J Cole’s previous studio album is trash. This is the objective truth. Thus I was anxious when social media exploded with the news that Cole was releasing a project on April 20, thee high holiday for all them bummy ass stoners in the world.

His new project is better than good, but it isn’t good enough for an artist as successful and as talented as J Cole. His vexing insistence on not having any features in his projects and not using anybody outside the Dreamville record label limits the impact and the quality of his work. For example on the title track, KOD, the hook could have been better served by a happy trapper, like Young Thug or Lil Wayne.

“…When Cole tries to go pop, he simply can’t not pull it off by himself…”

Even though the production of the song is good, it would have been fire with a more experienced trap producer behind the decks. On the up side, Cole’s lyrics on the song are supreme, coming at you harder than Jacob Zuma on top of one of his friend’s daughters. That is the general vibe on this album when Cole tries to go pop, he simply can’t not pull it off by himself. It’s not within his nature to make music for these happy go lucky millennials. It’s evident on songs like ATM, Motiv8 and Kevin’s heart. Like any recovering addict will tell you, denial is the first step and people don’t change unless they want to change and I feel like Cole is in denial. No amount of amount of social media politicking is going to change his mind about the no features policy, we just have to trust he will come to the light himself.

On the flip side of things, the song Brackets is a beautiful sober meditation on tax and how the US government misuses his hard earned money to serve their own agendas. Ignoring the plight of the poor minority and in some instances fuelling it. J Cole is in the pocket when he is giving you his honest opinion about certain issues on top of a boom bap inspired beat. On the track 1985 Cole condescendingly addresses new age rappers, giving them advice about the music industry and life in general without sounding too preachy, it is a masterpiece of a joint. So is photograph ,The cut off and once an addict.

This project is an improvement by Cole relative to his last one. His exploration of emotional pain is not deep but it is profound and necessary. It is an anecdote aimed at contemporary youth culture and its obsession with narcotics. Showing the youth that one needs to find a healthier way to deal with their emotional baggage or face the consequences of carelessness. Sonically though there is a lot of room for improvement and I hope Cole realises that. But I am not hopeful considering how much commercial success the project has received already. He has a loyal fan base which sticks by him no matter what, enabling him to ignore his drawbacks and continue as if ‘he is the man of these streets…’ How’s that for healthy choices.

Image Source: DJ Booth

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