J. Cole Tackles Addiction, Trauma & Healing On New Album "KOD"

By Victoria Kim 04/26/18

The rapper's fifth album takes a hard look at substance abuse, and the trauma and pain that go with it.

J Cole
Photo via YouTube

Rapper J Cole has a new message for listeners: “Choose wisely.”

The message is the central theme of his new album KOD, released last Friday (April 20), urging us to reflect on how we choose to respond to temptation, trauma and depression. KOD has three meanings—Kids on Drugs, King Overdosed, and Kill Our Demons.

The album’s cover depicts Cole (born Jermaine Lamarr Cole), a hollow-eyed king shielding, or rising above, a group of youth casually snorting, smoking, and sipping.

Above Cole’s head is a subtle disclaimer: “This album is in no way intended to glorify addiction.”

Indeed, it does the opposite. KOD compels the listener to reevaluate society’s glorification of drug and alcohol use, and why we choose to imbibe.

KOD comes off as a melancholy commentary on how we choose to fill the void, how we choose to respond to temptation, and how we respond to pain and suffering. Cole examines the gamut of temptation and vice—most prominently featured are greed, lust, and gluttony.

Cole’s lyrics get personal, too. The album is also a reflection of himself and his own regrets. He himself succumbed to “the same methods of escape, whether it be alcohol, phone addiction, [or] women,” he explained in a trailer for KOD.

His mother also struggled with alcohol. In “Once an Addict,” Cole remembers the pain his mother went through with depression and drinking. “Depression’s such a villainous state,” he raps. He says in a later verse:

This ain’t the woman I know, why I just sit and observe?
Why don’t I say how I feel?
When I do, she’s defensive for real 
Well maybe things get better with time, I heard it heals
Little did I know how deep her sadness would go 
Lookin’ back, I wish I woulda did more instead of runnin'

The following song, “FRIENDS,” addresses how trauma and addiction can go hand-in-hand. Cole is reaching out, urging us to lift the mask and face what ails us, instead of running away.

Without the drugs I want you to be comfortable in your skin
I know you so I know you still keep a lot of shit in 
You running from yourself and buying product again 
I know you say it helps and no I’m not trying to offend 
But I know depression and drug addiction don’t blend 
Reality distorts and you get lost in the wind

KOD effectively paints the turmoil, pain and uncertainty that go hand-in-hand with addiction. J Cole is the antithesis to the new age, tattoo-faced mumble rappers who glorify abusing cough syrup and Xanax.

His album is a commentary and a warning. It's both timely and timeless, in a culture that, outwardly, celebrates toxic inebriation more often than it is wary of it.

From the Intro of KOD:

Can someone please turn off my mind?
My thoughts are racing all the time
There is no reason or no rhyme
I’m trapped inside myself.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr