J.Cole’s new album ‘KOD’ is a self-help guide for millennial hypebeasts

jcole album

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 personally embrace the new ‘freshmen’ class of hip-hop/trap music, 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.

What Mannie Fresh’s career teaches about ‘Homeboy Business’

cashmoneyFact: Mannie Fresh is one of the best hip-hop producers of all time. He may be too humble to claim that, so I’ll say it.

That distinct New Orleans signature sound that got the world’s attention would not have been the same without him. As a producer, the sonic architect gave us epic and memorable tracks like “The Block Is Hot”, “Go DJ”, “Number One Stunna”, “Back That Thang Up”, “Set It Off”, “Get Your Roll On” and many more. As a hitmaker, not only did he reinvent southern hip-hop, but he helped create the rise of (what appeared to be) an unstoppable dynasty.

The block was hot in the mid 90’s thanks to his Cash Money crew – Juvenile, Baby, Turk, B.G and this young teen who would become a G.O.A.T. It’s hard to believe Lil’ Wayne was just 16 years old when he graced the hook on “Bling Bling.” The song would foreshadow what was ahead – a lifestyle the group craved. The type of success that can take you from Holly Grove to Hollywood.

Before I go any further, let me just say New Orleans as a music scene was popping for several other reasons. Master P was making a name for himself after his success with ‘bout it, bout it’ as he crafted his own label with a down south gritty sound.

But now let’s go back to that “fly as a son of a gun, son of a stunna…”

With the success of Wayne and Cash Money, we got to see the undeniable creativity of Fresh. Because of him, New Orleans had its own identity as a Southern hip-hop scene. A city that in the 90’s competed for notoriety against the future mecca of hip-hop: Atlanta. The Southern region was demanding respect. And Mannie Fresh helped the region gain that. Same way Organized Noize and the Dungeon Family brought the spotlight to the A.

Mannie Fresh often times said the mid 90’s was a defining moment for the music business industry. Artists got to see how much money they could make as entrepreneurs and businessmen. They only got in it to get out of the projects. They learned that putting ‘the pain’ of their life experiences in the music could help connect them with people all over the country.

But one thing Mannie Fresh regrets is doing “homeboy business.” This is when artists and producers (who work alongside lifelong friends) don’t properly document business deals, songwriter and producer credits, royalties, publishing rights, etc. As soon as the friendship goes south, millions of dollars are on the line.

In his latest album, Rick Ross touched on this topic in the song “Idols Become Rivals.” In the track, Rozay said Birdman’s allegedly questionable business practices ripped apart the Cash Money dynasty. As a hip-hop fan watching it all unfold from the sidelines, Ross says he prays Mannie Fresh will bounce back from the legal issues with Cash Money once he left the label.

The entire industry realizes Mannie Fresh is one of the greatest. But he had nothing to compare his come-up to. He had to learn from his own mistakes on how to make the right kind of business moves. When you treat the beginning of your rap career like a hobby, there are opportunities you can miss out on that can be critical down the road. Like not having the rights to your instrumentals, lyrics or brand.

Learn from Mannie Fresh. Yes, trust your circle but make the right moves for  the longevity. So when you get hit with that “It’s not personal, it’s business”, you know the business is taken care of. Twenty years after making “Back That Thang Up”, the song continues to bring in revenue and get radio play. Something they might not have thought of as young moguls in the making.

I’ve listened to several interviews recently where Fresh tells aspiring artists to avoid “homeboy business.” Do it the right way. Loyalty is royalty. But at some point in your career, you’ll have to be able to separate loyalty from royalty.

As a hip-hop fan, I look forward to the day when a Cash Money reunion tour will be a reality.  Puff’s Bad Boy has been able to do that. And Cash Money was the Bad Boy of the South so here’s to hoping that will happen someday.

[VIDEO] Atlanta hip-hop artist CyHi The Prynce releases debut album

Atlanta’s very own Grammy-nominated rapper CyHi The Prynce, who was signed by Kanye West back in 2010, now has an early Christmas present for us.

The Stone Mountain native has released his debut album “No Dope on Sundays.”

CyHi sat down with me and tells me his project has a deep message for the youth and is meant to motivate his fans to not fall victim to peer pressure.

“A lot of times we don’t have that dialogue between one another, because we feel we have to live up to this certain kind of status or certain tough guy. A status where if we had communication in our neighborhoods, I think that would lower a lot of different crimes,” he explains.

The album features some of the industry’s most successful artists like Kanye West, 2 Chainz and Schoolboy Q.

11Alive’s Neima Abdulahi asked CyHi how he chose the album title. The Prynce says it came from the spiritual message woven into the tracks. He goes on to explain how growing up in a spiritual household kept him out of trouble. Now he wants to help others do the same.

CyHi says “No Dope On Sundays” represents his growth in the music industry over the last decade and how he lyrically stands out from other artists.

“I always made my name off being myself. So, I kind of wanted to stay myself. I never was that successful trying to be somebody else. I just never tried, he said.”

The album is now available online.

Recently murdered rappers share striking similarities: They ‘got it out the mud’ and had next

image2Hip-hop doesn’t pull triggers. Jealousy does. Anger does. The storyline of murdered rappers in the hip-hop game has striking similarities.

Young rappers who ‘got it out the mud.’ Emerging stars who had next, but next never came. Artists who never had nothing handed. Took nothing for granted. But somehow managed to get a glimpse of the good life – successful mixtapes, radio buzz, hometown name recognition, support from well-respected artists, strip club DJs, and grassroot campaigns in the streets.

When you start getting that kinda love, you start feeling like Clayton County’s Jigga man. Montgomery’s BIG. Or even Bankhead’s Puff.

We witnessed their come-ups. Bankroll Fresh. Doe B. Slim Dunkin. Dolla. Lil Snupe. Yung Mazi.

Yung-Mazi-Shot-AgainAugust 6, 2017. Atlanta’s very own Yung Mazi was shot multiple times outside of a pizza joint. The talented Kevin Gates affiliate survived prior shootings that could have easily taken his life. His death was mourned by the entire hip-hop community, serving as a reminder of just how dangerous the rap game can be.  Jibril Abdur-Rahman was murdered at 31 years old. The case is still unsolved.

bankrollMarch 4, 2016. Bankroll Fresh was killed outside of a recording studio in Atlanta. Fresh was big timing for an independent artist. Worked with 2Chainz, Gucci Mane, Jeezy, Zaytoven and so many others. His song “Hot Boy” had the streets on lock. It was an instant new anthem. Couldn’t go anywhere without hearing it. Street Money Worldwide was his life. He wore it like a badge of honor. Fresh died at the age of 28. Trentavious White’s murder is still unsolved.

lil snupeJune 20, 2013. Meek Mill’s protege Lil Snupe had it all figured out at a young age. The 18-year-old Dream Chasers rapper who was on the rise died from multiple gunshot wounds in Louisiana. The teen had the rap game’s attention. Boosie Badazz worked with him. DJ Khaled. Trae Tha Truth. The GOAT Curren$y. Artists hustle for decades to even hop on a track with one of these big name artists. But Snupe did it. At just 18 years old, he live out his dream. Now we may never know how far he could have taken it. Rest in peace Addarren Ross.

DOE-BDecember 28, 2013. Up-and-coming rapper Doe B was shot dead at a nightclub in Montgomery. He was signed to T.I’s label Grand Hustle and managed by DJ Frank White. I remember the buzz he was getting… so unreal. “Let Me Find Out” was just starting to blow up. His mixtape Baby Jesus was popping. And then it all ended so fast. So soon. The South’s Biggie gone before he could prove to the world he could be just as famous as Brooklyn’s Christopher Wallace. Glenn Thomas was dead at 22 years old.

slim-dunkinDecember 16, 2011. Slim Dunkin gunned down before he reached his potential. If you followed the Atlanta rap scene back then, you’d know Dunk has been making noise on his collabs with Waka Flocka Flame. The Clayton County representer was a rising star on Bricksquad Monopoly. He was also close friends with Gucci Mane. While at a recording studio, a fight broke out and then someone pulled out a gun. Killing Mario Hamilton. He was only 24 years old.

dolla

May 18, 2009. Atlanta rapper Dolla had just signed with Akon’s Konvict Musik and was just about to finish up his debut album. With industry ties to Akon, T-Pain, Diddy and Missy Elliot, the young rapper had stardom potential. Dolla was in Los Angeles to finish his album when he was shot dead. Gunned down at a shopping mall. Roderick Anthony Burton II was just 21 years old.

All these rappers left too soon. Their family members probably wonder every single day what could have been. They all came from humble beginnings. So humble, it’s hard to distinguish which struggle is connected to which town. Somehow Clayton County shares the same pain of Montgomery and Baton Rouge if you listen to all of their lyrics.

We don’t have to know exactly who murdered them to know it most likely stemmed from jealousy and hatred. Every industry veteran will tell you that. As a reporter, I’ve interviewed Bankroll Fresh’s family multiple times and talked with Yung Mazi’s friends for our breaking news coverage on 11Alive News (the NBC affiliate in Atlanta). They all express the same pain. The industry tends to have an idea of who got next years in advance. But, someone may not want to see you shine if they can’t.

They all attempted to make it out of the trap… like the previous generation of murdered rappers: Tupac (unsolved). Jam Master J (unsolved). Notorious BIG (unsolved). Soulja Slim (unsolved). Mac Dre (unsolved). Big L. and so many more.

As many cases of murdered rappers remain unsolved and more aspiring artists like Bambino Gold lose their life before they reach their dreams, it’s easy to blame the entire genre. That’s the blame game we’ve been hearing since hip-hop started to become a reflection of the environment the artists hail from. That’s why the legendary Chuck D said hip-hop is the CNN for the streets.

But now, more hip-hop artists are reaching out to the youth to send a message that violence is NOT the answer. To not always mimic what they hear and see. To handle their conflicts in non-violent ways. Maybe this will help save the future generation of rappers coming up. You know, aspiring artists hoping to make a name for themselves. Hoping to make it out the mud and make a mill. Long live Bankroll, Snupe, Mazi, Dolla, Doe B and Dunk.

Author: Neima Abdulahi, news reporter for 11Alive News (NBC Atlanta). Follow me on Instagram: NeimerDreamer