Last year was as mixed a year as ever for the XXL Freshman Class. Whilst some of the artists chosen to feature on the magazine’s annual list of noteworthy rappers dropped some of the year’s most commercially and critically successful projects, such as Denzel Curry, with his sophomore LP, Imperial, and Anderson .Paak, also with his second record, Malibu, as well as his collaboration with producer Knxlwedge on Yes Lawd!, a great deal of them failed to live up to the hype. Desiigner, 21 Savage and Lil Uzi Vert released some of the most polarising projects of 2016, whilst Kodak Black, on his fourth mixtape, Lil B.I.G. Pac, conveyed little to nothing in the way of talent, whilst laughably sullying the memories of The Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac with one of the most atrocious cover artworks of the year. Indeed, as he had previously demonstrated on his three previous mixtapes, Kodak Black proved himself, once again, to have nothing new to add to the trap game in terms of flows or bars, with the Floridian MC consistently delivering outstandingly bad lines performed with a lifeless, mumbled inflection that provided little to maintain the listener’s interest. Given that his debut album, Painting Pictures, derives its name from one of the most confusing, woefully out of touch and generally nonsensical lyrics from Lil B.I.G. Pac, there seemed to be little reason to expect Kodak Black to turn over a new leaf on his first record. Credit where credit is due, certain moments on Painting Pictures can be admired for their improvement in terms of the crisp production value, which is certainly a development from the artist’s previous material. However, as for Kodak Black himself, there is little to speak of here in terms of artistic growth, either in terms of his lyrical chops or his ability on the mic. If Painting Pictures were to be compared to a painting, as Kodak reiterates the line from which this album’s title was conceived at the start of the record (“I don’t rap, I illustrate / I don’t paint pictures, I picture-paint”), it could be likened to a fatigued four-year-old’s finger painting.
On none of his four mixtapes had Kodak Black established himself as a witty, introspective or even conventionally competent lyricist, and, as expected, Painting Pictures continues his trend of spitting trashy bars, with some of his most egregious appearing on this album. This record is riddled with so many tawdry, senseless and generally awful lyrics that simply listing off Kodak’s worst lines would be a sufficient means of critiquing Painting Pictures, as such bars are so absurd and meaningless that no real scrutiny or analysis is needed to arrive at such a pejorative conclusion. Overall, however, these moments all fail for similar reasons, in that they all convey Kodak as being completely incapable of articulating his thoughts in any sort of digestible manner from the listener’s perspective, instead simply rattling off empty platitudes that are often difficult to discern, given the MC’s murmured delivery on much of this record. Whether it be his comparisons of the vagina to various foods, from chicken noodle soup to mac and cheese, or his proud proclamation of there being snot up his nose, the interminable idiocy of much of Kodak’s directionless babbling should be self-evident, with the recurring theme being that none of what he says makes any sense. I don’t use the comparison of this album to a child’s finger painting lightly, as Kodak seems to be scrawling any rhyming couplet that crosses his mind onto a piece a paper, with the result being a collision of fragmented, disjointed and clashing portions of vague ideas competing for perceptual attention. All this being said, I understand that no one goes to a rapper like Kodak Black for poignant insight into deep subject matter, rather trap artists are typically expected to spew some catchy word salad that may or may not retain a significant or even distinguishable meaning. However, as far as I’m concerned, the bare minimum that can be expected from a trap MC is to at least not distract from the general mood of the beat on which they are spitting through lyrics as hilariously stupid as much of what is featured on Kodak’s material. After all, you can’t hear the music if you’re laughing too loudly.
Given that Kodak Black leaves himself wide open to criticism with his ridiculous bars, it’s perhaps best not to dwell on such an obvious reservation for his music. As previously mentioned, Painting Pictures is an admirable step-up from the artist’s previous material in terms of production. Of course, for a beat to keep the listener engaged when Kodak is rapping with his usual sleepy, often unintelligible and generally goofy intonation over the top is a challenge, and it’s one that only a select portion of the cuts from Painting Pictures overcome. The instrumental on Coolin and Booted stands out as a laid-back, bassy beat with some nice, dainty piano lines that could, on paper, complement a rapper with a flow as lethargic as Kodak’s, but his enunciation is so undecipherable through the slurred mumbles of his voice that he simply sounds like an annoyance detracting from his own song. Candy Paint is one of the few moments on Painting Pictures wherein Kodak genuinely contributes something of value to the beat on which he is rapping, coming through with a relatively memorable and comprehensible, if repetitive, hook, atop a bouncy instrumental that the MC even rides rather well during his verses. Unfortunately for Kodak, however, his verse is overshadowed by Bun B’s feature towards the backend of the cut, but if I were to look at it more optimistically, I would say that the Texan rapper’s verse, delivered in his deep, gritty voice, provides an effective contrast when paired against Kodak’s higher timbre. Unfortunately, Bun B’s contribution to Painting Pictures is really the only guest verse of note on the record, with most of the other features either being underwhelming or genuinely hard to stomach, as is the case with Young Thug’s appearance on Top Off Benz, which is delivered with such a squeaky, shrill and ridiculous inflection that it sounds as if he wasn’t taking his feature at all seriously. Indeed, despite the fact that the production of Painting Pictures alone is enough to make this album the best Kodak Black project to date, the rapper is too often his own worst enemy, seldom offering any positive contributions to the songs on his own record, instead often actively detracting from these beats with his comatose delivery.
Overall, even taking into account the improvements on the instrumental side of things on this debut album from Kodak Black, Painting Pictures ultimately signifies nothing new of note for the rapper. For those who enjoyed the artist’s previous output, there’s likely nothing here for them not to enjoy, but similarly, for those who were less than impressed by Lil B.I.G. Pac and his other mixtapes, this first attempt at a full-length studio recording from Kodak is unlikely to sway his detractors. What’s more, it’s not even as if Painting Pictures alludes to any greater potential for the rapper, as the only improvements to be found on this album relate to the rich, nocturnal production value, whilst the MC merely holds his own, which is hardly promising for those who, like myself, have yet to find much worthy of attention in his ability as either a rapper or a lyricist. The prospect of Kodak Black maturing in any significant way, whether pertaining to his bars or his flow, seems unlikely, as, across his eight years in the rap game, his growth has been limited to say the least. As such, I wouldn’t hold my breath in anticipation of anything much better than Painting Pictures being released by the artist at any point in the near future.
The Vinyl Verdict: 4/10