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Cole Delivers On Record-Breaking KOD

The real is back, the Ville is back. Legendary North Carolina rapper J. Cole burst back onto the scene last…

The real is back, the Ville is back. Legendary North Carolina rapper J. Cole burst back onto the scene last week after a relatively quiet year, releasing his 4th full-length studio LP titled KOD. After an action packed three days, which included two international pop-up shows and a series of exciting tweets, the album was finally released on all major streaming platforms on Friday, April 20th (international stoner day, hint hint). Buckle up, my friends, because there’s a lot to unpack here.

The three alternate album titles, Kids on Drugs, King Overdosed, and Kill Our Demons, along with the artwork – which features children snorting cocaine, sipping lean, and smoking weed – pointed to the album being a critique of todays youth drug culture. While addiction and substance abuse are major themes of the album, KOD lacks specific direction and is not solely based on these issues. The project is more so general social commentary, with Cole flittering back and forth between a litany of deep and timely topics. The combination of the cover artwork, the 4/20 release-date, and title themes are misleading. There’s far too much going on in KOD for a concrete storyline to come to light.

While online theories are entertaining and partially correct, they still don’t account for the many conflicting portions of the album. Take kiLL edward, for example, who is listed as the album’s lone feature but is actually Cole’s drug abusing alter-ego (when edward speaks, it’s a heavily filtered version of Cole’s voice). It would be all well and good if, as theorized online, edward is the evil king of the rap game attempting to lure Cole to the dark side and join the youth in their reckless and hedonistic behavior. Throughout the album, Cole fights off edward with all of his might and eventually kills him (so they say online). But edward only has a minimal presence on the album; he’s only featured on two songs. The entertaining back and forth that could have been never comes to fruition and ultimately, the theme falls short of its full potential.

 
To complicate matters further, it’s nearly impossible to tell when Cole is speaking from his own perspective or that of someone else. Take the track “KOD,” for example, which, flow-wise and production-wise, is a slapper. Cole starts the track with lyrics that are undoubtedly from his own perspective, as he’s known for going platinum twice before without any features: “How much you worth? How big is your home? How come you won’t get a few features? I think you should? How ’bout I don’t?” Later on the track, however, Cole, who doesn’t even smoke weed, brags about sipping lean: “Yeah, at this shit daily, sipped so much Actavis I convinced Actavis that they should pay me.” Is this kiLL edward speaking? Is this Cole speaking from the perspective of another rapper? It’s impossible to tell. All of this is rapped in Cole’s normal voice, implying that it’s not coming from kiLL edward’s perspective.

Only a few bars later, Cole spits a line that is again inarguably personal: “Platinum disc and I own masters, bitch, pay me.” If Cole wanted to make a themed album, he should have either rapped any lyrics that didn’t apply to himself using edward’s distorted voice, or, he could have simply listed edward as a feature on any track that contains lines from Cole’s alter-ego perspective and let the fans decipher which lines apply to whom. Cole reached in his attempt to make a themed album and convoluted an otherwise great body of work. Based on the twelve tracks that make up this project, he should have given the album a more general title and a piece of artwork.

Album theme aside, KOD is a moving and highly educational body of work. To piggyback off of Charlemagne Tha God’s joke, The ROC should be changed to the T.E.D. because the amount of knowledge Jay-Z and Cole consistently give to the people is astounding. On the closer, “1985,” Cole responds to criticism he’s received from Lil Pump with some informatory, simultaneously scorching, bars:

One day, them kids that’s listening gon’ grow up
And get too old for that shit that made you blow up/Now your show’s lookin’ light cause they don’t show up/Which unfortunately means the money slow up/Now you scramblin’ and hopin’ to get hot again/But you forgot you only popped ’cause you was ridin’ trends/Now you old news and you goin’ through regrets/‘Cause you never bought that house, but you got a Benz.

Like “1985,” the album is full of must-listens. On the “Once an Addict” interlude, Cole describes the anguish and guilt he felt as a teen watching his mother struggle with substance abuse. On “The Cut Off,” he explores toxic, one-way relationships that he’s been forced to end. On “Friends,” he pleads with other companions of his struggling with addiction, promising that there are healthier ways to overcome systematic-oppression-induced anxiety and depression. The stories and messages on KOD are far more important than its production, which is percussion heavy and melodically muted – this is in stark contrast to some of Cole’s older, glossier, sample-laden projects such as The Warm Up and Friday Night Lights.

 
Cole did what he does best on KOD, summing up complex and poignant topics with conciseness and clarity. While some argue that his work is overly simplistic, it’s important to keep in mind when listening to a Cole album that it’s just that, an album, and not a graduate school thesis. To convey his thoughts in such an articulate manner over just 42 minutes, as he does on KOD, highlights his underrated talent as a wordsmith. More importantly, Cole again achieved his primary goal: to educate, inspire, and lead as many people as possible through his selfless works of art. It’s officially a Cole spring, and the official closing track title, “1985 (Intro to The Fall Off”),” hints that it may indeed be a Cole summer too.

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#IndieSpotlight: MusicbyKO “Life In Element” Is The Soundtrack For Pre-Fall Blues

A new LP floated across my desk by an Oakland, California, singer/rapper named MusicbyKO. A warm blend of jazzy 90s…

A new LP floated across my desk by an Oakland, California, singer/rapper named MusicbyKO. A warm blend of jazzy 90s Hip Hop and a cadence reminiscent of acts like Isaiah Rashad. Having shared stages with names like J.I.D. and Earthgang, he appears focused and composed — as evidenced by Life In Element, his new LP.


 
With a very consistent sound, KO slowly unravels a series of tracks that let you into his world just enough — without blatant TMI, or inducing a “yeah right” effect. What listeners get are the tales of a low-level drug dealer (this is both referenced and downplayed at different points), who is taking a chance on a dream, as he slowly but surely uncovers that everything the glimmers isn’t gold, and just because someone calls you brother, it doesn’t mean they have your back — or at the very least even your best interests at heart.

It’s an almost paranoid sense that snakes are roaming the grass that is revisited numerous times throughout the project, like on the song “La La Land,” “Empathy,” and “Let Me Talk With Ya/While I’m Here,” where he notes “I Know niggas right now that want to see me fall.”

He also paints a picture of himself as someone who overextends himself — such as on “Too Much Falls Short,” where he preaches that failing to leave your comfort zone is a fail before even leaving the running block.

That’s just the first few layers of this project; touching on socio-economic issues facing the black community nationwide, and even relationships (see the super dope “Spirit Rise”), he creates a lot of depth. Though the vibe is consistent — almost bordering on redundant — it manages to remain engaging. Also, that instrumental on “A Devil’s Advocate Corner” is a bucket of flame emojis doused in gasoline.

 
Like a bride on her wedding day, Life In Element is something old and something new; all that Hip Hop is dead shit goes out teh window when you hear younger cats with cohesive projects like this. With enough amazing quotables to create a success Instagram daily quote account (“I couldn’t heal in eth place I got sicker”) and an admirable ear for production, MusicbyKO NEEDS to be on your radar. It’s just good for the soul.

Early.

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Video Spotlight: Mean Joe Scheme & Optiks

In this video spotlight, Joe and Optiks discuss the new project, the state of east coast hip-hop, and what to expect from BEAMS. Be sure to check out both singles below, and follow @meanjoescheme and @thisisoptiks on your socials.

NYC artists Mean Joe Scheme and Optiks are putting the finishing touches on BEAMS, their new collaborative project. If “Cannonball” and “Hands Down” are any indication, we’re in for a viscous slice of hybrid hip-hop- a fusion of beats, rhymes, and anxious 2018 energy.

In this video spotlight, Joe and Optiks discuss the new project, the state of east coast hip-hop, and what to expect from BEAMS. Be sure to check out both singles below, and follow @meanjoescheme and @thisisoptiks on your socials.

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Eminem: Kamikaze- A Relapse of Epic Proportion

Poor Eminem. He’s damned if he do and damned if he don’t. His last album, 2017’s pop-heavy Revival, flopped by…

Poor Eminem. He’s damned if he do and damned if he don’t. His last album, 2017’s pop-heavy Revival, flopped by way of social media yet wasn’t a total disaster. It moved units and afforded him headlining spots on the summer festival circuit- but it didn’t give the fans what they needed. Or did it?

This conundrum surrounds Eminem’s career. When he’s on there’s only a handful of rappers alive who can compete with his pen and his fury. But when he bogs down projects with introspection- giving us a break from his hyper-aggro screaming at the mic- it feels like we’ve been cheated. Stans can’t deal with the sappy pop-crossovers, and today’s charts simply do not have space for good old-fashioned rap acrobatics. So what’s an aging top-five-dead-or-alive rapper to do?

Marshall Mathers unleashed Kamikaze as his response to the Twitter army (and critics) who condemned him- an unexpected and venomous (although carefully measured) surprise album packed with more syllables than a semester’s worth of English-as-a-second language classes. As we all secretly hoped for, rappers ain’t safe from Em’s verbal barrage of double and triple time bars on Kamikaze, and if you have time to unpack these 13 tracks you’ll find some genuine heat.

Unfortunately, if you really unpack these ferocious bars you’ll find a grumpy old man rapping for the simple sake of reminding us how technically skilled he truly is. The problem is we’ve known that for ages. Reverting back to early 2000’s Eminem complete with the use of “faggot”- his favorite homophobic slur on the otherwise bulletproof “Fall”- does little to contribute to his relevance in 2018.

There are a few maniac standouts on Kamikaze, songs that young rappers should study for the intricate art of word play and cadence (check “The Ringer”, and “Not Alike” featuring Royce Da 5’9). Yet, those lessons are harder to learn when it’s impossible for the listener to catch their breath. For most of the record, Em is in such rapid-fire mode that you absolutely have to run back verses and entire songs to truly digest his messages. Rap nerds and old heads will revel in the task, but is that what the game needs these days? I’d argue no

Kamikaze is a rare full-on barrage of supernatural MC’ing; but it comes and goes without much meaning when the target becomes Machine Gun Kelly-who tweeted about Eminem’s attractive daughter back in 2012. Is there really a hip-hop fan alive willing to side with MGK on this one? And if you’re looking for the most lukewarm, mediocre diss track (possibly ever recorded) check out MGK’s response, “Rap Devil”, a headscratcher that splits its time attempting to discredit Em while simultaneously praising his longevity and abilities. You either want the smoke or you don’t? Like it or not, the whole thing feels like a charade.

Eminem has always carried a chip on his shoulder. When the critics go low, he goes lower. While Kamikaze is far from a low point in what will be viewed someday as a catalog of studio hits and misses, it’s far from the return to form that it was intended to be. He might not be afraid to take a stand, but it’s become tiring trying to figure out exactly who Eminem is standing against.

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Soo Casa Drops His Self-Titled Debut Project

Hailing from — of all places, Burlington (Ontario) — rapper Soo Casa, so has appeared on the site in the…

Hailing from — of all places, Burlington (Ontario) — rapper Soo Casa, so has appeared on the site in the past, has finally gifted his growing fan base with a self-titled body of work. At a hefty 15 songs, which includes a few songs weève already worn out (but are revisiting), he manages to craft a complete picture of his artistic vision that loosies hinted at, but failed to encapsulate fully.

“Cldhnky,” a stylized form for cold honky, “Top Ramen,” and “Ksubi Slushie” had already been floating around and found their way into our listening sessions — as early as late last year. What we found interesting was how versatile of a picture it painted of the MC. While the latter two songs have these interwoven melodies and auto-tuned vocals, “Cldhnky” had this early 2000s vibe to it, that above everything, illustrate his ability to drop rhyme patterns.

“One Take” is another spot that sees him dropping fire rapid-fire flows without missing any pockets. There is also a whole ounce of self-aware humor injected, with over-the-top bars like: “I also rock Balenciagas, put my dick in your girl’s mouth and make her Lady Gaga.”

Songs like “Perc” and “Iactuallylikelilpump” are sonically sound, and reflective of his cohort, but do little to further his artistic vision. To be candid, we’re not 100% sure what his grand idea is, and the breadth of the songs are more or less focused regarding thematic direction, but it’s song structure and delivery that helps draw out his most potent moments.

“Guacamole” comes across as one the standouts on the tracklist, with a flame emoji instrumental and that Soo rides like a dirtbike down a Philly block. “Twice That” with Kid Frankie was another moment that suited him, with this bouncy West Coast vibe that needed to be MUCH longer than a minute and forty seconds. As well, “juicehouse” produced by Platinum producer CashMoneyAP (Migos, Young Boy Never Broke Again, SahBabii, etc.) is another moment worth a few spins.

 

It was also refreshing to see him step out of the lane a few times and try new things. “$wang” with its heavy R&B hook, and bouncy “grinding a shorty at a summer bashment” aura was a pleasant surprise. Would also be remiss not to bring up that sample flip on “Tokyo Plugin,” which was another example of his readjusting his style slightly with pleasant results.

 

Overall, the Slushie God managed to give a little more definition to his range and potential. With summer coming to a close, and as the fall sets in, it’ll be interesting to see what his next moves are and if he chooses to fully marry one of the many faces he’s shown on this LP.

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#IndieSpotlight: Mr2theP Emerges With Two New Singles

For South California born emcee Mr2theP, it all started in the trenches as a battle rapper. He grew up living...

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