J.Cole? Jermaine? Cole? ‘The real is back, the Ville is back, flow bananas, here, peel this back?’ Yes. J.Cole is back. The North Carolina rapper announced his fourth studio album last Monday and quickly delivered on his promise. So, of course, a one listen review had to be made. In usual fashion, no skips, rewinds, or pauses, K.O.D..
Track 1 – Intro
Nice. I enjoy the woman’s voice, she’s setting me up for an experience. I would say Matrix but the saxophone has a very 50’s feel to it. I’m fine with continuing the trend of intros being skits, but if this is only a twelve track album, I want to hear the most J.Cole I possibly can.
Track 2 – KOD
These drums hit. Cole is floating effortlessly over them for a smooth hook, this is his kind of track. These drums really hit, like J.J. Watt closing in on a quarterback type of knock in them. Oh! Talk that talk Cole! Hollywood Cole is back, he’s angry by his standards. Each line is receiving an ‘ohhh’ or ‘ayyee’ from me as he keeps going in on his critics. Back to the hook and I’ve lost my mind at this point. This is definitely the King Overdose portion of the album. He’s calmer on the second verse, he’s imitating someone on Actavis. Then comes the aggression again! I really missed hearing Cole rap like this. Woman’s voice is back again, listing off countless names of drugs. ‘And the strongest drug of them all…’Money, right? She’s gonna say money. Nope. The answer is love.
Track 3 – Photograph
I really like the way this beat is starting. This is a Kendrick track. I hate to make the comparison but Kendrick would be murdering this already. The hook is a definite miss for me. Verse one is a winner though, many bars that I’ll have to re-listen to later. The hook is back on, eh, the vocal inflection just isn’t my cup of tea. The strings on this beat are really good though, and Cole’s voice is really clear, which I love. I feel like I missed the entire second verse, or it just sounded too much like the first verse. Not good but definitely not good.
Track 4 – The Cut Off (feat. KiLL Edward)
KiLL Edward is obviously just Cole with a pitched down voice, I like when rappers create alter egos, do whatever you’ve gotta do to keep it fresh. Real Cole comes in and is really just talking over the beat, which sounds like a boring version of Pusha T’s Crutches, Crosses, Caskets. ‘You never would split,’ god, that is so corny. There are times where Cole’s bars are stupendously great but then there are bars like that, the complete opposite. Fade out is nice and pretty peaceful, but I’m already sick of KiLL Edward.
Track 5 – ATM
Okay, using the Kendrick pitch, wait a second, cash counter in the background. Finally! Some energy! This one seems to be from King OD’s perspective. ‘Count it up,’ doesn’t make for the best repetitive hook, but the energy makes it much more interesting than the last two tracks. This sounds a lot like something I’d hear on Section.80. Cole is really spitting on the verses, and painting a pretty vivid picture, I’d expect this song to turn in to the music video option for this album, it would work great for that purpose. I’m expecting Cole to be half dead on the next track for using all his energy on this one. Nice track.
* Note, the music video for ATM came out the next morning.
Track 6 – Motiv8
I love when songs start with old news and quotes. Holy mumble! It’s like he’s trying to sound like someone who’s on drugs. The beat drops pretty hard, but in Cole fashion, it sounds like a very calm, respectful riot. ‘Motivate, motivate,’ come on dude, this is the second straight hook where you just repeat one word. Sure you have energy, but you’re better than that. Verses are both passable but nothing pops out as special. Cool, whatever, next.
Track 7 – Kevin’s Heart
Love the title, really do. Ohhhh this is oddly beautiful and kinda weird. Reminds me of the movie Coraline for some reason. Cole’s love songs are either corny or heartfelt, this one is definitely the former. ‘All I know is how to mess a good thing up,’ yeah, that hits. He’s really going in on this first verse, it’ll be hard to come up with more relatable lines in the second one. Finally, a long, original hook, this is slowly turning into an addiction song. It’s kind of all over the place, but still a really good track. It’s hard to relate to people that don’t do drugs with a song about addiction; well done.
Track 8 – BRACKETS
More old samples, love it. The hook is simple but actually lands this time. The first verse is kind of short, but definitely good. Hopefully, the beat switches up eventually because this is a song that can get really repetitive really fast. ‘Lord knows I need something to fill this void,’ this isn’t about a common drug addict, this is about Cole himself, he’s talking in a high pitched voice, almost like a younger version of himself, talking about when he made his first million. He’s into politics now, and wow, I can’t phrase all of what he just said, but wow. When you listen, you’ll know. Amazing closing verse, great job at tying every single line into the next.
Track 9 – Once An Addict (Interlude)
Three-minute interlude? Alright. Uh oh, the woman is back, wonder where she was. More lectures about pain, man is she creepy. OH MAN, COLE!! He entered like he was already halfway through the 100-meter dash, so much momentum. Keep going, keep preaching, please. This song is crushing, he’s talking about his mom on drugs and how he didn’t know how to deal with it. That is the right way to make a song about drugs with an impact. Great track.
Track 10 – FRIENDS (feat. KiLL Edward)
Is he about to turn up? This song is just waiting for the build up. Nope. I’m not sure how I feel about this KiLL Edward character, I think I’d rather just hear Cole’s real voice saying those lines. ‘I hope you listen,’ he’s about to eat this entire track. He’s made for drums like this. He’s speaking nothing but the truth right now, people blame everyone except themselves for their own problems. I love all the different perspectives he’s talking from, and the passion in his voice is gripping. ‘Meditate, don’t medicate,’ that’s perfect, and the fact that he led it off with ‘I know this ain’t that cool but;’ is great. Good track.
Track 11 – Window Pain (Outro)
This beat is putting me in a trance, it’s hypnotizing. When Cole hits the right pitch, it’s damn near flawless. This is the best chorus on the album by far, one everyone has come to expect from Cole. Keep going with this, ohhhh the drums just came in, good lord. They hit, they hit. ENERGY! THANK YOU COLE! Bars, bars, bars, bars. He’s painting a Picasso art piece faster than Usain Bolt could ever run. Cole is going and not even thinking about looking back. WHERE WERE YOU THIS WHOLE ALBUM COLE?!?! Man, this hook. The beat is perfect, but is there a more relatable hook ever? I’m not sure. This is why everyone mentions J.Cole up there with Drake and Kendrick. Amazing track.
Track 12 – 1985 (Intro To “The Fall Off”)
Intro? Alright. 1985 would be a pretty cool year to be born in, I’d think at least. This beat has got to drop, right now it feels like a caged animal waiting to get to the jungle. I wanted a harder drop, but this is cool. He’s really going in on someone. Who dissed you, Cole? Oh no, Cole is doing the ‘I’m not mad, I’m disappointed’ talk with one of these wack new school rappers. He’s lost his temper in the most well-mannered way. Telling the rapper that he’s gonna run out of money and an audience soon, so he better grow up or get an investment plan now. ‘I hope you ain’t as dumb as you look,’ Hahaha, seriously though, which one of these stupid new school rappers thought to pick this fight was smart? J.Cole is the beating stick for all mumble rappers, putting them in the right place. Great closer.
Kids on Drugs, Kind OverDose, and Kill Our Demons are the three names Cole gave to this album, stating that the rest is up to us to determine. Focusing solely on those three titles, Cole gave hip-hop heads a very subtle thinking-piece to digest over time. As far as hitting the topics he wanted to, there is no denying that Cole absolutely nailed it; but a lack of consistently great rapping throughout the project’s short runtime really forced Cole into a hole early. Songs like Motiv8, Photograph, and The Cut Off are just plain boring. Because there are only twelve tracks, one an intro and one an interlude, there wasn’t a lot of time for Cole to really shine. When he does get in a zone (Window Pain, 1985, KOD), Cole gives some of the best songs of the year, the problem is, while this is a conceptual album, it is not nearly as energetic, entertaining, or invigorating as it could be.