April 13, 2017

painting pictures

Torii MacAdams doesn’t want to hear about the health benefits of cold showers.

The American canon doesn’t account for teenaged rogues like Kodak Black. Horatio Alger’s Ragged Dick didn’t grow wealthy doing that which he was supposed to abjure. Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn — enriched through happenstance and boyish wonderment — are more mischief makers than outright criminals. We don’t have an archetype for young, black rags-to-riches tales.

Having turned a childhood of privation into a nascent adulthood of riches, Kodak is his own mythmaker. Painting Pictures, which seeks to embellish his story further, finds the Pompano rapper at a crossroads: the album debuted third on the Billboard 200, but, as of this writing, he’s in prison for violating the terms of his house arrest. Later this year, he’ll return to Florence, South Carolina to stand trial for criminal sexual conduct. He’ll be 20 years old, facing 30 years imprisonment.

Kodak’s music has aged in reverse. As he’s gotten older, his rapping has become more mealy-mouthed and sing-songy, his beat selection consistently brighter. The breakin’ ‘n’ enterin’ youth who included a four-minute freestyle on his first mixtape has been subsumed by a narcotized adult with pop sensibilities. Anthemic, achingly stupid, profoundly catchy ditties like “Twenty 8” and “Patty Cake” would’ve been unimaginable two-and-a-half years ago; “Top Off Benz,” with a falsetto Young Thug, is all tiptoes, soap bubbles, and naif pastels. The persistent Boosie comparisons—which Kodak intentionally fueled—have never felt less apt.

Maybe this transformation was purposeful, or maybe Kodak is—understandably—a different person than he was at 16. He’s developed a flow that’s identifiably him, one filtered by a mouth filled with precious metals, pronounced with a drawl that’s opiated and Southern, the words stumbling and tumbling. It’s effective in small doses, though on back-to-back tracks “Side Nigga” and “Off The Land” Kodak’s elision of every inessential consonant (and some essential ones, too) creates a noticeable dearth of energy or verve. Of all the Kodak’s battling for primacy on Painting Pictures—the singalong icon, the Actavis abuser, the gangster rap heir apparent—it’s the least engaging. It risks little, reveals nothing.

When he was free, in his own home, and the sun dipped below the manicured golf course behind his pale peach McMansion, and his palm fronds swayed in humid everglade breezes, and his foyer’s tilework was cool to the touch from ‘round-the-clock air conditioning, Kodak Black must have, in these private suburban moments, felt self-doubt, or shock, or biting regret. With Painting Pictures, the private Kodak, the grumbling stomach Dieuson Octave of Golden Acres Projects, remains obscured, leaving listeners to trample shrubs and sneak peeks between the Venetian blinds. “Corrlinks and JPay,” named for the venal fucks who operate financial and communication services for inmates, reveals a teen too intimate with the justice system; he sends friends pictures through Corrlink, money through JPay for commissary snacks, or “zoom zoom’s and wham wham’s.” On “Conscience,” the album’s I-will-brook-no-disagreements best song, the teenager and a warbling Future celebrate their riches and lament the methods for their accrual. Kodak raps:

I’m sorry mom, I ain’t mean to bring you through so much pain
I said I’m sorry mom, I ain’t mean for it to be this way
Ay but fuck it, bitch, I’m here, I got diamond rings
All the finer things, designer jeans, I’m gettin’ paid

One of the early markers of Kodak’s preternatural ability was his gift for contextualizing, and attempts to reckon with, his misbehavior. He was—and remains—a young fuck-up, torn between a childhood of casual, impulsive crime and a looming adulthood of as much privilege and wealth as an uneducated black man with face tattoos can reasonably seize. Truly, he is his own best friend and worst enemy.

Even when the doe-eyed angel and mischievous demon on Kodak’s shoulders find a floating, fanged harmony, the album remains wrought with a nihilistic lust for women and goods, a covetousness that would be unremarkable for gangster rap under normal circumstances. But these are not normal circumstances. Kodak Black’s high school-aged accuser alleges that, for nearly two hours, he sexually assaulted her, ignoring repeated verbal and physical attempts to reject his violent advances. The severity of these accusations—and their ostensible veracity—coat the album’s sexually explicit lyrics with an oozy, slimy patina that may only be cleansed by a not guilty verdict. Twelve South Carolinians could determine the legacy of Painting Pictures: Kodak’s next step toward mainstream ubiquity, or the last hurrah before a cold cell and colder showers.