J.Cole’s new album ‘KOD’ is not just for people with bookshelves, good credit, kindles and a 401K plan. Yes, it’s deep and lyrical enough for a traditional conscious rap audience. But this album is targeting another group.
…..millennial hypebeasts who follow trends with social media infatuations, seeking instant gratification from ‘likes’, quick success, and affiliating with what’s considered cool at the time.
The North Carolina MC is giving a free therapy session for the industry at the right time. ‘KOD’ is a self-help guide for anyone trying to make it from the bottom to the top. But this all depends on how the ‘top’ is defined and who’s defining it.
I’m not surprised this album dethroned the mainstream superstar Taylor Swift’s Spotify record. His title track ‘KOD’ broke the opening day record for most streams in the U.S. Here’s the breakdown: J.Cole’s KOD – 4.2m, Taylor Swift’s Look What You Made Me Do – 3.8m, Kendrick Lamar’s DNA -3.6m, J.Cole’s Photograph 3.55m, The Weeknd’s Call Out My Name – 3.5m.
The album leaves a lot to the imagination. For example: What does ‘KOD’ even mean? According to Cole, it could mean three things: kids on drugs, king overdose, or kill our demons. It all depends on how you interpret it. But all three title options have one thing in common – addiction. You’d have to listen to the album to pick up on how many forms of addiction he touches on. Here’s a hint – a whole lot.
When you see how successful the album already is with little promotion, it makes you wonder how a conscious rap project could be so relevant and get this kind of love? Because he’s talking about current topics. This 5th LP is different. It taps into a mentorship he sees missing in the industry and the hip-hop community.
While we love the hype and come-up of artists who rise to the top quickly, that comes with a price. Can they maintain that success? Will their fans continue to support them as they grow from their teenage years and into adulthood? Or are they just hot now and gone tomorrow? Cole – whether you agree with him or not – is breaking down the game to a microscopic level. It’s not meant to offend but just provide the kind of prospective you gain once you’ve been in the game almost 10 years strong.
Just think about it. Cole came up the same time we became familiar with Drake, Wale, Kendrick, Cudi, B.O.B, Big Sean, Wiz, Meek Mill, Big K.R.I.T, and so many other breakthrough artists around the year 2009. I call all these artists the baby GOATS. They’ve survived long enough to know their place in the industry, but also have seen so many changes, styles, trends, fads and ‘new waves’ while maintaining their authenticity.
The times and waves have changed. While I may personally embrace the new ‘freshmen’ class of hip-hop/trap music more than J.Cole, I know there’s still a place for conscious rap albums like KOD to take off and break records. It’s easy to criticize “SoundCloud rap” and “mumble rap” and dismiss it as ‘not real hip-hop’ but that’s part of the culture now. Just look at how successful it’s become.
In this album, I don’t think Cole has beef with the new sounds, he just wants to warn them about things to avoid (and he has a loooooong list throughout the 12 tracks). The good news is there’s enough room in the industry for a Migos album to sell millions of copies and for a Kendrick Lamar album to win a Pulitzer prize. That’s variety. And it says alot about the taste bud of hip-hop consumers – they love it all.
As I listened to Cole’s album, it reminded me of how the legendary producer NO I.D helped shape the style of Jay-Z’s 4:44 project. The beats weren’t overpowering. The lyrics guided you through the album instead of highly-produced beats that have a personality of its own. It’s a reversal effect from what we’re used to. Cole produced the majority of the album himself. Not surprised because it seems carefully stitched together. He sampled Junior Mafia’s 1994 classic ‘Get Money’, Kanye’s 2004 track ‘We Don’t Care’, the legendary Bill Withers’ 1972 song “Kissing My Love.”
My favorite track from the album is ‘1985’ because Cole takes jabs at the industry without coming from a rude place. He cares about the art as an artist and isn’t afraid to tell you how he feels whether you agree with him or not.
The big question in this ‘self-help guide’ of an album is, who in the industry will listen? Will it shift any artists’ direction? Will the audience he’s targeting even listen? I mean, they don’t have to. I do know one thing. When lyricism gets mainstream love, it makes you wonder why that’s so rare. I mean, just look at the Spotify numbers. I’m happy to see a time in hip-hop where a project like this can make a big splash. The industry is at an intersection right now. And with this album, Cole is standing in the middle of the intersection as a crossing guard trying to guide traffic to detour routes instead of the ‘fast lane’ he considers hazardous roads.