He Doesn’t Rap, He Illustrates

The Chaotic Canvas of Kodak Black

words by Alex Wen

Kodak Black has a reputation that precedes him. Even before dropping his debut album, Black had garnered a very peculiar image strung around his various run-ins with the law, his explicit social media presence, and a truly surreal Breakfast Club session. It draws many parallels to Kevin Gates, who has also channeled a lot of his real-life antics and criminality into his music. And since Kodak Black has already claimed to be the best alive–and his last mixtape, Lil B.I.G. Pac, says as much, the onus in on Painting Pictures to not only prove that claim, but to fit it into the larger narrative around Kodak Black as a person, and as a character. The curiosity here is less on the picture being painted, but rather the painter doing the painting.

Kodak Black is a chaotic artist and Painting Pictures as a canvas is messy. There’s a clear thread of introspection throughout the project, starting with “Day for Day” and its dedication for the people still locked up, and ending with “Why They Call You Kodak”, which positions paranoia and chaos as the norm in Black’s life. And yet, the project feels distanced and performative, his reconciliations occurring at the same time as his insincerities. (Although, a case can be made that these are just more of the problems he’s dealing with.)

Fans are often drawn to these narratives; party rappers or artists that have been pigeon-holed to a shallow subset of topics suddenly becoming introspective or “deep”. It’s an almost perverse appeal that reaches beyond artist’s experimenting beyond their genres and closer to the gangster-with-a-heart plot–where the subversion of expectation is really a faux underdog story propped up by racist, or at least simplistic, thoughts.

Framed here, it’s easy to give Kodak Black too much credit, pointing out any emotion as a vulnerability. This isn’t to dismiss the many, many examples on Painting Pictures where Black goes through great pains to paint vivid pictures on his past experiences. Rather, it’s to help understand Black as a dynamic and complex figure, who isn’t merely an archetype from the hood without agency.

This highlights some of the more simple, but effective lyrics that Black uses, like in the chorus of “Patty Cake” where he repeats, “I clap a n***a like patty cake.” The simplicity belies a simple, and routine, reality. It’s followed by a sillier, but perhaps just as genuine, “I love my baby girl pussy bald, call her Caillou.” Other tracks like “Twenty 8” or “Feeling Like” follow a similar pattern, although they all seem to be plagued by Black’s inability to carry a decent chorus.

At the same time, it makes other passages in the album harder to stomach, like in “Conscience” when Black raps:

I kick lil’ dumbass out my crib, say she want Chanel
I bought that bitch a wig ’cause she ain’t got no hair
I sent that poor ass hoe a Uber ’cause she ain’t got no whip

The hateful lyrics don’t play well alone, but they play even more poorly when stacked up against the very serious sexual assault claims that has loomed over Black’s identity. In many ways, Painting Pictures finds Black doubling down on these themes. Whether it reflects his personality or his persona, they derail conversations on values or introspection.

There is some indication that Black relishes, or at least accepts his role as a villain and antagonist. “Lil Kodak, they don’t like to see you winnin’ / They wanna see you in the penitentiary,” goes the chorus of one of the album’s stronger cuts, “Tunnel Vision.” Unfortunately, this only contributes to further muddying mixed messages. His confrontations with his critics stop short of satisfying rebuttals.

It follows a theme that Painting Pictures feels too small-minded for the character Kodak Black is trying to express, or be. The musicality, the lyrics, the themes, they all aspire for something greater. But what is greater here is unclear. Even the productions, a mish-mash of mostly forgettable trap beats seem unfocused and forgettable. Kodak Black, and by extension Painting Pictures, directness might be refreshing, if the bluntless wasn’t so unappealing.