Ahead of Dying to Live’s release, Kodak Black shared a behind-the-scenes clip from the “Calling My Spirit” video shoot. In it, the Pompano Beach, Florida MC talks about his decision to avoid being photographed in the set’s jail cell for fear of glorifying incarceration. This plays out as something of a milestone for Kodak, someone whose career to date has been marked by increasingly promising albums and mixtapes—all dropped amid stints in prison. The rapper’s tone on Dying to Live, the first project since his release this past August, is one of a man weary of his future—Kodak awaits trial for sexual assault charges stemming from an incident in 2016—and concerned with his influence.
The album opens with “Testimony”, a song reaffirming Kodak’s faith. “I’m God-sent, like He sent me up/So I can relay these messages/Like He used me as His vessel/Like He used me as an instrument,” he raps. Songs like “Gospel”, from 2015’s Institution, have approached the rapper’s faith in a similar manner, but Dying to Live’s “Close to the Grave” and “Needed Something” stay true to a theme of repentance.
The album is hardly all street gospel though. “Malcolm X.X.X.”, which features sound bites from Malcolm X’s 1963 interview with then-sociology grad student J. Herman Blake, pays tribute to Kodak’s friend and collaborator XXXTENTACION, while “Identity Theft” references a past filled with credit card fraud (which Kodak admits is never far from his mind). Also present on the album is the D.A. Doman-produced runaway smash “ZEZE” as well as a skittering pop collaboration with Lil Pump, “Gnarly”, in which Kodak touts the joys of Molly and Cialis. If Dying to Live tells us anything about Kodak, it’s that he remains the dynamic, conflicted and alluring South Florida MC that fans have waited on patiently. And for their trouble? An apology on “Close to the Grave”: “Sorry, Lord, the Devil got a hold of me lately.”