What’s Up With Kodak Black?

Mateus takes a look at the controversial rapper's past and how this has shaped his music career...

Every time I have mentioned that I enjoy Kodak Black’s music to my friends, the response is generally unanimous laughter. It seems that a vast number (perhaps the majority) of hip-hop fans see Kodak Black as an uninspired, gimmick rapper. I find this reaction jarring. It is through investigating and exploring the content of his music that you uncover a vibrant and chaotic image of a man, conflicted by his past and his irrationality.

Kodak grew up in the slums of Florida, more commonly known as ‘the Projects’. His tough, impoverished upbringing has had a massive effect on his lyrics, particularly since he started rapping when he was just 14. In his breakthrough song, a cover of Wale’s ‘Ambition’, young Kodak haunts the listener with the harsh reality of being a young black kid in a poor US neighbourhood, by saying “I’m 14 and already thinkin’ about death”. Here he depicts a bleak and hopeless image of his life: so young and yet so utterly fatalistic. He further explores this in ‘Won’t Go Back’, claiming “My life is a coin toss, tails first”.

In a short WorldStar documentary from last year, Kodak’s older brother and Sniper Gang label affiliate John Wicks explains the hardships of the Projects for a child: “For a kid growin’ up here, man, you gon’ get beat up … you gon’ learn how to sell drugs … you gon’ learn how it feel to lose somebody you love”. Kodak has been vocal in his music about doing anything possible to survive, including selling drugs, robberies, house break-ins, etc. His main passion and drive, however, was always music.

In some of his earlier work, you can see how much his upbringing in the Floridian slums became ingrained within him. He has named his most famous mixtapes ‘Project Baby’, crediting the Projects as almost a maternal figure. In one of his most famous songs, ‘No Flockin’, Kodak goes as far as to acknowledge the Projects as being inseparable from himself, with the imagery of him “bleeding concrete”. This link can be a dangerous one, compelling him to act in accordance to the violence of his youth, introspectively stating in ‘Change My Ways’ that “When I ain’t thuggin’ I miss it / My trigger finger be itching”.

“Kodak has had a disastrous history in relation to women”

Another conflict in Kodak’s music is that of love. There are many songs where Kodak succumbs to the typical rap trope of talking about his sexual endeavours, but there are others, such as ‘First Love’, in which he comes across as a hopeless romantic, looking to settle down. In an interview, Kodak even stated that “I want a wife, I ain’t really tryna be no player out here”. However, Kodak has had a disastrous history in relation to women, including explicit videos for which he has had to apologise, and most infamously, allegations made against him of sexual crimes.

Regardless of these shocking facts, I find Kodak Black an interesting case study in music: a man whose progress in life and stardom is always impeded by a side of his persona that is prone to destructive actions. In no aspect are these contradictions clearer than in Kodak’s relationship with fatherhood. He has provided a very negative narrative of his absent father, who abandoned Kodak when he was only little. In the beautiful ‘Too Many Years’, he tells this tale: “No daddy so I grew up to the street life.. Although often showing resentment, in the WorldStar documentary Kodak opens up about his desire to be closer to his father before he passes away. Speaking of his father’s eventual death, Kodak tragically notes “I don’t even think I’m gonna cry. But I should cry. But the only way I’ma cry is if we have a relationship”.

“Video evidence found the 20-year-old rapper carrying firearms and smoking marijuana beside his young son”

This estranged bond, or lack thereof, has impacted upon Kodak’s relationship with his own young son. In a heartfelt statement in ‘Versatile’, Kodak says “I gotta lil boy now and I wanna be there for bruh / The feeling he give a nigga I ain’t ever felt this way before.” Though he clearly wants to provide for his son what his father couldn’t, he is plagued by a lack of experience in familial relations and nurture, as well as a dependency on a dangerous and irresponsible lifestyle. His gang affiliations and violent behavioural issues came to a head earlier this year, when he was arrested for several charges, including Child Neglect, as video evidence found the 20-year-old rapper carrying firearms and smoking marijuana beside his young son.

Kodak was raised in a world of abandonment, resentment and crime. Beyond the outer absurdist layer of his lyrics, these are the experiences that seep deep into the core of his music, telling tragic and cautionary tales of being a reckless youth struggling for survival: tales of being a ‘Project Baby’. But with all his genuine talent, commitment and ability, Kodak is eternally plagued by conflicting messages. He claims to be a new man, but the hood is forever linked to him and his actions; he claims to want real love, but lives a playboy lifestyle and has a troublesome connection with women, he deeply resents his father for not being present throughout his life, but he has shown worrying irresponsibility in bringing up his own child.

“Maybe he’s struggling with the new set of dangers that come along with his lifestyle”

In the documentary, Kodak’s childhood friend Polo Pooh stated that Kodak has “many different personalities”, and I feel like it is this, the shocking and extreme split in his character and nature, that affects his music most frequently, presenting an image not of an artist groomed for the stage and the spotlight, but rather a conflicted man, torn between his moral principles and his destructive behaviour.

Perhaps Kodak became so accustomed to his life of troubles and imprisonment that he simply can never fully adapt to the pressures and responsibilities of this new life of fame, in which society has different expectations and demands of him. Maybe he’s struggling with the new set of dangers that come along with his lifestyle. “They gon’ let me out that cage? They gon’ free me and let me fly? There’s vultures out there”.

Mateus de Sá

Featured image courtesy of Kodak Black via Instagram.

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