PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

J. Cole Works on His Coping Mechanisms with 'KOD'

J. Cole explores coping with pain in a loosely conceptual form on KOD with varying effectiveness.

J. Cole

Dreamville / Roc Nation

20 April 2018

Conscious rappers have arguably never had quite the platform and success they're enjoying in this very moment of music history. Sure it all started with Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five trying not to lose his head in 1982. Sure Public Enemy called on the world to "Fight the Power" in 1990. But in 2018, largely due to a Pulitzer Prize-winning Kendrick Lamar and others who have been able to combine impactful themes and honest life lessons with tactful and masterful instrumentation and production, conscious has cut right to the heart of the mainstream. But with great exposure comes great responsibility. Maybe that's why Kanye West finds it imperative to now flood his follower's Twitter feeds with proverbial snippets of "wisdom". Rappers are feeling the need more than ever to bring knowledge, wisdom, and understanding to their fans, whether they've gained those things or not.

With no hints of subtlety, J. Cole released his message to the youth on 4/20. The theme of KOD centers around the opening words spoken by a female voice: "Life can bring much pain. There are many ways to deal with this pain. Choose wisely." Cole explores these coping mechanisms in loosely conceptual form over the 42 minutes of the album to varying effectiveness. Like the obviousness of KOD's release date, many of the offerings on the album come with little tact and rely more on the strength of the message than artful delivery. The coping mechanisms are called out in the outro of the title track: "Power, greed, money, Molly, weed, Percs, Xannys, lean, fame, and the strongest drug of them all... love." From the onset of the album, we know what we're in store to receive. Whereas DAMN. finds Kendrick Lamar twisting and turning through wickedness and weakness, wrestling often through the same issues found here, Cole delivers it straight.

He is self-aware of his tone though as he delivers on "FRIENDS", "I understand this message is not the coolest to say / But if you down to try it I know of a better way / Meditate / Don't medicate." But being self-aware can't cover the fact that Cole here seems to distance himself with his tone from the Lils he's trying to look out for. Not until the closing tracks of the album is Cole personal enough to connect with his target audience, which is exactly why that audience has responded in mockery. "Wow. You get so much props. You dissed a 17-year-old," Lil Pump responded. While Smokepurpp at a show enticed his whole audience to chant, "Fuck J. Cole!"

Yes, these are the juvenile actions of a 17 and 20-year-old. And yes, they do need to hear the messages that J. Cole lays down on KOD. But the fact that they responded this way sheds light on the ineffectiveness of Cole's sermons delivered here. The most effective moments do come towards the end of the album, however, as Cole opens up about growing up with an alcoholic mom on "Once an Addict": "Depression's such a villainous state / I used to stay out later on purpose / Subconsciously I was nervous that if I came home early, then what would surface was her inner demons / And then I'd have to end up seein' my hero on ground zero." As the fight against those demons transferred to Cole from his mother, he isolates himself. But later he regretfully reminisces, "Little did I know how deep her sadness would go / Lookin' back, I wish I woulda did more instead of runnin'." These honest reflections are the first step in honest change and growth, which Cole can capture especially on this track, "FRIENDS", and "Kevin's Heart" (the video for which is excellent). But in other instances, Cole represents a very human tendency of pointing out others' flaws to feel like we're accomplishing something. But truly, it's another coping mechanism keeping us from addressing the issues within us.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Laura Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.