Luke Benjamin prefers Duck, Duck, Goose to Patty Cake.
“I don’t rap, I illustrate / I don’t paint pictures, I picture paint.”
So goes the opening of Kodak Black’s synesthetically named album, Painting Pictures, wherein some songs are Picassos and others finger painting, and in the case of “Patty Cake,” a little of both. Kodak is twenty, beyond his years and startlingly immature in equal doses; preternaturally talented and wayward, a Pompano Beach youngster turned nascent star who has seemingly spent as much time incarcerated in the last few years as he has making music. He’s all cubist rough edges dashed with canny pop instincts, possessed of an opiated drawl that trills when he reaches into upper registers and seeps into catchy offbeat melodies.
“Patty Cake” is molasses slippage over nursery rhyme piano chimes, Kodak’s exhortations just keeping pace with the keys. It traffics in Caillou and forty round drums, gallows humor and children’s games, a guillotine in a Build-a-Bear Workshop. Summery moments are offset by small detours toward encroaching violence, luxury watches, and enough pills to stock a pharmacy—a diamond studded Guernica in Bel Air pink. The little depth is almost secondary, the real joy here is in naive simplicity, hallmarks of gangsta rap in part replaced by pasta sauce and PBS kids programming.
The rhymes are absurdly obvious, and catchy, and the brightness of the whole production is blinding, almost as blinding as his gold teeth. The content of the verses and hook are questionable, but the feeling undeniable, a mood ring perpetually set to pastel pink (this is the color of happiness according to my cursory internet searching). “Patty Cake” is a soundtrack that only makes sense in the context of pool parties and summer milieu, rooftop kickbacks that end in swaying walks near dawn and sandcastles stomped down by clumsy feet. It would be the best Lil Yachty song, if it were a Lil Yachty song, so cartoonishly jovial you can almost picture Kodak next to a piano-playing Schroeder in an episode of Charlie Brown. Three tattooed crosses framing his animated grin.
This is all at odds with Kodak Black’s public facing persona, aside from his Rick and Morty hairstyle. The young rapper has been marred by indictments, allegations, and omnipresent violence; the troublingly predictable accoutrements of a black man seeking to transcend his born circumstance. To paint Kodak’s legal issues as conventional is a misstep though, he’s been accused of multiple assaults and a particularly gruesome alleged rape. Parallel this with the novelty of his appearance and easily memeable character, and you can begin to understand the labyrinthine tao of Kodak. To the delight of some, and disgust of others, he’s largely avoided weighty sentencing through all these charges. Making Kodak, born Dieuson Octave, an invariably tough young man to root for.
Complicating things further is his measurable commercial success during trials and prison stints, one of his post-jail singles, “Tunnel Vision,” made waves both on charts and urban radio, the zenith of his young career. Kodak’s corpus is light on songs of “Patty Cake’s” tenor, though they make up some of his best work, his roots concentrated more deeply in brusque nihilism. The syllable disregarding sing-song is relatively new to the Haitian-American’s repertoire, a gift that lightens the burden of routine violence and narcotic escapism. Wearying truths sound better when sung: “Kodak they don’t want to see you winnin’ / They want to see you in the penitentiary”
Reconciling this melange of childish ignorance and irredeemable violence takes some moral bargaining, bargaining that has become distressingly routine for many music fans. Despite this, “Patty Cake” is a stupidly great song, and yes just a little stupid, synthesizing bubble gum, Boosie, and cathartic materiality, that has in part anesthetized a childhood of forced austerity. That Kodak is still nostalgic for pieces of his Pompano upbringing is why you might pull for him, indiscretions and all, repeated allegedlys perhaps trumped by the goodness of overcoming a rigged deck. To be forthright, I don’t think you should forgive anything, and if even some accusations are true, the bad outweighs the good, but at least for the moment “Patty Cake” is a guilty pleasure, a bad decision you like making—drunchies for the soul.
The song will live on either way, flitting in and out of bonfires, back porch BBQs, and sunbaked speakers, a reprieve from seriousness into encompassing bliss. It’s a paradise of Kodak’s making, where bubbly loosens serotonin like ecstasy and happiness is as simple as a foreign car and suburban girl. Immersion therapy delivered in three minutes with a gold-plated beam.
Out of jail, and with a life ahead of him, Kodak has real opportunity. For a kid who feels as if he “was already sentenced before I came up out the womb,” he has a chance to see more gold plaques than prison cells, and make good on the flashes of brilliance that color Painting Pictures. You too have an opportunity, to eschew the ubiquity of dancehall Drake and Calvin Harris’ blonde-headed chart manipulating in favor of a better song of the summer—a silly anthem of Candy Land quality, a patty cake for your post-20s, hand-slapping suggested but not required. Play “Patty Cake” instead.