One of the most controversial and the most promising reemerges with the sequel of his debut. Has the fast life calmed him down, or is he still a force to be reckoned with?
Rappers usually manage to attract controversy as readily, if not sooner than they attract fans. Nowadays you look around the internet and it isn’t always the rapper who keeps themselves musically hot these days, as much as it's the ones who keep their names in the headlines , or trending on social media. The way the Internet Age has affected rap, it's hard to think of popular rappers who don’t have a constant undercurrent of controversy during their peak years, rather than simply being noticed for establishing a consistently good, or great body of work.
Kodak Black is in many ways both the embodiment and the antithesis of this. For all of the successes that his debut Painting Pictures may have given him, the past two years of his rise are not necessarily noted by his relentless grind, but by jail time, and charges ranging from weapons and drugs to sexual assault. Any time he was allowed back in the public spotlight, Kodak seemed eager to be the provocateur, constantly turning to social media to get himself further and further into trouble. All of this only helped convert his fame into infamy. With hysteria seemingly subdued as the result of Kodak being locked down on house arrest for a year, he’s found the time to drop the sequel to his debut mixtape from 2013, Project Baby, not even half a year after his first studio album.
In the wake of so much hand-wringing and debate, it would be nice to say that Kodak has turned to a much more positive outlook, which could potentially redeem himself after being the source of endless turmoil and scathing critique. That’s a nice idea, but it seems the antithesis of Kodak’s goals, who instead of apologizing and trying to redeem himself, seems to thrive off the negativity and fuel his music to even darker degrees. Everything that has been seemingly decided about Kodak by the public instead becomes material he uses, serving a sort of toxic symbiosis that only furthers just how enthralling and disturbing he can manage to be all at once. On Project Baby 2's opener “Versatile,” Kodak aggressively pivots off a straightforward recollection of struggle and pain to move into gleefully bragging about playing mind games with women, only to yet again switch up into a potential scammer’s anthem, portraying himself as complex but unrepentantly vicious (as well as reflect his song title quite accurately), while producer Helluva’s nimble piano line continuously builds tension. Over Murda Beatz's 8-bit nightmare for “Unexplainable,” Kodak seems to shrug off the idea of accountability and expectation, sneering at social media and fuming at legal obligations. On the surly “Roll In Peace,” it feels all too ironic that while London on Da Track’s horn loop lingers in the background, Kodak gets to duet with yet another heat-magnet for outrage and fellow Floridian, XXXtentacion, who manages to sound both complimentary to Kodak’s negative excesses, and cartoonishly obnoxious in vocal contrast.
The fact of the matter is that while Painting Pictures seemingly depended too much on run-of-the-mill punchlines, Project Baby 2 is startlingly barefaced in content and speaks to the leaps and bounds that Kodak’s rapping has improved. Hooks are concise, and while melodic, never feel quite as mealy-mouthed as he’s tends to, and verses don’t feel like a bunch of rhymes done just for the sake of rapping. Instead, the approach manages to sound evocative and attention-grabbing, as Kodak dishes out details with little-to-no filter (no matter how much some of us might plead for one). Although, in terms of the public sphere, his evolution as a person might not be as visible, as a writer, and daresay as a lyricist, he’s managed to push forward and develop past his current years. Collaborators and peers such as Jackboy and John Wicks, who appear on the mournful "My Klik" to good effect, don’t admit to keeping their exes in their mind as lingering idealizations ("First Love"), lash out at loved ones over emotional abandonment in prison ("Versatile," again) or deliberately ignore medication ("Misunderstood"). It’s downright chilling to hear the a young man begging his friends to allow him back into their lives on "Pride," with the same young man later considering killing his cousin to avoid implication in crimes on "No CoDefendant." Frankly, even established rappers like Migos’ Offset, who delivered an A+ performance on "Built My Legacy," feel comparatively slight to the dimensions of subject matter available to Kodak.
What especially helps with making Project Baby 2 feel so compelling is the production, which finds Kodak moving away from the generic expectations of the industry for so-called ‘trap’ artists, into a strange niche of evocative orchestral loops. Much of the production here is established by Kodak’s home production team, typically led by Ben Billions, but featuring associates like Rex Kudo and Dyryk who manage to have perfected the style that seems to inspire Kodak the most. Whether it's the mournful strings on “Change My Ways,” the James Ferraro-like office ambience touches on “First Love,” or the plaintive guitar loop on “Pride,” they truly manage to understand how to get Kodak at his strongest in a way some have struggled with. Elsewhere, more seasoned producers like Murda Beatz and London, have provided more than a few choice offerings, but it's also the relatively unknown names such as Skip on Da Beat and C-Clip Beatz that work hard to keep the moody nature of the mixtape so effective at complimenting Kodak, even when his own words betray himself. Arguably the biggest irony might be C-Clip revisiting the Isaac Hayes loop previously popularized by southern rap icons the Geto Boys on “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” for the punchy “Transportin'.” Then again, as much as Scarface’s depth might appeal to Kodak, his morbid sensibilities lean much closer to Bushwick Bill than anything.
Overall, Project Baby 2 is about as complex and confounding as the man who recorded it. Kodak Black is seemingly veering further into his own direction, as if he's challenging the notion that he has to change to be a success story. It's an uncompromising listen which will no doubt continue to infuriate those who’ve come to despise Kodak, and that only seems to be working to suit his needs both as an artist and as someone who enjoys being a public figure of ill reputation. However, given the various troubles that’s been plaguing him, one hopes that someone with the recognizable talents as a rapper manages to turn his life around. As much creativity as he’s displayed up to this point, there’s an ominous feeling that eventually all of his chaos could one day catch up to him and turn his story into a tragedy.