Often mislabelled as a mumble rapper due to his Floridian accent, Kodak Black has continually shown that he’s not of the same ilk as his peers through his musical prowess. Dying To Live is one of the most creative albums of 2018 with Kodak having a lot to say about his trials and tribulations and never shying away from speaking his truth.
Upon opening, Testimony and This Forever set the tone of the album; two songs in which Kodak Black sheds light on his struggles of escaping the street life that has landed him in legal trouble for countless years. Testimony speaks on more of spiritual journey, whereas This Forever suggests Kodak’s life will forever be influenced by his upbringing.
That theme plays into the third song Identity Theft when Kodak raps about a case he took on behalf of someone close to him:
“I just took my brother’s charge like I am not rich
I took my brother’s charge like I ain’t got shit
I guess he ain’t step up for me ’cause he ain’t got it in him”
The level of introspection displayed by the 21-year-old rapper on these three tracks conveys his skill at its best.
Conversely, Kodak Black finds himself at odds when it comes to the featured songs and it’s where his rapping is noticeably the weakest. ZEZE (Feat. Travis Scott & Offset), Gnarly (Feat. Lil Pump), and Moshpit (Feat. Juice WRLD) all feel more musically refined for the guest artists than they do for Kodak.
Gnarly, a song about taking drugs and partying, is an obvious attempt at a mainstream pop hit and would be more successful if it was a song solely for Lil Pump. On the other hand, ZEZE is a mainstream hit (recently hitting double platinum status), despite Kodak having a subpar verse on such an immaculate beat. Those steal drums and bass carry the song to stardom along with the additions of Travis Scott and Offset.
Moshpit actually works out to be a good collaboration between the Juice WRLD and Kodak, and while it’s not the greatest song on the album, it’s definitely the better fit and can stand on it’s own as a single.
On the production front Dying To Live finds solace in its diverse sound. Melodies are distinct, often opting for eccentric synths and peculiar pianos that fabricate feelings of outer body experiences.
Songs like Transgression, Needing Something, and the aforementioned ZEZE and Testimony express the highest level of production that this album has to offer.
However, there are some weak points when it comes to song making. Could Have Been Different has incredible song writing, with the story telling and lyricism being top notch; but, his delivery comes off disjointed as he tries to keep up with the beat but never seems to catch it.
Additionally, Needing Something needs vocal work on Kodak’s part. This era is often gifted a pass for shoddy vocals disguised as pushing the boundaries with the help of auto-tune. But sometimes vocals are just bad.
A better vocal performance comes in the form of Close To The Grave where Kodak stays in his vocal range by crooning on the hook before rapping about the betrayal he bore. Kodak also pushes boundaries with his tribute to fellow Floridian rapper XXXTentacion on Malcolm X.X.X. where he samples the late great Malcolm who is questioned about the general public’s beliefs of the Nation of Islam using violent means.
It’s a compelling concept for a song that comes together poetically.
Dying To Live is an incredible expression of the experiences Kodak Black has withstood, and the level of creativity to majestically evoke those experiences through his music while remaining accessible to listeners, elevates his artistry to new heights.
Had this album come out earlier in 2018 it surely would have been in contention for album of the year.