With the uncertainty over his future at an all time high, we look at whether there's still time for Kodak Black to get back on track.
At a time where generations and demographics are more hostile towards each other than ever, there’s no shortage of hip-hop artists that have the burden of controversy and contentiousness hovering over their heads. Sparked by perceived disrespectfulness, a rejection of hip-hop’s founding doctrines or just plain old unsavoury personas that do little to ingratiate themselves to new audiences, the modern listener’s list of artists that they passionately revile can sometimes equal or exceed those they adore. Driven by the industry-wide emphasis on keeping your profile high and the public interested at all times, the advent of the social media era has meant that artists from across the spectrum will harness outrage as their primary mode of newsworthiness. An online currency that can’t be bought but can certainly be sold or profited from, this tendency to stir ill will and teeter between trolling and mean-spiritedness has been a cornerstone of the media strategy of older heads such as Lord Jamar and Joe Budden, as well as the new crop of agitators such as Lil Pump and the ever-contentious Tekashi 6ix9ine.
Once a constant presence in the news cycle, the self-aggrandizing “King Of New York,” lesser-known as Daniel Hernandez, had the world at his feet for one whirlwind of a year. Loved, loathed and gawked at in the same breath, Tekashi’s fall from grace and into the vicelike arms of the criminal justice system is one that reads like an allegory for the ingrained dangers of a young man attaining too much, too soon. From holding all of the cards to widely mocked informant, his departure left a void for hip-hop’s leading internal menace and it certainly didn’t remain vacant for very long.
After 6ix9ine’s abdication, the role of today’s lightning rod for debate came in the form of Kodak Black. Although, where Tekashi was his own advocate for controversy, choosing to surround himself in it in a purposeful way; Kodak seems moreso to fall into it, haphazardly and perhaps, with less strategy.
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Despite the fact that he’s been no stranger to a skirmish or two since he rose to fame-- including a seven month stint inside-- it has now became an integral facet of his public persona of late. For the casual observer, it could be reaching a boiling point in which his run-ins with the law and proclivity for online bantering is superseding his career in music. Held behind bars once more as we speak, there’s no time like the present to examine what fate lies ahead for the brash “Project Baby” and whether there’s still time to evade the same fate as one of his many online sparring partners.
Over the course of the past few months, it’s safe to say that the man born Dieuson Octave-- later changed to Bill K. Kapri after he converted to become a Hebrew Israelite-- has done little to foster new relationships with his peers in the rap game. Whether he’s casting aspersions towards Nipsy Hussle’s grieving partner Lauren London, embroiling himself in beef with The Game and T.I after they tried to reproach him or tastelessly aiming at Young M.A, the Golden Acres native has taken the scattergun tact to accruing new enemies. Coupled with a half-hearted apology to London, perplexing beefs with Sticky Fingaz, Lil Wayne’s daughter Reginae and his insistence that he’s “better than”2Pac and Biggie, all signs point to Kodak finding himself in the clutches of the showbusiness side of the music industry that prioritizes column inches over catalogue. However, it appears that this is a decision that Kodak is rueing in the wake of the maelstrom of legal issues that he’s struggling to come to terms with. Since he was apprehended by authorities at Rolling Loud Festival, Kodak has been routinely denied bond, served with an additional lawsuit and was reduced to begging the judge for release in order to attend to issues with his longstanding sexual misconduct case from 2016. Laboured with the prospect of a ten-year sentence for the gun application charges alone, it appears that Kodak and his camp are drawing parallels between his plight and that of Tekashi 6ix9ine. In a report from Urban Islandz, a source claimed that:
"The feds targeting that man (Kodak Black) just because he is a successful black man and they don’t like to see that. C’mon we ain’t going out like 6ix9ine we ain’t committing no crimes. We just out here making good music for the fans and performing for the fans. They don’t want to see a ni*** be successful."
Successful as he may be today, this source from Kodak’s inner circle hits upon one key point that makes his current status as another MC that got caught up in the online thuggery and image maintenance all the more dismaying.
In one of many refuted attempts to be released on bond, Kodak and his legal aides attempted to combat the notion that he is a danger to society with claims that he is struggling to overcome the situation that he was born into. As presented by his lawyers, an article from The Blast outlined that his team are utilizing his youth in a “low-income neighbourhood” as explanation for his outlandish and unlawful actions.
A similar hypothesis to The Miami New Times’ belief that he’s the product of “larger societal problems,” his defense have utilized numerous character testimonies which state that “people in his old neighborhood talk about a quiet little boy walking around with a notepad, constantly writing rhymes.”
Notably, this depiction of his childhood bears resemblance to Kodak’s own testimony to Passion Of The Weiss way back in 2014. Made at a time prior to fame’s pincers sinking into him, this statement explained that while he regularly visited a trap house, it wasn’t due to the criminal activity but the other equipment that resided within its walls:
"I started rapping at my school, too. I say, I wanna rap, too. They say, come to the trap. I was seeing some shit. Even though I wasn’t doing what I was seeing. They say come up in the trap house and record up in the microphone, and stuff, one computer. But as a kid, they was scared to like, really be under that pressure like that. I was rapping, I was coming every day after school, in a trap house just rapping. I wasn’t sellin’ no drugs– I was just in elementary school– I was just coming to rap."
In a typically cruel twist of fate, Kodak’s latest full-length project inferred that he was recapturing his love for the artform. Released at the tail-end of last year, Dying To Live saw him rhyme with a newfound emotional and spiritual clarity while exhibiting signs of genuine remorse. Nearly as much of a critical success as it was a commercial one, the Kodak that takes centre-stage on this record seems diametrically at odds with the hubristic figure that dispensed his words so carelessly over the past few months. Loaded with revelatory insights to the life and times of a self-made young black man that was never earmarked for success, part of its gravitas came from the fact that he genuinely seemed to be undergoing a metamorphosis that would allow him to overhaul his fortunes.
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Away from lyrical content, this desire to be a better person permeated through to his actions and a spate of charitable deeds that any MC could be proud of. Split between donating money to students from deprived areas, offering to fund the funeral of STEM School Shooting hero Kendrick Castillo and his alleged plan to give his Rolling Loud fee to the family of Parkland Shooting victim, it appeared that there was enough salvageable material there for Kodak to make reparations and get back on track.
Now, Kodak’s fate is in the hands of his attorneys and the scales of justice. But if he does get the chance to return to the fray, he’d do well to remember the words he penned for an early Project Baby standout:
“I need to change the lil ways I be thinkin'
I can't keep runnin' my people, I'm crazy
I can't keep goin' to jail, that's fugazi.”