A certain level of intelligence
Let me start by saying that I do not think J.Cole is a terrible rapper.
He’s decent, but insanely overrated. He’s like the Reggie Miller of hip-hop, for some reason people think he’s better than he actually is when he should be nowhere near anybody’s top 40 (my apologies to all 10 of you Indiana Pacers fans, you got Dipo now and he’s way better). It still baffles me that Cole has gained such an immense following over the past 10 years.
What was it that drew people to him? Was it the song with Missy Elliot? Was it the Celebrity all-star game? Is it his light skin privilege? I still don’t know. But I know that with the release of KOD, we are all going to have to suffer through Jcole fans running twitter for the next week hyping up one of the most bland albums I’ve heard since…-well- J.cole’s last record.
So how did we get here with J.Cole? A guy who went from being one of my favorite and most promising young rappers to a guy whose music I just don’t look forward to listening to?
Let’s start by going back to 09.
Being the Jay-Z stan that I am, I was introduced to Cole on the Blueprint 3 on the track “A star is born” where Jay basically gives the listener a hip-hop history lesson about the greats that have come through the rap game from Lil Wayne to Outkast to the newcomers like Drake.
The last verse belonged to a rapper I had never heard of before, who came in on the track so inspired, so hungry (a “young Simba” if you will) to become one of the legends that Jay was talking about in the former verses. This is where I was introduced to J.Cole.
From then on, I checked out his mixtapes, I really liked The Warm Up, and to this day I still contend that Friday Night Lights is one of the better traditional mixtapes of the last decade. But to say that I have been disappointed with Cole’s studio albums is really quite the understatement.
His first project was filled with some decent tracks, and some terrible radio seeking hits (I still wake up with cold sweats about the workout plan) his second album explained his failure with his debut, then talked about his newly acquired fame, relationships, and staying true to yourself through all of it. 2014 FHD talked about his youth, his past relationships and staying true to your…are you sensing a trend here?
That’s the thing with Cole; he basically says the same thing on every project, which is fine in a way, but the way he portrays the messages are in the exact same manner to the point it becomes boring and honestly corny.
He brings nothing new to the table on each and every project, even his most conceptual and admittedly ambitious album “4 Your Eyez” left much to be desired, but of course his hardcore fans worshipped it for being a “Gripping story” that “Required a certain level of intelligence to understand.”
Which is so inherently false because J. Cole is one the most overly simplistic lyrical artists out right now. You don’t need any external resources to understand the messages he’s portraying. As a matter of fact, that’s probably the appeal of Cole to his core audiences, his music is so dumbed down, simple and filled with clichés that people can easily grasp the concepts in his work, and KOD follows that formula to a T.
There is nothing on this album that Cole is telling the audience that we have not heard before either from himself or from other artists much more talented than he. Let’s first talk about the no features gimmick.
On the album titled track, Cole states that “nobody deserves to be on his shit” which I would like to suggest that he rethinks this stance. This album, along with the 2 prior projects suffer most by having Cole sing the hooks on his songs. Jermaine, please stop singing.
All I ask is that he gets a hook from SZA, Jorja, or some no-name artist to just do whatever singing he needs. Literally any vocalist. Go to a high school talent show and pick the best vocal performer for all I care just anybody that can actually sing because the guy sounds like the Walmart yodel kid on the hook for “the cut off”.
As for a guest rap verse collaboration, let’s not pretend that Cole was ever good at organizing features. There has not been one good feature on a Cole project since maybe Drake on “In the Morning.”
This is the same guy that got Kendrick Lamar for a track but only had him do the hook, that’s like when you take out a girl that’s out of your league and she ends the date with a nice hug. So to say that Cole is on some sort of higher plateau compared to his contemporaries because he does not use guest vocals is not an achievement, it’s a detriment to the music.
Kendrick and Drake could easily drop an album without features and it would do numbers, but they recognize that features help enhance their music, and inspire creativity within themselves to try new things on their projects.
Kendrick evolved as an artist from Section.80 through Damn, and that’s one of the biggest flaws of Cole, there is no innovation within his music, he sounds the same here as he did on previous records, and by sounds the same I don’t just mean vocally; his production, style and overall swag on his albums do not change.
I previously suggested that J.Cole get help with the vocal work, he should do the same with the production. The production on this album takes a subtler approach, similar to that of a Talib Kweli album, where the focus is on the rapper and not the production.
I’m not someone that obsesses over beats when it comes to music, in fact, I believe a strong beat can take away from the artist’s performance if the song has more depth. The issue with J.Cole is that he’s not a captivating artist to the point where his skills on the mic can hold your attention for 42 minutes without a strong production behind him, and the need for a subtler production is redundant because what he’s saying won’t go over the listeners head anyway.
I was actually surprised that the album was 42 minutes because listening to it front to back it felt much longer.
I won’t take a deep dive into every track, because honestly I have no interest in going back and listening to the album a third time (which is the usual process for how I consume music.) instead I’ll say that the highlights here are the opening track KOD, the second half of brackets and 1985.
The final track is interesting because Cole does take some shots at all the new wave rappers, and offers them advice and informs them of their impact. It was interesting to see his point of view on the current state of hip-hop, and I agree with most of what he’s saying here, although his message is basically common knowledge.
With the release of this album I urge Cole’s fans to recognize that even Cole has come out in support of the new wave, he’s not disparaging them because he recognizes their talent and their hustle.
Sure, Lil Pump probably doesn’t have much staying power in the game but he makes fun, enjoyable music that you always jump around to in the club. The other guys out here; the Ski Mask, X, Trippie types, they all have real talent that people fail to recognize because of the stigma that comes with being a SoundCloud rapper.
Just because I listen to Lil Uzi, Yachty, Tay-K, Ski Mask, Pump, 21 or any other artist that gets lumped into that category does not make my opinion invalid. You can appreciate fun music for what it is, and are allowed to criticize the lyrical music for not living up to the hype.