When the list of 2019 Grammy nominees was announced, one name was conspicuously absent from the Best Rap Album category — depending on your views. Despite J. Cole’s 2018 effort, KOD, selling platinum (with no features), it was not selected as one of the top five albums from a rapper by the group of music industry professionals that make up the Grammy nomination committee.
The albums that were selected: Cardi B’s Invasion Of Privacy, Mac Miller’s Swimming, Nipsey Hussle’s Victory Lap, Pusha T’s Daytona, and Travis Scott’s Astroworld. Seeing that lineup, J. Cole’s fans were sent into a frenzy of complaints about the supposed snub. Aside from the expected complaints about the perceived content discrepancy between KOD and the nominated albums — particularly Cardi’s and Travis’ — fans wondered why even the singles from the album didn’t get nominated.
But what if KOD wasn’t snubbed? While those fans who believe it was may have a few legitimate complaints, KOD was a very conventional project — albeit a very well-executed one — in a year where dozens of conventional projects came and went, while the nominees were just a portion of the genre-pushing albums that moved hip-hop forward in 2018. Though a five-album field makes the job of narrowing down the representative sample incredibly difficult, one thing is for sure: KOD doesn’t belong on that list.
J. Cole’s fans definitely disagree. Within hours of the nomination announcements, they’d bombarded social media with several reasons the album deserved the nomination. One of the primary praises for KOD was its messaging, which tackled a perceived drug abuse issue within hip-hop among fans. While that perception may be somewhat overblown, J. Cole managed to address a subject his fans see as a pressing need, partially due to the deaths of Lil Peep and Mac Miller. The beats, which featured Cole’s broadest musical experimentation in years, finally branched out from his own sample-driven production work and included collaborators like T-Minus. His rhymes were as poignant as ever, at times showing empathy on top of Cole’s standard gift for wordplay-propelled storytelling.
However, while it’s a smart and thoughtful album, KOD‘s greatest drawback is that it sounds so much like an album that Cole has already made. Right now, you’re probably wondering, “Dope beats, dope rhymes, what more do you want?” But if all of hip-hop in 2018 were condensed to that simple mantra, you’d be hard-pressed to hold KOD up against many other albums and swear in court that it’s head-and-shoulders above even the albums that stuck to its purist-pleasing lane.