J. Cole: the King of Disappointment

J. Cole is an artist who should be better than he is. His great talent as a rapper and his willingness to talk about social issues, like drug abuse and poverty, make him stand out among his pop-oriented hip-hop contemporaries. Unfortunately, his insistence on doing everything himself makes his album, K.O.D., an unfortunate reminder of what could have been.

The production end is where his do-it-yourself approach hurts him the most. Although Cole is not a terrible producer, he lacks the distinctiveness and energy that a top-flight producer like No I.D. or 9th Wonder could bring to the music.  Many of his beats are basic, sparse, lo-fi tracks, which makes them reminiscent of a “24-hour beats to study to” compilation.

It is no coincidence that one of the highlights of the album, “Kevin’s Heart,” is the only song not produced by Cole. Produced by T-Minus and Mark Pelli, the track has a unique sound with trap drums brilliantly mixed with old school lo-fi keyboards, making it stand out among the formulaic beats Cole creates.

The beat inspires some of Cole’s best lyrical insights. Rapping from the perspective of Kevin Hart, who recently admitted to cheating on his wife, Cole expresses a tremendous amount of vulnerability. The line “Hate when I creep and the phone wake me up. Fake like I’m sleep knowing damn well I be up” is especially poignant, considering hip-hop’s obsession with authenticity.

His signature dislike of features pops up again on this album. The only feature here is a rapper named Kill Edward, who is actually just Cole’s voice artificially shifted down. The voice is intended to represent J. Cole while he’s under the influence of drugs, as evidenced by Edward saying “gimmie drink gimmie get me high,” on the song “The Cut Off.” The sparse Nujabes-style beat works with Cole’s flow and dark subject matter on drug usage to cope with betrayals.

Cole’s insistence on the lack of features seems to be more of a gimmick to meet fan expectations than a purely artistic choice, as many of these songs would massively benefit from a pace-changing feature. The lack of features is also a waste of the talent on Cole’s Dreamville Records. This album could have massively benefited from a posse cut with the obscure rappers on the label.

Another problem with this album is Cole’s delivery. He seems to be half asleep for much of this album, and the low energy of the beats do not help.

Although I admire Cole for his willingness to tackle social issues, the low energy of the album  blurs many of his messages. I think if Cole were to allow more outside influences on his music, he would be able to make the album we have been waiting for.


Album: K.O.D.

Artist: J. Cole

Release: April 20

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars