October 13, 2016

kodak

Will Hagle freed Gucci. 

A short video clip appeared on Twitter the other day of Kodak Black singing a song over the phone. It’s impossible to tell whether the clip, or another one in which he sings something different to his girlfriend, will ever translate into good, full songs. All we get are bare acapella versions, as necessitated by Kodak’s legal circumstances. But Kodak sings in calculated cadence, almost as if he envisions the finished recorded product in his head: “I’ve been through a lot in my past / I’m trying to stay level-headed / I gotta stop moving so fast / I don’t know where I’m headed.”

Lyrically, there’s nothing exceptional about anything Kodak’s sung over the phone. Most media companies want you to think that he’s “spit a self-reflective verse” or “rapped a somber” one, and most of the comment sections on those posts just want to tell you how trash he is. Both are extreme views and neither are right. But the context of Kodak’s incarceration, and his or his team’s decision to release this clip, force listeners to take one side or the other. You either care that a young artist with promise is being unjustly held back from creating new music, or you don’t.

If your position is the former, you probably think Kodak’s situation is the byproduct of a scenario to which we’ve grown far too accustomed to seeing in modern America. Our greatest artists are our greatest victims of a long-broken system, their names too often preceded by the word “FREE” in a hashtag. The only way they can stay engaged with their fans, many of whom simply watch from a more privileged position, is to have a team on the outside continuing to release new or archived content.

Kodak Black’s “Can I” video was released a couple weeks ago, when he still had 63 days left to serve in St. Lucie County jail, where he’s being held on two misdemeanor drug charges. The song itself is from Little B.I.G. Pac, which was released when he was in jail in Broward County on a different charge, before he was transferred to St. Lucie. He’s nineteen years old.

If you feel Kodak’s imprisonment is an injustice, certain moments of the song—“I’m not a bad kid, I just didn’t have no guidance,” “Will I live long enough to raise my son?,” and “Can your boy do something productive for once?”—will pop out. The video makes those lines even more pertinent, combining clips of Kodak before his arrest with his mugshot and images of him in court. The black and white striped outfit of the girl dancing on his Rolls Royce looks far too similar to the color and pattern of his jail-issued jumpsuit.

If you’re less sympathetic towards Kodak, you might second guess potentially innocent lines such as “Can I take you out to lunch? / I just want to get you full then get all in your stomach” and their accompanying visuals instead. Kodak is still facing a charge for sexual battery in South Carolina, and it’s unclear whether or not he’ll go home or be sent there after his current sentence is up. A sexual battery conviction would bring an entirely different context to Kodak’s music than the drug charges.

As recent history has justifiably taught us, that type of conduct has to be taken seriously whether or not we enjoy the art that the accused makes. We have to root for artists who are oppressed because of their skin tone, the type of music they make, or the place where they grew up, but we also have to be cognizant of when we’re just being selfish fans. If the line was clearer, the internet would be a much more pleasant place.

It’s natural to feel conflicted when beloved personalities do terrible things in their personal lives, and the murky layers of Kodak’s multiple arrests and the lack of details on the charges make it difficult to know exactly what the right opinion should be. I mean, it’s obvious that too many innocent young black artists are going to jail on bogus charges AND that too many likable entertainers are getting away with committing heinous sexual offenses. It’s clear we should be outraged. But the realest reaction might be to just feel sad.

“Can I” is a sad song. Its hook is simultaneously opti- and pessimistic. Like Kodak’s best, it evokes emotion through melancholy melody. What he lacks in wordplay, he makes up with delivery. Production value aside, the way he sings each line is not far removed from the cell phone clip. The music video itself is decent, nothing special, but it’s a reminder to listen to this song again. The crimes aren’t what make Kodak’s songwriting compelling, but his sustained imprisonment does give his older music newer context. He’s only nineteen years old.