Kodak Black Is Popular Again Because Nothing Matters

Kodak Black Is Popular Again Because Nothing Matters

Last year, Kodak Black copped a plea. Kodak, the 24-year-old South Florida rapper, has been a celebrity for one third of his life, and he’s been in legal trouble for that entire tie. Ever since he gained viral fame as a 16-year-old, Kodack has been in and out of all manner of correctional facilities, but the case hanging over his head for the longest time was a 2016 sexual assault charge.

The victim in that case, an 18-year-old high school student, claimed that Kodak had spent hours sexually assaulting and biting her in a hotel room. For years, Kodak didn’t face trial for that assault, seemingly because he kept getting in trouble for other offenses. Finally, last April, Kodak pleaded down to first-degree assault and battery. He got a 10-month suspended sentence and 18 months of probation. After the sentencing, Kodak bragged about his deal on Twitter: “Ain’t gotta register as a sex offender or nun , shit that’s a play if you ask me lol y’all got me fucked up I ain’t dat freaky homie … My heart goes out to all the girls out here getting raped and shit FORREAL , But I Ain’t Did That Shit #ImTooGangsta #TooFlyFaThat.”

For the past few years, even as Kodak Black has faced one charge after another, it’s clear that a lot of powerful people have put serious effort into keeping him out of jail. In January of 2021, Kodak was serving a four-year sentence for lying in the paperwork to buy a firearm. Kodak had done a little more than a year in prison when Donald Trump, in the final hours of his presidency, pardoned him. (Lil Wayne got a pardon, too. It was weird.) People must’ve been lobbying Trump pretty hard on Kodak’s behalf, and Trump must’ve thought that he could get something out of it. Maybe he did. On Instagram a couple of weeks ago, Kodak Black, wearing what appeared to be an autographed MAGA hat, thanked Trump for a year of freedom.

When Kodak Black went to prison in 2019, it seemed like he’d squandered what had once been a promising career. When Kodak first emerged from South Florida, his wheezing croak and his slurring singsong delivery set him apart. Kodak was a viral success story, a teenager whose regional hits came to the attention of international-tastemaker types like Drake. I loved him. Back when Kodak was still ascendant, I wrote that he was “everything good about rap music“; that observation has not aged well. As Kodak’s profile rose, he seemed to grow more erratic, and he seemed to spend as much time in jail as he did out. As he kept getting arrested, Kodak also kept making hits. “Zeze,” a collaboration with Travis Scott and Offset, came out at the end of 2018 and debuted at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. But you can’t make hits when you’re in prison. After Trump pardoned Kodak last year, Kodak released one mixtape and one EP, and neither one made much noise. It seemed like maybe the world had moved on from Kodak Black. It has not.

Last Halloween, Kodak Black’s Sniper Gang crew released a sort of compilation called Nightmare Stories, which seemed mostly intended to showcase Kodak’s proteges Syko Bob and Snapkatt. Nightmare Stories sounds like a Southern underground rap record, which is probably what it was supposed to be. Crunk-era veterans like Petey Pablo and Ballgreezy, rappers I haven’t thought about in a long time, make guest appearances. I love Petey Pablo, but he’s not someone you hit up when you’re looking to make a hit these days. But Nightmare Stories also had a few solo Kodak Black tracks, and one of those songs is now on its way to becoming the biggest hit of Kodak’s career.

Maybe “Super Gremlin,” Kodak Black’s current hit, won’t actually unseat the aforementioned “Zeze,” which is now quintuple platinum. But “Super Gremlin” is an absolutely huge song. The single currently sits at #5 on the Hot 100, and it’s maintained that peak for a couple of weeks. Other rappers — Latto, Dax, Cordae, Calboy, Trapboy Freddy — have posted videos of themselves freestyling over the “Super Gremlin” beat, and some of those freestyles have gone viral. “Super Gremlin’ is putting up crazy streaming numbers, and it feels more omnipresent than any Kodak song that I can remember.

In a way, maybe the success of “Super Gremlin” isn’t that surprising. It’s a decent-enough song that’s firmly within the zeitgeist of crossover rap as it exists right now. The beat, from producers ATL Jacob and Jambo, is genuinely pretty, all music-box pianos slow blooms of bass. The hook is an eerie kids’-chorus thing that’s both catchy and evocative. On the track, Kodak locks into a craggy, melodic flow, getting off a couple of memorable lines. Kodak spends much of the track going after onetime protege Jackboy, one of the many young rap stars with gurgly singsong deliveries and complicated hair situations who emerged from South Florida in the post-Kodak moment. But Kodak also raps about making his own reckless decisions: “I knew the Perc was fake, but I still ate it ’cause I’m a gremlin.” In the gothy Halloween-themed video, Kodak spends quality time in a padded cell with a dominatrix who’s got her mouth sewn shut.

“Super Gremlin” isn’t a great song or anything, but it sounds like a hit, and it looks like one, too. When something sounds and looks like a hit, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised when it actually becomes a hit. Still, I’m a little taken aback by Kodak Black’s big comeback. Last year, two A-list rappers pretty much destroyed their careers in two radically different PR disasters: DaBaby refusing to back down from his homophobic stage patter and Travis Scott keeping his festival show going while people died. Maybe both of them will come back, too. Kodak Black is a peer of both Travis Scott and DaBaby, and he’s made songs with both of them. But even after taking that plea in that sexual assault case, Kodak Black’s career does not appear to be in any sort of jeopardy. Instead, he’s fallen into the same weird sort of hole as his sometime adversary NBA YoungBoy. Evidently, for plenty of kids, Kodak Black is some kind of cult hero, and his problems with drugs and erratic behavior seem to just make him that much more of a romantic figure.

“Romantic figure” doesn’t quite cover it, though. Kodak Black is a bit of a living meme, too. Last month, footage of Kodak at a hockey game went viral. In a suite at FLA Live Arena, Kodak sure looked like he was having sex in full view of the entire crowd, with a room full of oblivious Panthers executives sitting a few feet away. (A reporter later claimed that the woman in the suite with Kodak was “just twerking.”) When something like that makes the rounds, it’s tempting to look at Kodak as just a young guy having fun, enjoying his success while ignoring whatever social mores are supposed to come along with that success. But moments like that aren’t that funny when the rest of Kodak Black’s public life comes into focus. After “Super Gremlin” came out, for instance, Kodak did a reaction video with a couple of YouTubers, and he spent the entire conversation in what looked, to me, a whole lot like a heroin lean. He did not seem well at all.

You can’t live like that. Whatever happens with “Super Gremlin,” Kodak Black’s comeback is not going to be sustainable if he’s still in the same destructive spiral that got him locked up in the first place. The people who worked to keep Kodak Black out of prison may not be working quite so hard to help him get his life together. And yet Kodak Black’s career marches on. Kodak says he’s got two albums coming out this year and that one of them will feature an Ed Sheeran collab. Yesterday, Kodak announced the impending release of his new album Back For Everything, and he dropped a new song called “Grinding All Season.” It’s terrible.

People can listen to what they want. You don’t have to admire every figure who makes a song that you like, and the success of “Super Gremlin” is not an indictment of America’s youth or whatever. Still, when someone as demonstrably fucked-up as Kodak Black can come right back into his career, picking up where he left off while visibly courting oblivion, it’s a pretty clear sign that the entire system is failing. People are making a whole lot of money off of Kodak Black right now. I have very little faith that those same people are protecting Kodak Black from himself, or protecting the rest of the world from him.

FURIOUS FIVE

1. YG – “Scared Money” (Feat. J. Cole & Moneybagg Yo)
Sometimes, big-name rap collaborations feel like brand extensions that were thought up in boardrooms. This one feels like three rap stars out to flex on everyone else. I know this isn’t the best verse of J. Cole’s career, but it might be the one that I’ve enjoyed the most.

2. Big30 – “Protest”
Pooh Shiesty is still locked up, but the Memphis rapper who came up alongside him is getting really, really good at talking shit over ghostly beats. On a track like this, Big30 sounds like a star.

3. $NOT – “Doja” (Feat. A$AP Rocky)
Even if Rocky wasn’t on this song, this would still stand as $NOT hijacking the entire circa-2011 gallery-goon A$AP Mob aesthetic. That’s fine with me. I love that shit, $NOT’s got the defiant swagger needed to pull it off.

4. Yo Gotti – “Cold Gangsta” (Feat. 42 Dugg & EST Gee)
Every rapper on this song gets a slight beat switch, and all those beat switches hit hard. Yo Gotti has always been a perfectly solid rapper, but he’s evidently a much better label executive. When gets his proteges to rap on his songs, everyone wins.

5. 100K Track – “Tears Of Joy” (Feat. Hotboii & Rico Cartel)
There are a lot of rap songs about living the good life. There are very few from people who actually sound like they’re happy about how their lives are going. This is one.

IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO

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