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The horrors of drug addiction surface frequently on J. Cole's latest album, KOD.

From the title cut, to "FRIENDS" and elsewhere, the 33-year-old North Carolina rapper doesn't waste his time glamorizing drug use and instead shows its often ugly results. He also explores how sex, social media and money are used to escape reality.

J. Cole KOD Tour

Opening acts: Young Thug, Jaden Smith, EarthGang, kiLL Edward

7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Verizon Arena, 1 Verizon Arena Way, North Little Rock

Admission: $25, $39.50, $59.50, $79.50, $99.50

(501) 975-9000

verizonarena.com

And just in case you may have thought there was some ambivalence in the lyrics, or were wondering exactly what Cole is trying to say, there's a sentence printed on the cover that reads "This album is in no way intended to glorify addiction."

Despite its heavy subject matter, KOD -- which stands for Kids on Drugs, King Overdosed and Kill Our Demons -- blew up when it was released in April, setting what was then 24-hour streaming records on Apple Music with 64.5 million streams and Spotify with 36.7 million streams. And in a hip-hop era of albums loaded with tracks featuring verses from guest musicians, KOD's lone "feature" is kiLL Edward, Cole's alter ego, who will make an appearance Wednesday.

Cole brings KOD and tracks from his four previous studio albums -- and surely a few freestyles including the blistering "Album of the Year" -- to a headlining concert at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock on Wednesday.

Cole was born in Germany and grew up in Fayetteville, N.C. His father, an Army veteran, left the family and Cole and his younger brother were raised by their postal worker mother who loved rock and folk rock.

By his teens, Cole was immersed in hip-hop and started making beats and writing lyrics influenced by Nas, Tupac Shakur and Eminem. Early mixtapes caught the attention of Jay-Z, who made him the first artist signed to his Roc Nation label and released Cole's debut Cole World: The Sideline Story in 2011.

Born Sinner was the follow-up, and in 2014 came the more personal 2014 Forest Hills Drive, which then led to an HBO special, Forest Hills Drive: Homecoming. A documentary about the special, J. Cole: Road to Homecoming, featured longtime pal Kendrick Lamar, Rihanna, Pusha T, Drake, Jay-Z and others.

4 Your Eyez Only, Cole's fourth album, was released in 2016 and, like its predecessors, was a Billboard chart topper.

Since 2007, Cole and Ibrahim Hamad have run Dreamville Records. The label, distributed by Interscope Records, is home to Cole, Omen, Bas, current tour mates EarthGang of Atlanta and others.

Cole isn't the most talkative rap superstar. He doesn't do a lot of media and emails sent to Dreamville for an interview went unanswered. He did open up to vulture.com in an excellent profile after KOD was released.

"We live in a society where all this drug use is normalized, it's the norm, it's OK, it's ... encouraged, it's ... promoted," he told writer Paul Cantor about the theme of the album. "You turn on the TV -- you feeling down? Of course I'm feeling down, I'm a ... human being. Try this. Whatever this thing is. Like, nah, how about you actually feel sad and figure out what ... it is that got you feeling sad, so you can work on that?"

On the new album, Cole deals with his mother's broken relationship with his stepfather, her alcoholism (she's sober now) and his own weed smoking on the searing "Once an Addict."

Pitchfork.com took him to task for a lack of empathy but the track, with its minimalist arrangement and his raw verses, is like an exposed nerve.

On "Kevin's Heart," Cole raps about his friend, comedian Kevin Hart, who was caught cheating on his wife, and the closing track, "1985 -- Intro to 'The Fall Off,'" is a wicked, old-school warning to the new wave of what Cole sees as style-over-substance SoundCloud rappers.

"I'm hoping for your sake that you ain't dumb as you look," he raps.

Along with EarthGang, Cole -- and kiLL Edward -- will be joined Wednesday by Young Thug, whose latest album, Slime Language, was just released and Jaden Smith, the rapper-singer son of actor Will Smith.

Rapper J. Cole headlines a concert Wednesday at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock.

Style on 09/11/2018

Print Headline: Rapper J. Cole brings KOD Tour to North Little Rock

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