As mentioned on the vinyl cover of the album, this selection is in no way meant to promote the consumption of alcohol and/or drugs. The concept of this album is the examination of coping mechanisms such as drugs, alcohol, and lust. At the same time, Cole examines larger societal issues including social media, taxes, love, and most the obvious — drugs. From here, we examine these themes in Cole’s penultimate album.
KOD To begin the album, J.Cole begins with a sincere intro comparing the way a baby reacts to its surroundings to how an adult chooses coping mechanisms for pain. As repeated throughout the album, we should “choose wisely” because, unlike the baby, we have the power to do so.
The very next song, with the same name as the album, is a stark contrast to the introduction. Cole comes flying out the gate with fast-moving bars that serve as an instant reminder that he is on top of his game. He doesn’t need features and that his upbringing was unprecedented and can’t be paralleled unless you were there. This song was his “I’m back” moment on the album, though he was never really gone — it set the pace for the rest of the album and demands respect from the very beginning.
In “The Cut Off”, we are introduced to Edward. Edward is the epitome of kids on drugs. Remember how they said to choose wisely? Well he did the opposite. He explains that he simply cannot cope and repeatedly asks for a drink and something to smoke to keep from “falling down”. This refers to both falling down from his high and also refers to the falling down of his well being as a result of his continued abuse (Genius). Edwards takes many forms in many different people, even Cole’s mother late in the album (“Once an Addict”). In this song, Cole is the voice of reason. And with a clear mind, ponders upon the reasons why his contemporaries shouldn’t be taken by his wrath and revenge. Despite their disloyalty, Cole believes vengeance will take place in the Lord’s hands rather than his and that they will regret not even giving him a dollar.
In “ATM” and “BRACKETS”, the motivation is money. There are two different, apparent mindsets in these songs. One that says go get the money at all cost and worry about the consequences later. The other pleads forgiveness for this arrogance and encourages wise spending because money, nor the feeling it produces, last forever. On the latter half of “BRACKETS”, Cole questions the institution of taxes. He is grateful to have made so much money, in fact a ridiculous amount. But “Uncle Sam” is always calling him, asking for half, as the skit implies. Cole is in disbelief that they could so brazenly take his money and spend it on things that don’t matter as much as infrastructure (such as roads and schools). He points to this as a reason that kids don’t make it out of the hood as much as they could — this is a direct juxtaposition of how those who have access to white institutions live. They scheme and hoard their way to the top, they “white out their sins” — an obvious double entendre. Love and infidelity as a result of social media is important on songs “Photograph” and “Kevin’s Heart”. The explosion of social media has forever changed the way love and lust is expressed and encountered in contemporary society. It is often the downfall of relationships, as this is the focus on “Kevin’s Heart”. After the falling out with his wife in 2017, Kevin Hart took to the media waves and explained how social media was a factor in the end of his relationship. Cole embodies Hart in the song and says the following:
She my number one I don’t need nothing on the side Said that I was done for good and don’t want no more lies But my phone be blowing up, temptations on my line I stare at the screen a while before I press decline But she plants a seed and it still lingers in my mind Told myself I’m strong enough to shake it and I’m trying But I’m only human, I know loving you’s a crime If I take this cookie now one day I’ll do the time
Ultimately, Hart did pay the price. Though, this song can be applied to more than just Kevin Hart. As explained on “Photograph”, shooting your shot through DMs is certainly a different experience than even 5 years ago. Think of each message received as a pill. Each pill spirals you further down infidelity and is used to reach that high — in this case, it’s serotonin. It creates a false sense of security as social media is filled to the brim with goldfish posing as catfish.
The Fall Off In KOD, Cole gives us a sneak peek of The Fall Off with the track “1985”, his birth year. This songs seems to be a call to action for the next generation. They should be careful how they approach their fame and fortune and Cole claims that their current wave of popularity will inevitably die off because it is amateur and childish. As a result, they should be conscious of how they reflect their image. Cole gives a warning; if they don’t change their ways, in just five years, they’ll be on Love and Hip Hop.
The name is meant to signify the end of Cole’s music career. He seems to have a checklist of things he wants to do before finishing off with his last album, as posted on Instagram. However hard it may be to believe that J.Cole will ever stop pushing out music, it is inevitable. As a conscious person, who has made their money and impact, it seems Cole knows when his time will be up.