J. Cole’s draw comes from his humility and approachability. Across his career, Cole has mounted and worn in the station of the doting older brother, and it’s paid off en masse. On his fifth studio album, KOD, that humility came and went in waves, at times leaving the album perched upon a moral high road that was foreign to Cole and dismissive to suffering listeners.
The “meditate don’t medicate” mantra of “FRIENDS” comes to mind as the biggest offender; however, his standout appearance on Jay Rock’s brand new album, Redemption, all but redeems Cole. Looking at his verse on “OSOM,” from the flow to the content, these were the compelling and nuanced lyrics that “FRIENDS,” and the subject of addiction as a whole, demanded.
“Fuck it, I'm turnin' my phone off / Fantasies of grabbin' the heat and burnin' my nose off (plow) / Niggas might not know, but I'm slightly thawed off / And I might need Zoloft but for now these Xannies'll do / Hear the sound, a manic depressive / That ain't been prescripted, what can he do?” —J. Cole “OSOM”
From the perspective of a nameless character, Cole breaks down the weight and dangerous impulse that comes with suicidal ideation and depression. Cole is at his best when he uses his pen to highlight the plight of another, and on “OSOM” we get an unfiltered view. Where on “FRIENDS” Cole teeters on scolding and gets tongued to the point of maligning antidepressants, “OSOM” features a far more becoming take. There’s a level of necessary understanding, and once Cole pivots to editorializing, he sympathizes with his character’s addiction. He takes the route of humanizing, finally.
“FRIENDS” struggled to complete a narrative because Cole took great efforts to explain the traumas of Black Americans and stigmas surrounding mental illness, but fell short in the final hour with a sliver of damning crack science. Now, he's appropriately doubling down on the desperation laden within this path to drug addiction. There’s power in the admission “What can he do?” It brings to light the lack of accessible mental health care and conversation and sparks a conversation all in one.
KOD needed J. Cole’s “OSOM” verse, but important conversations are always better late than never.