J. Cole - KOD
It seems like all the best rappers have their self actualization record, that record where they push aside the harder tendencies and instead try to look deeper inward. J. Cole has been in this zone for some time, Kendrick did it with To Pimp a Butterfly and Logic did it with Everybody. Now it would be disingenuous to place this entire album in that category, but a lot of it does. "KOD" smashes through the intro with a harsher beat signaling Cole's return after 2016's 4 Your Eyez Only. I've talked about Prince's influence on J Cole at length in other reviews, but here it is really apparent. KOD sounds great in your ears, surrounding you with this mesh of hip hop, R&B and this other more experimental sound. Cole has been linking himself closer with the neo-soul movement than He has with other trap sounds, which is actually a breath of fresh air. You are likely not going to be hearing any of these tracks blasting out of cars or on radio stations, this is more of an album for you and a loved one to put on a vibe to. "ATM" feels like a truly elevated track, slick production design yet still seems tied really close with stuff Kendrick has done in the past. However is being compared to Kendrick that bad of a thing? He is probably the biggest rapper alive right now. The album becomes this stylized journey, shepherded by Cole through his thoughts and minds. Like the earlier referenced Prince, J. Cole can get lost in his own creativity employing interludes, skits and affected vocals that add to the vibe if they don't necessarily progress the album.
It does seem like that this is likely the last album that J. Cole can do this kind of music on. He has already passed through this territory and at this point ticked every box. If He wants to really blow us away he is going to have to do some bigger and bolder than what KOD has to offer. J. Cole also tends to always look at the wrold through only his own lens. This comes up in stark detail on "Once an Addict (Interlude)" as Cole recounts the story of his mother struggling with addiction and drinking to much after his stepfather had a child with another woman. However rather than empathy, hindsight has brought Cole more condemnation. He always maintains the moral high ground, even if the story doesn't really square. The record has some valid points, but they are also really surface level kind of shit. "1985 (Intro to "The Fall Off")" lays out Cole's message pretty plain, and in the most direct way we find on the album, but in the end we get it right? Rappers are doing to much of this, be careful because trap won't be popular forever and make sure you are keeping some of your creative juice for yourself are all fine messages, but one's we have been beaten over the head with at this point and Cole's assertion feels like preaching from on high rather than real insight. KOD is a fine album, but doesn't push as far as it should. If J. Cole wants to go down the hole of making something more experimental he needs to dive in head first, not just dip his toe.
6.9 out of 10