addresses the obsession, lust, and questionable love that you can develop from just looking at a picture. This can also apply to self-esteem, jealousy, envy, and many other negative emotions when someone reacts to an image that appears “perfect”. Additionally, he addresses the internal thoughts around comments, clapbacks, and tweeting when he says “N***** be talking so slick / I’m not the n**** for lip / puttin’ my heart in a click /can’t see my heart it don’t fit / don’t think I’m built for this sh** / too busy thinking what if.” Arguing back and forth on social media is completely draining and destructive because this virtual world is filled with millions of different views and opinions, with no intentions to change. Therefore, we have to figure out how to distance ourselves from the ideologies of this world, and notice the blue skies and real-life environments that your phone cannot compete with. It should not have any control over your life.
“The Cut Off”: This cut from the album is my absolute favorite. This song is where I noticed the change in tone of the album because I detected the effects of depression, changes in life, and the need to mask the pain with drugs and alcohol. Personally, I don’t take well to ending relationships, especially long-term ones with family and friends, and during those moments I began to evaluate my worth and needs in order to “choose wisely” of my surroundings. The people who you share your space with is supposed to energize your life, and when it comes time to you grow apart from someone, it can be difficult. Time will tell. I’m still trying to figure out Cole’s alter ego, KiLL edward, but I felt the depression through his words with “I know heaven is a mindstate…but I keep on falling down” and “If I die, I don’t know–I don’t know–I don’t know.” I’ve gone through similar situations while being sober, so you can just tell that numbing the pain through intoxication has no positive outcome. Let me know if I’m missing anything, because this song is very complex.
Just two side notes, I guarantee you that this song will sound amazing live in concert, and the repetition of lyrics throughout the album was lowkey powerful because I feel like he wants us to remember particular phrases.
“ATM (aka Addicted To Money)”: This was the perfect song to have the first visual off the album, and I’m glad because it made the song stronger. This was my least favorite song at first listen, despite it being my favorite flow and rhythm out of the whole album. With help of the video, it made me realize how unfortunate and devastating it is that some people depend on money to bring them happiness, while the obsession over it does the opposite. In addition, we have to watch the people around us, like the woman who played Cole’s girl in the video, because they may have interior motives, and their love perceived to be genuine may just be the love for your assets and opportunities you can give them. Money can get you anything in the world, but don’t waste years of your life focusing on it while you miss out on memories that don’t require it.
Also, I’m sure many people mentioned this, but the video gives me nostalgia due to my familiarity of how Busta Rhymes used to be so creative and animated with his music videos. Check out the video for “ATM” below:
Warning: Explicit Language
“BRACKETS”: This is my second favorite cut off the album. It basically focus on the issues of taxation, and how the more money you make, the more tax money that you end up paying—with no say in where your money goes. I heard a few people complaining on the amount of singing he did on this record, and I actually have concerns myself. I felt like the first two verses didn’t connect well to the third verse, which was extremely straightforward and factual. Do you think the second verse is his alter ego, KiLL edward, who just wanted to sing something about filling a void? I’m just a tad bit frustrated that I can’t seem to understand that verse, but the third verse definitely was the strength of the song…however I’m sure my thoughts will change next week once I listen a bit further.
“Once an Addict (Interlude)”: This record is different from the others because it tackles the effects that addiction has on family, as well as the mix of anger and empathy of seeing our strong figures have weak moments. In the video trailer of KOD, Cole talks about how we as children tend to forget that parents are going to make mistakes and will at times definitely disappoint us. However, a child at a young age is not at fault for being clueless in helping their parents’ kill their demons. Another song that goes directly into mental health and fighting our demons is “FRIENDS”.
Overall, this album has infinite layers to it that I could go on forever talking about each song. Although I enjoyed songs like 1985 (Intro to “The Fall Off”), the remaining songs I still need to listen and understand a bit more, especially “Kevin’s Heart”. It was interesting to hear from a man’s point of view on the repercussions, doubts, and certainties regarding commitment and infidelity, but Kevin Hart’s cameo in the video ruined the song for me. I enjoyed the idea of not putting Kevin as the center of the song, because I know that it means more than just his previous scandal.
J. Cole has once again made me admire Hip Hop and its craft even more, and I’m more attentive to the problems that others face behind closed doors. I hope that this album spark more creatives, poets, writers, and musicians to be true to themselves, and to never ignore the pain that is impossible to hide.