Evan Dale // April 20, 2018
There is no reason to dress it up. You know J. Cole. You know his style, his virtues, his blatantly abrasive views on hip-hop, and quite honestly, his opinions on all of modern culture that have been built up around its central pull. He is a traditionalist, a lyricist – a poet in fact, and a classicist. And KOD is, by every definition, a classic the likes of which only come from the most profoundly influential songwriters in all of music.
With it, Cole brings the same intensity and socially-conscious delivery that we always expect, but it seems to be stepped up a level or three. An underlying anger creeps through the cracks of his mellow, easy-going demeanor and speaks from the opposite of the undertone in the bold album artwork. With the subject matter at hand, most of which hold negative views on everything from socioeconomic struggle to success to social media to his ever-present critiques of the modern hip-hop game, the violent and frank demeanor is only natural and fitting.
But somehow, with his old-school values and somewhat archaic views on modernity, Cole avoids sounding like your angry grandfather. There is something surprisingly refreshing and innovative about his approach. Perhaps it’s the idea that the lyrically-centered spectrum of hip-hop has been pushed further towards the underground in the last half-decade; perhaps it’s the fact that even the lyrically-centered artists, who have made a strong resurgence to hip-hop’s peak in the last six months especially, fall short in their deliveries when weighed against a veteran the likes of Cole; perhaps it’s that this album, KOD, even when weighed against Cole’s extensive and acclaimed prior work, is exceptional lyrically, thematically, and wholly.
And perhaps, it is quite simply, all of it.
There is no need to dive into our favorite tracks, our favorite lyrics, and the album’s greater purpose. You’re going to have everyone’s opinions on the matter bombarding you for the next couple of months. But, what you should know, and what we will tell you, is that the album will not achieve the acclaim and success that came with 2014 Forest Hills Drive. It doesn’t have the same energy or the same breath of approachability. It is dedicated to its purpose in exploring deeper, more personal thematics, and is a darker, more challenging album than any he has ever released. But all of that doesn’t mean it will not come to be equally, if not more so, important and influential on the future of music.
Hip-hop needs J. Cole the same way that it needs Kendrick Lamar. Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing wrong with the new directions that the genre always seems to be heading, but there is something wrong with a blank complacency in the face of such vast change. The same can be said about any of the changes and problems facing the world at large. To it, J. Cole, with his vibrant ability to express himself, his enviable and academic vocabulary, and his style rooted in the sounds of the underlying elements that have always driven hip-hop, creates the necessary competitive atmosphere that has made hip-hop into the most musically, socially, and culturally powerful engine in the world today.
It is a top driving force of the world’s culture. Whether speaking of music, fashion, or social and political opinion, hip-hop has its influence held firmly in the earth’s soil. And artists like J. Cole, who are rightfully seated in the hip-hop realm’s few thrones, have influence that extends far, far beyond a music genre. Keep that in mind when listening to KOD, and, like J. Cole or not, you will come to respect and admire the powerful work that it truly is.