J. Cole — “K.O.D”
The timing of J. Cole’s fifth album “K.O.D”, an acronym which Cole tweeted stood for “kids on drugs”, couldn’t have been better for the rap community. In a year that saw the premature deaths of Mac Miller and XXXTENTACION, the faltering of gate-keeping artists like Kanye West, and the proliferation of drugged-out, teenage depression raps reaching even greater heights, Cole’s “K.O.D” struck the hip-hop scene with an impartial, mature, and sober clarity. While standout tracks like “ATM” and “Motiv8” gave fans a bouncy and braggadocious sound more fit for the times, those lighter moments are couched between pensive ballads like “The Cut Off” and stripped-down verses about hereditary addiction in the interlude “Once an Addict.” Cautionary tales about substance abuse are nothing new, but it’s Cole’s ability to speak on the issue without preaching that propels K.O.D beyond more holier-than-thou attempts like Nas’s outdated classic “I Can.” “K.O.D” captures what hip-hop can accomplish at peak efficiency: supplying songs that flourish in mainstream media while still addressing elephants in the room like depression and drug addiction amongst the youth. His balanced takes on said subjects are built into the core of “K.O.D”’s production — fusing elements of trap music with the jazzy, boom-bap samples Cole has always been fond of. These components, in combination with his storytelling, form a concerted effort to understand, and not simply chastise, his young fan base. It’s a much needed refocusing of the conversation surrounding drug use from the dangers of drugs to the reason young people turn to them in the first place.
Kanye West — Ye
Kanye West’s latest album “Ye” is a mess. Whether you like it or not, the details surrounding the summer project’s creation and release are a far cry from previously meticulous projects like “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and “Graduation.” “Ye” has no such nuance to consider. Composed of seven rapid-fire songs, the album goes as quickly as it comes. And to be clear: minimalism is perfectly fine. West’s problem was choosing to pull back his lyricism and complex production during the aftermath of what might have been some of his most controversial claims yet. He told the world that slavery was a choice. He aligned himself with Candace Owens, a politician who has characterized the concerns of minorities and sexual assault victims as the product of a victimhood complex. Again and again, he involved himself in matters much bigger than music. And yet, when it came time for him to address these matters through his music, he retreated to a smaller sound, less socially critical lyrics, and shallow discussions regarding mental health that hardly go beyond aesthetics. Perhaps the most childish example being the cover of his album which reads: “I hate being bipolar; it’s awesome.”
Another flaw the “Ye” album wears with pride is West’s attempt to resuscitate any controversial opinions that might make a headline. If it wasn’t a detailed song about how he’d like to sleep with his wife’s sisters, it was starting his album with an aimless murder threat — which ultimately landed with the same amount of severity as his claiming that some woman’s breasts proved he could focus on two things at once. And this might be the biggest problem with “Ye”: it has none of the edge or danger that it would like you to think it has. On this project as well as on Twitter, Kanye wore his support for Trump as the mark of a “free-thinker” — marking perhaps the first time a rapper has ever thought aligning themselves with the federal government was the rebellious path. “Ye” as a project is begging the listener to ignore the vastness of his wealth, the popularity of his politics, and the reality of his age in order to convince the average person that he’s leading the revolution from his mansion in Calabasas.
Drake — Scorpion
If Drake’s goal was to release a bloated diary entry composed of his signature fusion of lonesome crooning and don-like swag raps, then most would have to agree that he nailed it. “Scorpion,” Drake’s fifth album to date, was as big in terms of notoriety as it was in length. The press rollout for the 25 song double album was initially believed to be a disaster by many. Drake’s beef with GOOD Music president and rapper Pusha T had exposed his hidden child, ruined the rollout of his Adidas press release, and essentially hijacked the narrative surrounding Drake’s then soon-to-release album. Drake, however, being a persistent people pleaser, opted to address his grievances with fellow rappers like Pusha T and Kanye West during the first half of his album, reserving the boppy hits for the latter half as a palette cleanser. In fact, the “Scorpion” album is in effect one big palette cleanser. It’s Drake serving a two-course dessert in hopes that everyone might forget about… everything else.
By Leon Garth Jr. Wert