Arts, Featured

REVIEW: ‘KOD’ by J. Cole is a rushed, fragmented composition

J. Cole performs live. His new album KOD was released April 20. PHOTO COURTESY PIXABAY

Everyone wants to be Kendrick Lamar. Fake deep rap songs and albums proliferated following his critical and commercial success. Signs of copycats are everywhere. Logic partnered with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to make “1-800-273-8255,” but the best lyrics he could come up with were “I don’t wanna be alive / I just wanna die today.”

Then there’s J. Cole. There are groups of people who think that Lamar should make a collaborative album with J. Cole, despite critics saying that the project would be a bust, considering that the two rappers are on completely different levels. Nothing J. Cole has released has even grazed the level of nuance Lamar has. And while fans may argue that J. Cole’s “2014 Forest Hills Drive” and “4 Your Eyez Only” went “platinum with no features,” that means nothing when Lamar has received more acclaim for albums that feature much better guest vocalists and producers.

Cole’s new record “KOD” just isn’t there. The North Carolina-based rapper tried to put together a cohesive concept album again, but instead made one without a solid focus. It’s not unlistenable, but it’s yet another sign that J. Cole is as uninventive as ever.

There’s little discernible variation on this album’s production. The beats are something between a tired boom bap vibe and modern trap. The first track, “Intro,” sounds like it will be J. Cole’s equivalent to Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly” — a mysterious saxophone riff accompanies several vocalists repeating the line “Choose wisely.” Unfortunately, the production on the rest of the album curtails the possibility of “KOD” being an innovative jazz-rap project.

The mellow beats are the only reason J. Cole isn’t referred to as a trap artist. His borrowed triplet flows and uninterested yet fast-paced delivery mirror those of Rich The Kid at times. The beats on “KOD” are just traditional trap beats minus arpeggiators and loud bass. Call them minimalist if you want, but they sound deliberately toned down so J. Cole’s vocals can shine through. Still, the beats feel hollow.

The problem with making J. Cole’s lyrics the focus is that they don’t carry the first half of this album. The track “KOD” sounds like a young SoundCloud rapper tried to mimic Vince Staples’ “Get The F*** Off My D***,” but he’s even more arrogant: “My s*** is gigantic / As big as the f*****’ Atlantic, I’m lit, b****.” If J. Cole thinks this lyrical content is going to save the lazy production, he’s sorely mistaken. After seven tracks, “KOD” sounds like the rap album equivalent of chasing an Ambien with melatonin.

But when “BRACKETS” comes on, J. Cole gets interesting. The song addresses tax money distribution, and his concern is genuine. It’s not spouted in a vitriolic fashion a la Cardi B. His argument is actually solemn and cogent. The second verse chronicles the story of a mother who lost her son, finishing with the lines, “Wiping tears away, grabbing her keys and sunglasses / She remember that she gotta file her taxes, damn.”

This is one of the most impactful lines of J. Cole’s career.

“Once an Addict – Interlude” follows “BRACKETS,” and while three minutes is a bit long for an interlude, the lyrics continue to be hard-hitting. J. Cole expands on themes he explored on his 2014 single “Apparently,” where he raps about how guilty he felt after leaving his mother behind in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Still, it sounds like his version of Kendrick Lamar’s “u.” Instead of leaving for a rap career like Lamar, J. Cole left for college. It’s a powerful track but he communicates familiar themes in a manner that pales in comparison to Lamar’s effort.

The second half of the album showcases J. Cole’s problem: he doesn’t know how to put an album together. The final songs on “KOD” are by far the strongest, but he leaves listeners with an unfinished shell of a concept album that so badly wants to be greater than it actually is.

There’s no doubt J. Cole has compelling stories and ideas to share. But he still hasn’t made one of his albums come full circle in a satisfying way. Granted, there are still going to be fans who place J. Cole among hip-hop’s greatest names while neglecting innovative artists such as Danny Brown, Freddie Gibbs, Milo or Aesop Rock. J. Cole isn’t as raunchy or controversial as XXXTENTACION or 6ix9ine, but is he one of the greatest? No.


  1. you clearly don’t know rap and have only listened to this album once.

  2. I agree with most the article then you lost me on “Kendrick copycat” (paraph) your argument is is baseless and asslicking tasteless lol kudos punk

  3. Also, they [] teased the album’s release since 2010 it was not a fan pushed idea.

  4. This is the most wack album review I’ve ever read. Maybe you should understand what you’re writing about before you spew uneducated word vomit from your mouth. Hollow production? Lamar wannabe? Bro, Cole has literally produced songs for Kendrick, whose dick you apparently can’t slide off of. You’re right when you say they’re on different levels, but that’s all it is. Not better, not worse, they’re different. They’re also two artists who have deep respect for each other’s skills. If Cole’s so inferior, why would Kendrick stoop so low to collaborate and create with him all the times that he has? Oh, and Triplet flows copying rich the kid? Yeah, maybe if you understood the concept of the album, you’d realize the irony in that and his take on the modern rap scene that’s a huge theme throughout the album. Cole didn’t copy that flow. He took it, chewed it up, and spit it back out in the form of intellectual, eloquent bars. That’s skill, and that’s the ironic satire that’s embedded so deep in this project that you couldn’t even find it. Take some time, decipher some of the bars on this album. Maybe you’ll learn a thing or two. Shell of a concept? Cole didn’t whiff on the concept bro, he sent it flying over your head.

  5. LoL! This whole article made me look up the writer’s contributions … seems like someone tries too hard to find flaws in everyone’s work.
    But you’re entitled to your opinion, wrong as it may be

  6. Reading this review made me laugh, a journalist trying to get a rise by being controversial. I’d love to know what music they listen to if you don’t rate KOD.

    “Everyone wants to be Kendrick” – you clearly don’t get it. Go and get a job on Fox News. Having a quick flick through your previous reviews of albums and you clearly like to bash good artists on purpose.

  7. Kai Hellberg check this now I don’t like J Cole but I found, with due respect, a better executed analysis of him .

  8. ARE YOU SERIOUS? Have you never heard “4 Your Eyes Only”??? That is exactly how you put an album together, you’re crazy. Did you not listen to the song FRIENDS on this album???
    There’s all sorts of trauma from drama that children see
    Type of shit that normally would call for therapy
    But you know just how it go in our community
    Keep that shit inside it don’t matter how hard it be
    Fast forward, them kids is grown and they blowing trees
    And popping pills due to chronic anxiety
    Please tell me that’s not one of the most deepest bars ever dropped in this decade.
    How could you say he is not one of the greatest when EVERY album hes made has gone platinum…That’s crazy dude.
    If you cannot see the beauty and intellect put into this album then you definitely do not have the aptitude to be a music critic.

  9. Sigh.. everyone talks a big game about Kendrick Lamar as if he is what conscious Rap should be but no one neglects the fact that he himself isnt much of a lyricist. His control verse was a bunch of nonsensical metaphors that really make no sense but his delivery and anger clouded the actual words so everyone gets impressed by it.

    Similarly his career has followed a similar path using different things as a guise that makes people feel like he is “Deeper” than Cole, but to be honest with you he really isn’t. While I believe he knows how to put together a better product (Main reason why I see he uses tricks and gimmicks), I feel like J Cole is more honest and straight foward.

    Thats the appeal of Cole, the same appeal that Pac had, that his words while not as lyrical as Biggies were honest and impactful. And this isnt a comparison of, [is Kendrick more Pac and Cole more Biggie] because thats an irrelevant argument for my point. The point is that Coles music has been consistently honest and straight foward, whereas I havent heard that from Kendrick in a while. Verses like Pride are great but its literally just an essay detailing his life with a couple of metaphors about fear using his age.

    What Kendrick excels at is writing a good essay, then spinning it with a gimmick, TPAB was all about the Pac interview, in which he goes back and makes sure he puts a line or two to connect the tracks while pushing a little more interview info at a time. A very well written essay that stays on theme. Cool. Then DAMN. is just the whole backwards nonsense that he essentially did on TPAB with the interview and on GKMC with the whole Sherane nonsense. It was dope to hear on GKMC, it was important but felt kind of whimsical hearing him just nod and agree to what Pac said;(Like a kid in class whose answer mirrors what someone right before him said but adding one more detail). And then with DAMN. his weakest essay in my honest opinion, the theme was there but ideas werent as concise, lyrics became less lyrical; he usee the same gimmicks to get people saying, “Wow, he is so good, that backwards thing in the end pure genius, it led up to his birth and how life couldve been” etc, etc but point being his lyrics were weaker and without the gimmicks and the support of others (features, production), I feel like its not even as good as KOD.

    Not to mention, TPAB sans the jazz collaborators who really contribute to the sound of the album, is decent in itself. GKMC is one of Kendricks strongest works because it can stand on its own without any Jazz features to make it “Contemporary” or the gimmick of Sherane.

    Back then the Good Kid had bars, now a days he’s a good song writer but thats not rap, rap is poetry, poetry has many sub levels of thought and elements to it. In that regard I can agree that Kendrick the way he pieces it together is better, but I don’t think its as wide as many people like to act like it is.

    Finally, I want the old non Gimmicky Kendrick back, I dont need to hear another album where 6 tracks use only the Left ear frequency but if you change the actual settings, you get 6 other tracks. Thats all gimmicks, its getting old and tired. I appreciate Coles honesty, the ideas he has makes you think, while mocking the mumble rappers in their own style. Thats obviously the juxtaposition of the songs, mock/ teach the new wave of mumble rappers that its an easy style, go back to his natural style and finally in his own native tounge give back his lesson to them, to help them grow.

    Anyway while ya’ll wait for the next Kdot Gimmick, Im waiting for the true rap god to drop his album. Patiently waiting for Act III : The Final Will and Testament of Timothy Elpadaro Flowers aka Le Dieu Noir aka Jay Electronica. Deeper than either of these two by long shot.

  10. I’m not a Cole fan by any stretch of the imagination, I vehemently dislike things about him from his lazy music to his almost rabid holier-than-thou fanbase, but this article is written in an even more rushed and even less focused manner than it’s very subject matter. The two opening pargraphs are wasted on making a point that makes little to no sense to anyone even mildly educated on the matter at hand, taking digs at the credibility of Cole’s career and heavily relying on a comparison to Kendrick Lamar’s success as its crux despite it being a largely unsupported argument. Saying that J. Cole wants to be Kendrick is just as mindless of an accusation as saying Danny Brown is a modern ODB rip off, or any other comparison in the same vein. The lines between Cole and Lamar’s successes are drawn clearly in this review, but speaking of an album as though it is a copy of another simply due to the implementation of jazz-rap instrumentals is a shallow argument through and through. My main beef mainly does lie within these two paragraphs, and solid points are made from then onward, I have no doubt in my mind that this fails as a concept album because Cole lacks the imagination to pull an idea of this calibre off. But an opening that veers so far from the path of relevancy and relies so heavily on baseless comparison, let alone normal comparison, is more than likely to roll the eyes of any potential reader.

  11. You didn’t even bother to address the overall theme of the album… are you even credible to write music reviews?

  12. You really need a life 🙂

  13. Scoopity whoop poop