by Joe Biglin Music What Would Meek Do?

Kodak Black | Dying to Live

March 9, 2019

Kodak Black’s “Moshpit” ends with the couplet “Fuck a protest / Let’s start a mosh pit in here.” At face value, this seems a bit silly; but what by all indication should be a paint-by-numbers, dumb-fun Juice WRLD collab actually uses its playful, xylophone-led melody, and heightened feelings of juvenilia, to hide an undercurrent of existential political dread. The same can be said of many songs on Kodak’s Dying to Live: the album tracks the social media-broadcasted struggle of Kodak’s own life, post-incarceration, against the systemically-perpetuated feelings of powerless despair that loom over so much of black America (it should be noted, though, that Kodak currently awaits trial in April for a charge of sexual assault stemming from 2016, necessarily complicating the vision of injustice that’s presented here). “Free all my ni**as who stuck in the box / Locked up and watching the clock,” from the track “Calling my Spirit,” might sound like a standard sentiment for any rags-to-riches rapper to espouse, but it’s all too easy to forget that Kodak has been a rapper derided by the media as someone ‘dumbing-down rap music.’

Kodak’s foray into politics never goes full-on Kendrick, either, in that he doesn’t shy away from the marble-mouthed mumble rap he’s known for — in fact, he doubles down. The glitch-pop of “Transgression” finds Kodak letting his words messily tumble over the descending beat: “I did everything the streets told me was cool to do / Now I’d rather prove it to myself before I prove it to you.” But there’s a newfound sense of urgency here — the impression that an embattled Kodak is summoning these words as a means of defense against the criminal justice system. Dying to Live’s opening track, “Testimony,” lays out similar intentions right in its title, but the song has two purposes: it’s both Kodak’s response to his legal troubles and a religious invocation of past sins — a confessional, a way toward healing. In fact, Kodak’s work here overall — his versatile melodies, his poignant storytelling, and his virtuoso use of voice-as-instrument — conflates political and spiritual struggle. And while a stretch of Dying to Live does tone down the politics side (absurdist sex banger “Gnarly” and the cheesy, steel drum-led “Zeze,” both certified radio hits), this section reinforces the strains of humor and joy that run through the album. Most endearing of all, though, is the sense of gratitude that Kodak displays here. On “Malcolm X.X.X.,” a tribute to the late, fellow Floridian XXXTentacion, samples of the civil rights icon explaining how the Islamic faith has been misunderstood by white America are juxtaposed against Kodak’s heartbreaking lament, a concept energized by the rapper running through his own personal aspirations. Throughout all this, though, Kodak never forgets where he comes from — and in particular, the concern for the material (chains, diamonds, designer) that seemingly got X killed. The song delivers a shock to the system, and serves as a strong denunciation of those who “ain’t [already] know” that Kodak “was intellectual.

Published as part of What Would Meek Do?  | Issue 6