J. Cole’s KOD is a compelling body of work that stands to be among the best art from a consistent source. Indeed, not everybody feels that way about J. Cole. While a commercial juggernaut—all five of Cole’s albums have reached #1; KOD broke streaming records—he is polarizing to critics. Some adore the artist who entered the game under the wing of JAY-Z and Roc Nation. Others—including writers at prominent print and online publications have accused the 33-year-old MC/producer/label owner of being boring, and not a good rapper by many standards. In the latest episode of TBD, Justin “The Company Man” Hunte champions KOD (also known as Kill Our Demons, King Overdose, and Kidz On Drugz) as a time-piece album for the year that we are still very much in. He asserts that for an artist who has never won a Grammy Award (despite five nominations), Jermaine Cole’s fifth LP is a shoe-in for A.O.T.Y.
“By every commercial measure it’s a Cole world indeed,” says Hunte, after pointing to J’s sales accolades, including all of his LPs achieving platinum certifications or better. “And yet, at the same time, for years, there’s been an ongoing debate over whether J. Cole is boring. This isn’t new; you can Google all of this. But this probably the most common headline associated with the North Carolina lyricist. The distance between his critical and commercial reception has become so pronounced [that] it’s actually a fun drinking-game,” says the TBD host, before showing tweets and headlines (Pitchfork, The Ringer, etc.) calling out the rapper. Hunte adds that he personally has not been a large advocate for Cole’s music in the past—while supporting his messages and activism. “K.O.D. hit me differently,” he pivots while recognizing that Cole’s formula of self-production and no features. “Conceptually, KOD nails the year’s most visceral trend: addiction and mental illness.”
While Logic, Kanye West, Kid Cudi have also tackled these issues publicly through music and celebrity, Cole addresses it organically. KOD analyzes addiction from drugs (as it is referred two in at least two of the three album title meanings), but also things like social media (“Photograph”), toxic relationships (“The Cut Off”), infidelity (“Kevin’s Heart”), and money (“ATM”). Cole finds a way to speak to addicts of all kinds, without preaching or pandering. Rather, he recognizes the pervasiveness of these allures.
The TBD episode points back to a 2011 MTV interview, where Cole revealed that nearly 20 years ago, he rapped under the moniker of “The Therapist” in his group. He was playing a role within a stylized group, but perhaps some of that aesthetic has stuck. KOD“meditate, don’t medicate.“ practices therapy on the millions who consumed it, and urges them to find constructive ways to ease their pain.
Whether it’s Kill Our Demons, King Overdose, or Kidz On Drugz, KOD holds power. As Mac Miller—who worked with Cole on his latest album, Swimming, passed away from a reported overdose, J’s point is painfully illustrated. Last year, 21-year-old Lil Peep died from a drug overdose too. This summer, Pop star Demi Lovato overdosed and was hospitalized back to stable condition. TBD pulls Pew Study research that points to surges in Xanax use, alongside Opioids and alcohol. Meanwhile, a trend of minors being hospitalized for seizures prompted by Benzodiazepine withdrawals. J. Cole has stated that he is bothered by the normalization of drug use.
“KOD is my album of the year because it targets a generational crisis, and it’s not afraid to take an audience to therapy precisely when it needs it most. Is there anyone else in Hip-Hop willing to sacrifice their cool points to play therapist? If not J. Cole, then who?” asks Hunte in his closing.