J. Cole’s new mixtape KOD is a great ‘tape. Sonically, he achieves meshing jazz into hip-hop, but it sometimes skews towards 2015’s “To Pimp A Butterfly.” Lyrically, KOD finds Cole lucid, and he explores a variety of flows here: triplet, sing-song, rapid fire, and old-school. In my opinion, this showcase makes him, and KOD, a champion hybrid of old school and new school.
J cole is young enough to hop on the new sounds, and sound natural. Sure, we can argue whether or not it’s his original wave, but he can still maneuver how he wants and be followed as heading towards the “next big thing.”
His nod to the old-school is his conscious effort to refine his hip-hop skills, lyricism and delivery. On the final track, he boasts: “I’ll be around forever cause my skills is tip top, to any amateur niggas that wanna get rocked, just remember what I told you when your shit flop, in five years you gon be on love and hip hop.” Unfortunately, he is one of the few who shows evidence of perfecting their craft.
Hip-hop is a chimera: industry and culture. The history of hip-hop includes cyphers, performances in which rappers take turns performing after another in an endless stream, and battles. Each of these, cyphers and battles, forces the rapper to have exceptional dexterity, and it’s this measure rappers should be held to. Style and substance don’t always go hand in hand, and some rappers make you compromise more than others.
Not J Cole. He can probably never be accused of slacking on a track. He can probably be found guilty of being holier than thou. KOD continues the trend of exceptional lyricism, and it evolves by not being self-righteous. This is best shown on the track FRIENDS. Here he talks about the emotional problems amongst his friends and the dangerous combination of childhood trauma and drug addiction. Then he speaks on it. However, he’s not talking to everyone doing it, just the ones he knows “This ain’t no trial if you desire go higher please, but fuck that now I’m older I love you cause you my friend, without the drugs I want you to be comfortable in your skin…and I done seen the combo take niggas off the deep end.” On the track before this he talks about witnessing his mother live with alcoholism. We understand that he simply doesn’t want to lose someone else to their demons.
I can’t get over how lucid KOD is. He’s not hyperactive or stretching truths. It’s a composed affair, offering glimpses into what is weighing on J Cole’s mind. He’s a rapper, chasing paper; a prophet, warning you of what’s to come; a peer, giving you music to ride to; J Cole, learning what he can change and what he has to live with.