J. Cole – KOD (2LP)
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If the cover of 4 Your Eyez Only didn't send a clear enough signal regarding J. Cole's disinterest in supplying listeners with an entertaining diversion, the dystopian cereal-box-look of the follow-up, replete with an obvious disclaimer, should get the point across. Moreover, the acronymic title of the rapper/producer's fifth album stands for Kids on Drugs, King Overdosed, and Kill Our Demons. Unremittingly joyless, the set is nonetheless commendable for an absence of creative compromise and reflects the time as accurately as any other contemporaneous release. It's related exclusively by an alternately cold-blooded and nearly desensitized Cole, twice present in pitched-down form as a hollowed-out addict named kiLL edward. Only one track is neither produced nor co-produced by Cole. The beats are often listless and skeletal, accessorized with bleary keyboards, fitting no one's conception of ear candy, though they complement the lyrical content. The primary theme indeed is addiction -- not only to chemicals, but to technology and consumerism as well -- with contextual allusions to its causes and bleak illustrations of its effects. Most compelling of all is "Once an Addict," a regretful reflection on struggling as a child and young man to cope with the toll heartbreak and alcohol took on his mother. Cole's few departures from the narrative method are sometimes for the worse, such as the point on "KOD" where he gets combative about the lack of guests on his records and deflates boastful rationale with some of his weakest wordplay. Two other instances conversely make for highlights. "Brackets" sharply turns from a millionaire bleating about paying taxes to a detailed treatise on who does and doesn't benefit from the process. Finale "1985 (Intro to 'The Fall Off')" is straight talk directed at a certain sect of younger commercial rappers, mixing sharp cultural commentary with condescension and guidance: "These white kids love that you don't give a fuck/'Cause that's exactly what's expected when your skin black." As the value of Cole's witticisms, and the intellect required to decrypt full meaning of his verses, continues to be debated, the increased strength in his clear-cut writing evinces promise of greater work ahead.