Released in 2018, J. Cole’s fifth studio album came together in just two weeks, after Cole shared the stage with fellow voice-of-a-generation rapper Kendrick Lamar during his DAMN. tour, and decided he was ready for another anthemic body of work. The result, KOD, is riddled with social messages and symbolism, starting with the title itself, which is an acronym for many things: Kids on Drugs, Kill our Demons and King Overdosed. The colourful album art, meanwhile, displays children taking pills, snorting cocaine, smoking weed and sipping lean (when you look closer, the children can be seen morphing into morbid figures, under the cloak of a jewel-encrusted king). The lyrics on KOD are even more provocative, and find Cole leaning inward, unpacking his own traumas, demons and vices, warning about unhealthy dependencies to materialism and drugs. On “Once an Addict”, the platinum-selling rapper uses his mother’s story to ruminate on the intergenerational effects of alcoholism, while “Kevin’s Heart” finds him using comedian Kevin Hart’s publicised infidelities as a vehicle to discuss Cole’s own internal struggles with monogamy. These are weighty topics. But listeners didn’t mind: KOD not only topped the album charts, it broke numerous streaming records on its first day of release.

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