Kodak Black - Heart Break Kodak (Review)

Martin_Canine KODAK BLACK
Heart Break Kodak

What does it take to make a trap album that works?

Perhaps even more than traditional hip hop, trap shows who has a certain feeling for musicality, and an idea of what pop appeal is all about. While not exactly known for their lyrical ability, trap rappers rely on a melodious flow that’s on point with the music, and often have really catchy choruses. In that sense, neither Lil Pump nor 6ix9ine are bad trap rappers. The reason that my review of the latter’s debut album was rather mixed is solely due to the production, while the actual rapping is in fact both on point and unusually energetic (maybe I’ve even been a bit too harsh with the rating). And as for Lil Pump, his first record was great, probably even better than what Drake and Migos who received more acclaim released in 2017.

Out of trap, the subgenre of cloud rap emerged. It’s hard to define, and even the term “rap” isn’t even quite fitting anymore, as sometimes the vocals are on the border to singing. In fact, vocals done by Liz Phair in the 90s have pretty much the same characteristics as those of XXXTentacion. Cloud rap is essentially a genre mix that often dwells more into introspective, emotional subject matter while still maintaining a certain attitude associated with the hip hop culture. Next to the flow, it’s most essential that artists of this style credibly convey emotions, which is often done by a lo-fi approach, which adds some honesty to the sound.

Now, during the course of its duration Heart Break Kodak tries very hard to be both of these genres, but never really manages to be each, at least not at a qualitatively good level. Instead, it fails at delivering the very element that grant albums of the genre to be either an entertaining or an intense outcome, depending on the premise: the feeling for vocal delivery.

Kodak Black mumbles and moans without the slightest idea of harmony or rhythm. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not the mumbling and moaning itself that’s the problem. Young Thug uses the same technique and he’s one of the best of the genre, because while being eccentric he also knows how to create fascinating sounds and a certain atmosphere. No, it’s specifically the mix of these elements, the lacking sense of key and the out of beat melodies that make it a thoroughly unpleasant listen, especially since Black never delivers any subject matter that justifies all of this. When XXXTentacion or Lil Uzi Vert use(d) their thin, vulnerable voices to convey heavy lyrics, you believe every word. The imperfections make them feel much more authentic (in addition to the fact they are indeed in time with the music). Kodak Black’s vocals on the other hand sound pretty much like mere bad karaoke singing without the emotional intensity to back it up. It probably shows best on When Vultures Cry, the album biggest moment of failure. Out of the record, it tries the hardest to have both a big melody and an emotive sound, but comes off as widely disharmonious. As the album title suggests, heartbreak is a major thematic element on the songs, but the static and cold delivery takes away all the feelings there might have been when he wrote the lyrics down, making the outcome sound superficial and staged. This goes for almost all of the album. I could have written the same about Hate Being Alone, Running Outta Love or I Get Lonely, just to name a few.

While the majority of songs on Heart Break Kodak have the exact same premise and sound (although with a couple more sex and drug references on some individual songs), and also suffer from the exact same issues, on very, very few occasions it sparks through what this album could have been if it didn’t aim to be a singsong love record, which it didn’t become in the end. Actually, these occasions are exactly two songs. There’s Loyal, which not only has a very decent beat that I would have liked to hear on another, better album, but also features a solid rapping performance at certain parts. It’s not very thrilling, but it’s okay. The other one is Codeine Dreaming featuring Lil Wayne, which remains the album’s highlight and a really good track on top, although not stylistically fitting to the rest of the record. It has a monster of a trippy trap beat that lets both rappers deliver good verses with a secure flow. Whenever Kodak Black decides to rap traditionally instead of singing, which isn’t often the case, you can hear that he actually give a proper performance. Again, not exceptionally good, but he definitely knows the basics.

So the question remains, what is all that 808 and heartbreak for? Modern effects could help him out to improve the overall sound. If he has the vision but not the singing talent - this is an occasion where it’s good to use pitch correction and adjusting the tempo to make his voice in time with the beat. And if he wants an album that’s all pure, unfiltered emotion… why is the delivery so stiff and forced? What we ultimately get is a record that’s not just underwhelming, but that’s simply executed badly.