19-year-old Kodak Black cannot be ignored. His music is a powerful conduit of an unseen American experience, one that, despite its enormous complexity, has historically been over-simplified. The embattled rapper was born Dieuson Octave to Haitian immigrants, and was raised by a single mother in Golden Acres, a fenced-in government subsidized housing complex in Pompano Beach, Florida. Inside the parameters of this community, Kodak’s young life was punctuated by scenes of poverty, violence and desperation.

What Kodak has seen and lived through - before even reaching adulthood - indeed creates an evocative image, just as his major label debut, Painting Pictures, implies. However, what emerges is less of a painting and more of an elaborate stacked-paper sculpture: smooth laser-cut surfaces exist alongside un-manicured edges that are still sharp enough to cut if handled carelessly. Each thin piece of paper, placed one on top of the other to form an immovable sheaf, represents a part, that when joined together, become Kodak's whole. It is through his unflinching body of work that we are sometimes able to catch glimpses of those individual fragments, which work to humanize a young man whose world has been dictated by surviving an environment that was far from nurturing.

Kodak is a complete departure from the more critically celebrated narratives of black struggle put forth by artists like Kendrick Lamar, Common or even Solange, whose 2016 album A Seat At The Table was heralded as a searingly honest narrative of contemporary black womanhood. Where their music offers calculated social critiques wrapped in poetry and metaphor, Kodak is far more reactive force. He meditates on his criminal leanings, repeated run-ins with law enforcement, and without seeming to be aware of it, lyrically contends with a deep sense of nihilism. In February 2016, he was also accused of sexual assault, making many question whether some of his more misogynistic lyrics were more than merely posturing.

In short, he is not some "model minority" who through keeping his head down, focusing on education and carrying himself with integrity achieved the elusive American dream. If anything, his pain-riddled path to success proves the fallacy of an idealized American dream, and underscores the true diversity of disenfranchised experiences in this country. Kodak Black's story is not universal, but that's what makes it so real and resonant.

Ahead of the release of Painting Pictures, Atlantic Records hosted multi-city screening sessions for a Worldstar Hip Hop produced documentary titled, Project Baby, an homage to the rapper's 2013 mixtape of the same name. Since Kodak is currently incarcerated, the film served as the project's personal touch, particularly because large portions were recorded as he was finishing the album. Outside of performance and studio scenes, viewers also saw Kodak in his most comfortable element - surrounded by family and friends. Within that circle, a new person emerged; one who pondered a secure future with a wife and children over hitting licks, and hugged his mother sheepishly as she cried for joy at his achievements. In such moments, Kodak revealed an internal dichotomy that doesn't always make it into his lyrical output.

Below are a few more things we learned from watching the Project Baby documentary.

He excelled at school when he was younger...

While hanging out with a camera crew in his backyard Kodak opened up about the power of assumption stating, "They just look at me and already discriminate and stereotype. When I was in elementary school I used to go to this little camp. We used to do spelling bees and I used to beat high-schoolers in spelling bees. I just always knew I was gifted but I was bad. I was bad but I was smart." Kodak was also accepted into a private school outside of his community which he declined to attend. "I would've been away from all that shit [the lifestyle he adopted]. If I would've stayed in school I probably wouldn't be who I am."

He was kicked out of home at 16...

Kodak's older brother, John Wicks, shared that the rapper was kicked out at the age of 16. Wicks didn't provide much detail as he himself wasn't around at the time - though he declined to state where he was.

A verse in "Signs" was inspired by his mother being robbed...

When Kodak younger his mother was the victim of a robbery. According to the rapper, the perpetrators took the family's tax return money, placing the already financially-strained household deeper in debt. The experience of having people take from them when they already had so little hardened Kodak and changed his world view. "It was like fuck everybody's mama. I'm snatching your mama's chain," he shares. "That's why on the song 'Signs' I say, 'My mama got robbed in July, I watched her cry, so I don't care about yours 'cause they don't care about mine.'"

He spent 21 days in jail the first time he was arrested...

Kodak's first arrest was for burglary, which is a first degree felony in the state of Florida. The rapper, who was not even 16 at the time of his first serious run-in with law enforcement, spent 21 days behind bars. "When I was in the back of the police car I was just ready for it. Before I got locked up I had already hit a couple of houses, it wasn't my first time hitting a house. I was expecting that shit to happen one day," he says.

He wanted to fit in at school...

Most of Kodak's music frames his motive for committing robberies as a necessary measure to help support his struggling family. In Project Baby he also reveals that he often felt uncomfortable going to school unless he'd made enough money to buy the same quality of clothes as his peers. "Everybody fresh in school and you ain't really fresh, so I'm like fuck that. The only time I'm really coming to school is when I done hit me a lick and I got new clothes on."

He doesn't know how to fish...

In another scene, Kodak discusses his estranged father roundly summing up the lack of paternal presence with the statement, "I don't even know how to fish." It's a moment that is equal parts humorous and heartbreaking, especially when the rapper opens up about his willingness to have a relationship with his father purely because he is hyper-aware of his mortality.

'Painting Pictures' was among the songs and albums our staff loved in March, take a look at our picks right here


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