J. Cole’s KOD lands with lessons. At midnight, Jermaine Lamarr Cole released his latest full-length album, which stands for Kids on Drugs, King Overdosed, and Kill Our Demons. It’s a 12-song project that features 11 rap cuts and a spoken word intro, but it also works as a series of life lessons from Cole World. Here’s a look through some of the LP’s important teachings that stick out upon first listen.
1. Track: “Intro”
Lesson: Choose wisely.
KOD opens with a jazzy instrumental that gives way to a spoken word poem. An uncredited female voice speaks about a newborn’s communication skills before dropping this jewel on listeners. “Life can bring much pain,” she explains. “There are many ways to deal with this pain. Choose wisely.” That works as a pathway to an album about all of these things, including pain, escapism, and a search for wisdom.
2. Track: “KOD”
Lesson: Drugs come in many forms.
The anti-drug message is quite strong from the jump. However, instead of focusing solely on substance abuse, J. Cole makes it clear that his aim is much broader. Sure, he lists off a variety of drugs near the end of the title track, including Xanax, Percocet, and lean. But he also goes beyond that to include fame and, “the strongest drug of all, love,” showing that inebriation can come from different sources.
3. Track: “Photograph”
Lesson: Digital love can mess with your health.
Before releasing KOD, J. Cole said he had an addiction to his phone. “Photograph” seems to speak to this reliance on technology, but it also addresses technology’s impact on romance. “Fell in love through a photograph,” he raps. “I don’t even know your name.” More than just a commentary on love, “Photograph” acts as a warning: “Love today’s gone digital, and it’s messing with my health.”
4. Track: “The Cut Off”
Lesson: Heaven is a mindstate.
Much of “The Cut Off” is about drugs (“give me drink, give me smoke”). But once again, Cole manages to weave in different topics to widen his concept. Here, he raps about people who often use him as a crutch and people he needs to cut off. To go along with the album’s theme, however, he also throws in an interesting line about the power of the mind. “I know heaven is a mindstate,” he raps. “I’ve been a couple of times / Stuck in my ways, so I keep on falling, dying.”
5. Track: “ATM”
Lesson: Count dough, but don’t be miserable.
At first glance, “ATM” seems like a normal money-making anthem. “Count it up, count it up,” he flexes repeatedly. But as layers peel back, it’s clear that J. Cole is also rapping about addiction to money over personal well-being. “Pardon the visual,” he says. “But money, it give me a hard-on, it’s typical / I want it in physical / A million dollars, I count up in intervals / Without it I’m miserable.” Or, as Diddy, Ma$e, and The Notorious B.I.G. once put it, “Mo Money, Mo Problems.”
6. Track: “Motiv8”
Lesson: Kill your demons.
“Motiv8” feels like an extension of “ATM” with similar themes. Cole even throws in an obvious nod to Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s “Get Money.” But “Motiv8” also works as a commentary on the way we often interact with one another in real life and online. Plus, it addresses the impact of medication on our daily lives as a way to hide our demons. “Too many times I swallowed my pride,” he confesses. “I’m crackin’ a smile, I’m dyin’ inside / My demons are close, I’m tryin’ to hide / I’m poppin’ a pill, I’m feelin’ alive.” Perhaps it’s best to face them…and hopefully, overcome them. That leads us to the next lesson…
7. Track: “Kevin’s Heart”
Lesson: Don’t mask your addictions.
Infidelity continues to inspire J. Cole. He’s rapped about it on songs like “She Knows” and “No Role Modelz,” among others. Now, he returns with a declaration about his ego and a nod to Kevin Hart’s marital indiscretions. “I love her, I don’t want to lose her,” he raps. “I’m selfish, I know that I use her / My ego get stroked and I bruise her.” Later, he confesses to a double life mentality. “At home I look happy as usual / On the road, I’m a mac, I’m a chooser / I’m an addict, I’m maskin’ that.”
8. Track: “Brackets”
Lesson: Pay your taxes.
The song’s title refers to tax brackets, and it’s all about paying Uncle Sam. Sure, Cole complains about where his money goes and where it doesn’t go. “I guess they say my dollars supposed to build roads and schools,” he raps. “But my niggas barely graduate, they ain’t got the tools / Maybe ’cause the tax dollars that I make sure I send / Get spent hirin’ some teachers that don’t look like them.” But in the end, he realizes that Uncle Sam wants his money, and we’ve all gotta pay up, even, he notes, grieving mothers.
9. Track: “Once an Addict”
There is no direct lesson in “Once an Addict.” Instead of preaching any values, it is a moment of reflection. Technically, it’s an interlude, but it’s actually much more than that. The song might just be one of J. Cole’s most vulnerable and stirring tracks to date. He travels through childhood and adolescence while battling a tumultuous home life with his mother, reflecting on what he did, and what he wishes he would have done. Perhaps, then, the most important lesson in this song lies in the reflection.
10. Track: “Friends”
J. Cole addresses the complexities of therapy and medication on “Friends.” “There’s all sorts of trauma from drama that children see, the type of shit that normally would call for therapy,” he raps. “But you know just how it go in our community, keep that shit inside it don’t matter how hard it be.” His response to many of life’s troubles? “Don’t medicate,” he pleads on the song’s chorus. “Meditate.”
11. Track: “Window Pain (Outro)”
Lesson: Be grateful.
“Window Pain (Outro)” closes out the KOD saga. It features some introspective raps, observations about gangs in his hometown of Fayetteville, N.C., and a story about a young girl he met on the road. But in the end, the song is simply about gratitude and overcoming personal hell. “Grateful for the blessings you bring,” he sings. “Thank you for the ones I love / Forgive me for the times I was / Down and confused, I know / What I reap is what I will sow / Once again I find myself / Back with you from my hell.”
12. Track: “1985 (Intro to The Fall Off)”
Lesson: Think about your impact.
J. Cole ended KOD with “Window Pain (Outro),” but “1985 (Intro to The Fall Off)” is actually the LP’s closer. It doesn’t exactly fit with the addiction-based album, so it stands alone as a possible diss track. Speculations claim it’s aimed at Lil Yachty or Lil Pump, rappers who’ve previously clowned him. But even if it is a dagger, it also seems like a general observation about the rap game, its changes, and its youth. At one point, Cole warns: “You havin’ fun and I respect that / But have you ever thought about your impact?” Extrapolating that from this context, it’s still great advice for all to heed.