Seconds into J Cole’s new album “KOD,” I immediately knew I was going to experience a hip hop masterpiece that rivals Kendrick Lamar’s “Damn” in terms of lyrical genius, and is a welcome departure from the cartoonish caricatures that dominate hip hop and rap music today.
First things first, this album is not perfect. The biggest drawback on this album are the beats which cause each song to sound too similar. If not for spoken word samples or the jazzy melodies that preface tracks like “Motiv8“and “Kevin’s Heart,” this album would sound like 42 minutes of the same tempo, with slight variations in the drum and bass patterns. However, it is also the jazz influences that bolster this album and differentiate it from many of his hip hop peer’s efforts. Whether it is the Miles Davis and John Coltrane inspired trumpet and saxophone that play behind the album’s invocation, or the piano and drum parts in “The Cut Off,” I can’t help but feel relieved to hear something uniquely different than the harsh and simplistic trap beats that other artists are using.
But the true art of this album lies within its lyrics. J Cole is the equivalent of a hip hop Bob Dylan, an eloquent story teller who invites listeners to journey through his mind and heart as he raps about topics such as his past drug use, toxic relationships, and the trappings of success. Much like his previous work, J Cole is not afraid to be self-deprecating in his lyrics. This honesty is a stark contrast to that of other rappers like Lil Pump and Tekashi 69, whose songs are often so self-aggrandizing that one can’t help but wonder if the overt cockiness is a diversionary tactic to hide their lack of talent and self-confidence. One example of J Coles lyrical brilliance is the interlude, “Once an Addict,” which describes J Cole’s history with his mother’s alcoholism and his inability to prevent her downward spiral. Compare this lyrical content to that of any other rapper that is dominating the charts that isn’t named Kendrick Lamar or Logic, and I guarantee you that J Cole is one of the few who emphatically sounds articulate.
This takes me to the highlight of the album, the aptly titled “1985 – Intro to the Fall Off.” This track is the equivalent of musical napalm being dropped on all the detractors and lesser talented rappers who have questioned J Cole’s talent in their own songs and on social media. In essence, this is a throwback to the classic hip hop diss track aimed at the rapper Lil Pump, whose profanity laced rants about J Cole and his music went viral. However, unlike classic diss tracks like Nas’ “Ether” and Ice Cube’s “No Vaseline,” J Cole chooses to keep his subjects name out of the lyrics and paraphrases the subject’s own words into a powerful verse about their lack of originality and longevity in the history of hip hop. Where a lesser artist could have simply relied on cursing their opponent, J Cole simply used his intelligence to address this situation and maintaining his dignity and class.
Masterpiece is a strong adjective to use when describing a work of art. Opinions are subjective, and where one person may see an outstanding piece, another person may look at the same work and see it as derivative and uninspired. And that’s the beauty of art and music in itself. It affects every person differently and can lead to fun experiences or heated debates. However, what cannot be disputed is the pure talent and imagination that J Cole demonstrated with his lyrics throughout this album, and I am positive that sometime in the next decade J Cole will also be honored with a Pulitzer Prize for his lyrics as well.