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.

@BigSean: ‘Finally Famous’ Album Review

With his catch phrase “I Do It”, Detroit emcee Big Sean can now sit back and say it in past tense. His debut album Finally Famous, which released on June 28,  received raving reviews and positive feedback from the hip-hop community.

After the first day of being released, the album was projected to sell close to 100,000. After the first week, the album sold 84,566 copies. This is a huge accomplishment for two reasons. First, the album leaked two weeks before it even dropped. Second, even when it dropped, the Internet makes it easy to illegally download almost anything. For Big Sean to sell those many records is a testament of his fans’ loyalty.

Finally Famous is a representation of Big Sean’s progress as an artist. Back in 2007, the Detroit emcee dropped his first mixtape titled Finally Famous: The Mixtape. He would follow that mixtape with Finally Famous: Vol. 2 and Finally Famous: Vol. 3. As he continued to build up his credibility and artistic vision, Big Sean planned to execute the content for his album.

The first single “My Last” featuring Chris Brown has remained a fan favorite on music countdowns and the airwaves. Besides Chris Brown, the album has features from industry heavyweights like his mentor Kanye West, Roscoe Dash, Lupe Fiaco, Wiz Khalifa, Chiddy Bang and The Dream.

The intended second single off the album “I Do It” is starting to bow down to the contagious third single “Marvin Gaye & Chardonnay” track, with Kanye West blessing a few verses and Atlanta’s own Roscoe Dash gracing the catchy and melodic hook.

Big Sean has not failed in masterminding a classic album. The young 23 year old Detroit native, proving to be a workaholic,  plans on dropping a new mixtape in a few weeks. Now that’s a constant flow of G.O.O.D Music. Go listen to Big Sean’s labor of love and buy the album Finally Famous.