After revitalizing his career with what might be his best single yet – oddly tacked onto the back half of a compilation project, but now appearing here – Florida rapper Kodak Black rebounds back to relevance as “Super Gremlin” knocks on the door of becoming the biggest single in the world. While Kodak’s highly nasal delivery, questionable lyrical content and repetitive trap beats have often dulled his impact for the active listener, his 2018 project Dying to Live certainly showed quite a bit of potential as Kodak displayed his ear for infectious beats and melodies. His latest, Back for Everything, falls somewhere in the middle. While there are a couple tracks here that could easily cross over into the pop hemisphere as his lead single did, Kodak’s delivery is still difficult to stomach across a full 19-track album, and he often falls back to using the same tricks over and over. With only one feature along for the ride in Lil Durk, the project likely could have used a little more variation.
It doesn’t happen often, but Kodak’s biggest strengths and surprises across this project come when he drops the tough guy act and opens up a little bit more – as he does on the opening track, “Let Me Know.” Kodak has been a truly troubled individual for a while now, and getting a look into his mind is eye-opening, even if he might not be the most reliable narrator in the world. Having been in and out of jail repeatedly, Kodak offers his take on the events that led there and explains why a couple of them might have been unjustified, connecting that to being rejected by pop culture at large for being “too gangster.” The twinkling synth-piano beat is a nice touch, but Kodak’s flows and delivery still leave something to be desired. This leads into “Back for Everything” and “Grinding All Season,” two tracks which should have had great hooks in theory, but once again, Kodak’s muddy, garbled vocals strip away the charisma that they need to thrive. These are catchy pop hooks, but Kodak isn’t the guy to communicate them. “Back for Everything” is very repetitive, the verses using the same single melody line as the hook, and “Grinding” sees him slathered in Auto-Tune, reaching up for notes that are far out of his comfort zone, making for a borderline painful listen. “Smackers,” on the other hand, is more of a straightforward rap banger that once again misses the full potential that its engaging flute-laden beat provides. It’s easy to want to nod your head to this, but Kodak missing a couple rhythmic pockets makes it nearly impossible.
Kodak continues with hits and misses throughout the entire album, although there tends to be a couple more on the latter side. “On Everything” isn’t one of them, and combined with “Purple Stamp” might be the best one-two punch on the album. With a breezy flute instrumental that sounds a little like a SpongeBob trap remix and one of the only good COVID bars a rapper has ever dropped, it’s a rare instance of Kodak pulling off some more melodic material well as he adopts some R&B slow jam energy. “Purple Stamp” comes equipped with a hard-hitting trap instrumental from Murda Beatz, who knows exactly what he’s doing as Kodak hits the pocket more than usual. Still, both tracks have to be thrown off somehow, whether it’s a homophobic bar on the former or the abrupt ending of the latter. “Midas Touch” and “Sink My Ship,” on the other hand, don’t have any of those redeeming factors. Kodak’s drawled, singing sneer on the former is hard to sit through, especially as it starts adding some suffocating layering near the end, while the latter is essentially an X-rated nursery rhyme with its repetitive, sing-song nature and eye-opening bars about his need to be “evil.” “Usain Boo” sounds like it might be Kodak’s next pop hit with its cascading keyboards, bright sound and soulful sample. It certainly starts strong, but fizzles out due to having no direction. There’s no chorus, and by the end Kodak sounds like he’s just freestyling onomatopoeias.
The run of proven hitmaking producers contributing some of the most notable tracks continues as the album switches over to its back half, with “Elite Division” emerging as a standout. Produced by Zaytoven, he excels even outside of his comfort zone as he drops an eerie, West Coast beat that verges on G-funk. It’s introduced with a bizarre stream of consciousness from Kodak that really sets the scene – it’s some of the most overt, visceral street-rap thrills here. For the most part, however, Kodak’s lyricism continues to let him down. It’s not as if anybody should be searching for masterful lyrics from Kodak, but sometimes he says something that’s so completely distasteful or strange that it’s hard to ignore – especially when it gets increasingly difficult to separate what he says from the horrible headlines about Kodak’s views, crimes and treatment of women. “Hitting Houses” is an almost obnoxiously bright and happy track with a bubbly, hyperpop energy and blaring 80s synths, making it strange to hear Kodak rhyming about drive-by shootings on the same project where he gleefully advocates for murder as a lifestyle more than once. “Vulnerable (Free Cool)” and “Omega” both continue Kodak’s streak of predatory or distasteful bars about pregnancy, as if it’s a mechanical process without any real people involved.
The project actually does save some of its better tracks for the end. After getting through “Love Isn’t Enough,” another Auto-crooned track where Kodak reaches up to heights he should never attempt for again and shoehorns some truly awkward rhymes into the mix, and “Take You Back,” a track about both romantic partners forgiving each other for cheating that comes across as oddly wholesome in comparison to the rest of the lyrical content on display here, the track “He Love the Streets” is another one of Kodak’s storytelling moments. Over a dramatic movie score of an instrumental, it’s compelling to hear him talk about understanding the need to get out of his dangerous lifestyle, but feeling so drawn to the darkness that he cuts off all emotional feeling for anything else. “Super Gremlin,” of course, has the catchiest hook of his career, while “I Wish” sees him tone himself down and stay out of the way of a great Ray J sample before he does anything too egregious. Still, the project closes on the completely awful “Love & War,” in which Kodak miserably tries to flirt with a horrible breathy tone and more gross bars.
It remains to be seen if one big single has brought Kodak back for good, or for one more album cycle, but the potential for hitmaking is still obviously there. There’s an entire mountain of things both musical and personal that he’ll likely have to overcome to continue to keep them coming, however, and he doesn’t succeed on this one as much as his last big project.
Favourite Tracks: Super Gremlin, Elite Division, On Everything, Let Me Know
Least Favourite Track: Love & War