Courtesy of Dreamville

April 25, 2018


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“KOD. 3 meanings.
Kids on Drugs
King Overdosed
Kill Our Demons
The rest of the album I leave to your interpretation.”

J. Cole tweeted this on April 19 prior to releasing his new album, KOD. The rapper’s fifth LP features 12 songs, all of which fuse to tell a succinct story about what I believe is the culmination of addiction and pain through technology in 2018.

What is most interesting about KOD is that it is an exploration of many types of relevant pain in 2018. “BRACKETS,” “Window Pain (Outro),’” and others do contain content surrounding pain in the context of the political climate, shadowing Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., which just made Pulitzer Prize history, but J. Cole’s definition of pain is not centered anywhere in particular. His pain is dispersed within mundane objects like a “Photograph” or an “ATM.” J. Cole plays on the idea that in 2018, mundanity, addiction and pain are all heavily intertwined through technology and this truly digital age. In 2018, we treat addiction with more addiction.

I strongly believe that this album should be listened to in chronological order, as the North Carolina rapper incorporates much relevant and detailed meaning within his intros and outro, as well as his “featured” sections.

After my first run through of the album, I was left with questions, one of which: Who is kiLL edward, the entity featured on two tracks? J. Cole went platinum with no features. Will all of those memes go to waste? Eerily enough, a new Soundcloud artist page was created on Monday for the one and only kiLL edward, aka J. Cole’s alter ego. KiLL edward, or J. Cole, or whoever you would like to call the rapper, posted a track called “tidal wave (Just a little reference)” on Soundcloud, seemingly to introduce fans to the alter ego before KOD was released. So the answer is yes, the memes are still relevant. No features for J. Cole.

Along with kiLL edward, there is another new voice present throughout KOD. It is a woman’s voice, a calming one, a voice that would seem to appear on a hypnosis relaxation tape. It appears in “Intro”: “A newborn baby has two primary modes of communication. Laughter, which says, ‘I love this.’ Or crying, which says, ‘This frightens me, I’m in pain.’ Life can bring much pain. There are many ways to deal with this pain. Choose wisely.” This verse sets the stage for the entirety of the album: J. Cole’s exploration of pain, drugs and how God comes into play with all of this. Later, in “Once an Addict (Interlude),” this hypnotic voice appears again: “Sometimes I think pain is just a lack of understanding. If we could only understand it all, would we feel no pain? God must feel no pain.”

J. Cole’s decision to use this voice and not one of a different nature is interesting. He prods his fans to fall into a sort of hypnotic state while listening. He is encouraging his supporters and youth to refrain from drugs or other harmful ways of dealing with the pain that modernity has caused. He is acknowledging the fact that pain in 2018 is different from pain in 2000, while questioning the role of God in all of this pain. He confesses that technology causes pain, and yet it is a drug all on its own.

This brings me to my fascination with “Photograph,” the third song on KOD. In this track, J. Cole gives us his fully raw take on the social media selfie. Unlike rappers before him such as Trey Songz or Drake, who have fetishized the Insta model, with lines like, “Gotta hit the club like you hit them angles” in Drake’s “Nice For What,” J. Cole doesn’t sugarcoat it. Let’s face it, in 2018, people post for likes and sex appeal. People swipe left in hopes of finding the right one. In “Photograph,” J. Cole confirms what romanticism has become. “Love today’s gone digital and it’s messing with my health.”

In KOD, J. Cole tells us that it is up to us how we cope with the often self-inflicted struggles and addictions of 2018, including loss of romanticism through technology, hyper-glorification of wealth on social media, lack of social change and drug abuse.

It is up to us to “Choose Wisely.”

Juliette Rolnick is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].