On Friday, April 20, popular hip-hop/RnB artist J.Cole released his album “KOD.” Recent tweets of his stated that “KOD” could mean King Overdose, Kids on Drugs, or Kill Our Demons. This album consistently speaks on themes of childhood trauma, drug abuse and addiction, especially through self-meditation and racial issues ranging from perpetuated stereotypes to the vicious cycles of violence and poverty.
He explains that King Overdose refers to him, the man he was and still is. According to a video trailer released, he was“afflicted by the same methods of escape, whether it be alcohol, phone addiction, women.” Kids on Drugs refers to the fact that our society’s first response to any struggle nowadays seems to be medication.
In the very same video, the autotuned voice explains this by saying, “If I turn on the TV right now, it’s not gonna take long for there to be an advertisement that pops up that says, ‘Are you feeling down? Have you been having lonely thoughts?’ And then they shove a pill in your face.”
Kill Our Demons refers to his belief that our end goal should be to acknowledge that none of us are perfect, and we all have things that we struggle with. His video explanation states, “We’ve got to be honest with ourselves. Look in the mirror or look inside and ask ourselves questions like, ‘What’s causing me to run to this thing as an escape?’ And once I find the root of that, let me look it in its face and see what it really is.”
These three explanations for the title “KOD” are all consistent themes throughout the album. If you’ve gotten this far into the article, then you’re probably wondering what any of this could possibly have to do with my college experience and career path.
Well, I’m a senior psychology and sociology double major, so for the past four years, addiction and poverty have been recurring topics in my classes. My desired career path lies in the field of forensic psychology, with a focus on criminal rehabilitation.
You’re probably still a bit confused about how any of that ties into an album that is heavily focused on addictions, but hang in there, I promise it makes sense. Though my dream is to help the incarcerated with their reintegration into society after prison, this is coming out of my frustration with ignored childhood trauma and my sympathy for those who are not able to access proper help for the things they struggle with.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 20 percent of individuals suffering from anxiety or mood disorders are also suffering from substance abuse disorders. And according to the Bureau of Prison, 48.6 percent of the 207,847 people incarcerated in federal prisons are in for drug offenses. And the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that of the 1,358,875 people in state prisons, 16 percent have a drug crime as their most serious offense.
These numbers frustrate me, but by no means do they alarm me. It’s the people who have experienced the worst of things as children or have had to live the hardest lives and try to use drugs as a means of getting out, whether financially or mentally, but get caught and end up in the system that drive me the most towards my dream.
So although my job will be directly focused on the rehab of many different types of offenders, it’s the hope that I may help give someone a second chance at life that pushes me. I’m going to share, in-depth, three songs from this album that speak directly to what has motivated and inspired me to push through over these last four years for the degree that I will be receiving in two weeks.
In “Once An Addict,” Cole gets very personal and shares with his audience his experience of growing up with a mother who used alcohol to cope with the infidelity of his step-father. He told this story in such a way that allows us to see not only how he had to deal with living in such an unhealthy environment, but also how his mom turned to alcohol as a means of coping with her own struggles of raising two sons, basically on her own, with the added stress of her failing relationship.
This is one of my favorites on this album, as it tells a very real story. Many of us know heartbreak and betrayal. We know what it’s like to be let down by someone who we love, or we know of those struggles from friends and family members. The way we choose to cope with this hurt is different for all of us, and while some people may have healthier ways of doing so, unfortunately, others turn to more destructive methods of coping as his mom did. One of my favorite parts of this song is a small snippet where Cole describes how he began avoiding home and making the streets his home out of fear that he would get home and have to see his mother self-destruct more and more.
“I used to stay out later on purpose
Subconsciously I was nervous that if I came home early then what would surface was her inner demons
And then I’d have to end up seein’ my hero on ground zero”
The song following that on the album is “FRIENDS.” In this piece, Cole addresses a different generation of drug users. He begins the first verse directly addressing his friends, with his voice distorted, while he says their names, then goes on to himself and his peers out on their drug use in their attempts to heal old wounds. When I heard the lines, “There’s all sorts of trauma from drama that children see/Type of sh*t that normally would call for therapy/But you know just how it go in our community/Keep that sh*t inside it don’t matter how hard it be,” I was struck.
The idea of mental health being ignored in the black community is sadly one that exists, but is slowly being addressed. I know that for me, especially growing up in Jamaican culture, children’s experiences with trauma in comparison to adults tend to be downsized because of the thought that they’ll “grow out of it,” or they were “too young to understand, anyways,” and this is not true.
Children are vulnerable and very moldable, and the traumas they experience can affect their lives more severely than adults who experience the same things because of their limitations in processing their experiences.
Cole is right in mentioning that it’s these very same kids who grow up and develop unhealthy coping mechanisms, which often include drugs, especially in individuals from lower socio-economic classes. He acknowledges the claims that most people who self-medicate would make by agreeing that it might help for a while, but it’s only numbing the pain, and there are better ways that promote healing. Cole’s remedy to this lies in his chorus — meditate, don’t medicate.
“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 then you get lost in the wind
And I done seen the combo take n****s off the deep end
One thing about your demons they bound to catch up one day
I’d rather see you stand up and face them than run away”
The final song I want to share with you is called “Window Pain.” This song follows the stories of children and begins with a little boy telling the story of how he heard his cousin get killed. The young boy recalls this painful memory as clearly as one would expect a child would remember his trip to Disneyland. That was his reality. He uses this song to dive further into the trauma that so many children experience that helps to shape the experiences that they have later on in life, good or bad.
“KOD” is a beautifully hard-hitting album which much conviction. J.Cole continues to use his story-telling rap-style to spread awareness to real-life problems that just about anyone should be able to comprehend and sympathize with. If you haven’t heard this album, I urge you to give it a chance. If expletives bother you, there is a ‘radio-play’ version available on just about any media (iTunes, Spotify, YouTube) where you typically play music. Sit with some close friends in a quiet place or alone with some headphones and blast it. I promise you won’t forget it.
Tashnah Dixon is a senior psychology and sociology double major. This opinion reflects the view of the author only.