Just four days after his announcement of a new album, J. Cole returns to unleash his fifth studio LP, KOD. The polarizing 12-track project clocks in at 42 minutes of storytelling from hip-hop’s premier reporter. Boasting subdued production, the 33-year-old is given the opportunity to shine brightest with urgent emphasis carefully placed on each word throughout his introspective journey of varying flows.
The Dreamville CEO confirmed the different connotations of the acronym-titled album. “KOD. 3 meanings. Kids on Drugs King Overdosed Kill Our Demons. The rest of the album I leave to your interpretation,” he tweeted earlier Thursday (April 19) evening. The LP reportedly came together in just two weeks and is free of features besides the listed kiLL edward, who plays out as the amoral alter-ego of J. Cole himself.
On Monday (April 16), the Grammy-nominated MC held a free show for fans in NYC, as they lined up hours prior to the event in droves. Cole went on to perform the album in its entirety for lucky attendees, who had to be without their phones for the night. The following day, he held the same impromptu pop-up show across the pond in London.
Billboard ranks the top seven tracks on J. Cole’s revealing KOD album below.
7. “FRIENDS” Feat. kiLL edward
The Fayetteville, North Carolina, native attempts to break down the layered reasoning behind why people turn to drugs at various points in life. Cole’s alter ego, kiLL edward, holds down the chorus explaining why he needs narcotics to boost his inferior mindstate. With many rappers glorifying drug use in today’s hip-hop landscape, Jermaine contests that’s not the right coping mechanism to deal with issues. “I know you say it helps and no I’m not trying to offend/ But I know depression and drug addiction don’t blend/ Reality distorts and then you get lost in the wind,” the Roc Nation signee quips.
6. “Window Pain (Outro)”
KOD’s second-to-last song employs a powerful message from a child narrator, who explains the story of his cousin being shot. Cole responds to him on the outro, “So why do y’all think that bad stuff happen? Like why can’t the world just be all nice things?” The kid pauses for a second before defiantly answering with wisdom beyond his years. “[God’s] coming back to have us be his children and for us to see him for the first time so we can rejoice with him and have our time. And after we do that, he’s gonna restart the world.”
5. “The Cut Off” Feat. kiLL edward
KiLL edward’s catchy chorus sets the tone as a drug fiend, where the “Power Trip” rapper combats that with a complete 180. He admits to cutting out certain individuals from life to keep progressing as an individual. The 33-year-old spotlights those who have done him wrong in the past. “I got some n—as that still owe me an apology/ I’ma be the bigger man just like I always be,” Cole explains revenge is the Lord’s work. “Eventually but right now that’s hard for me/ I’m dreaming violent, I can’t tolerate disloyalty.”
4. “Kevin’s Heart”
Cole takes on the perspective of a drug abuser throughout the entirety of the T-Minus-produced track. He makes continuous references to Xanax and blunts that are used to cope and possibly lead to cheating on his love interest. The rapper drowns in his sorrows of inauspicious life choices. “All a nigga know is how to fuck a good thing up/ Run from the pain, sip lean, smoke tree up/ When I’m in your town press pound hit me up,” he raps. I ponder what Kevin Hart’s reaction will be once he gets to hear this song.
“Brackets” opens sampling a skit from Richard Pryor who is bragging about the amount of money he’s piling up through entertainment. Cole then grabs the mic to explain as he rises up tax brackets, he knows his money isn’t being distributed to the right places. Jermaine clearly feels the tax system is broken and is in need of a heavy revamp. “I guess they say my dollars supposed to build roads and schools/ But my niggas barely graduate, they ain’t got the tools/ Maybe ’cause the tax dollars that I make sure I send/ Get spent hirin’ some teachers that don’t look like them,” the St. John’s graduate rhymes, before questioning his own impact and the thought of another black president.
The album’s title track takes on a possible three names, which Cole previously alluded to on Twitter either being “Kids on Drugs,” “King Overdosed,” or “Kill Our Demons.” The self-produced tune finds the multi-faceted artist behind the boards in addition to rapping from the perspective of a kingpin drug dealer and user. “The potent outro highlights what many addicts fall victim to inside and out of the drug world. “Power, greed. money, Molly, weed/ Percs, Xannys, lean, fame,” A higher pitched sonic echoes, “And the strongest drug of them all, love.”
1. “1985 (Intro to ‘The Fall Off’)”
J. Cole concludes the project with his strongest bars yet, and even has some words for a choice rapper of the SoundCloud generation. Lil Pump had previously teased a diss song directed at Jermaine titled “Fuck J. Cole,” which Pump and SmokePurpp claimed to be just trolling. Instead of a true response, Cole maturely kicks game to the precocious neophytes of the industry. “These white kids love that you don’t give a fuck/ ‘Cause that’s exactly what’s expected when your skin black/ They wanna see you dab, they wanna see you pop a pill/ They wanna see you tatted from your face to your heels/ And somewhere deep down, fuck it, I gotta keep it real,” Cole astutely rhymes.