The J. Cole Conundrum: Cole World: The Sideline Story Album Review

29 Sep

I’m back bitch, back with an attitude – J. Cole “Cost Me A Lot”

Yea, yea, yea. I’m back to writing articles on this site and I’m going to write more often … honestly. And what better topic to come back with than what has been the talk of twitter and the music blogs, J. Cole’s debut album called Cole World: The Sideline Story. With the debut album going to be number 1 on the Billboard charts this week, I want to take a look at this highly anticipated album to see if the hype is warranted for the first artist that Jay-Z’s label, Roc Nation.

A lot of pressure has been put on J. Cole to be this decade’s Nas ever since he got signed to Roc Nation and dropped his 2nd mixtape called the Warm Up in 2009. Ever since then, he gone through several stops and starts for the push of debut album and has free music along the way including last year’s critical acclaimed Friday Night Lights. Lights was an improvement to The Warm Up in terms of content, songs with lasting power (ex.  “In The Morning” featuring Drake and “You Got It” featuring Wale), and overall song structure.  The Warm Up has some highlights especially with Cole’s versatile rhymes and talking about a being a broke rapper coming out of college but you can clearly see through the inspiration of Kanye West and Jay-Z in his punchline as any die-hard fan of previous two will find themselves saying “Hey, he trying to be ‘Ye on this record”.  In Lights, he took a step forward in terms of distinguishing himself as finding his own voice (something that a lot of new rappers struggle with) and pushed forward in terms of expressing his plights as he was becoming semi-famous but still broke enough to talk about how he was going to pay back Sallie Mae on those student loans.

However, on Cole World, he takes a step back as he falls into the same trap that most new rap artists, he put together an album full of structured and thoughtfully planned out singles INSTEAD of just putting together a cohesive album that is structured and thoughtfully planned out. On Lights, Cole had an overall theme on the mixtape of being a rising rapper on his journey dealing with several things including fame, haters, economic struggle, and especially complicated relationships. Song after song seemed to merge together with the beats (mostly of Cole’s own production) having a similar sound but dynamic enough to be a song by itself along with similar topic matter coming in order. With Cole World, the sequence of the tracks seem to be out of sorts which makes songs like “Mr. Nice Watch” (featuring Jay-Z himself) and “Can’t Get Enough” featuring Trey Songz make you as a listener scratch your head. The Trey Songz collaboration is good enough that it belongs on the album but not after a song talking about Cole’s journey like “Dollar and Dream III” and “Mr. Nice Watch” sounds like a left over from Kanye and Jay-z’s album “Watch The Throne” with the dubstep beat.  The chorus from “Mr. Nice Watch” comes from an old Jay-Z lyric and Cole want to pay homage to his mentor while trying give a banger. However, the song just doesn’t deliver.

Several songs like “Lights Please” (which was on The Warm Up), In the Morning featuring Drake (yup, he used the same song from Lights) and “Work Out” fall under the category of “making a single for the radio and for ladies to sing and dance to”.  There is nothing wrong to market the female audience as Cole has a strong female following but the song that will connect with women the most is the collaboration with Missy Elliott called “Nobody’s Perfect”. The song’s originality really displays in terms of the beat starting off slowly and Cole close to rhyming off beat parlaying into solid verses accompanied with a chorus that echoes classic Missy Elliott. And I’m not talking about wacky singles version of Missy Elliott either. I’m talking about the chorus that Missy would only sing on the album cuts of old Aaliyah records. “Nobody’s Perfect” was reported to be the next single off the album and it should be. It sounds like the most organic song off the album when talking about women along with “Nothing Last Forever” and “Lost Ones”.

In terms of being a lyrically monster that he was hyped up to, the only times he gets to showcase it is on “Rise and Shine” and “God’s Gift” with a good showing on “Breakdown” to come after. This is where you see in the potential as Cole tries to go all out with his rhymes and production. But for the listener, this doesn’t come until Track 13 of the album. For a person that is trumped to be “Hip Hop’s Savior”, listeners need to hear this from the opening gate to set the tone for the rest of the album.

Nevertheless, this is a solid debut album for a rising newcomer but this album doesn’t live up to hype at all. This album didn’t make me change the view I had of him like Friday Night Lights did last year. He will be often be compared to Drake in terms of new rappers in the mainstream and this album proves that Drake is still several strides ahead of him in terms musically and popularity. Cole does everything that you wish a rapper would in terms of subject matter in his records and production but the overall sound still does not overwhelm you.  For better or for worse, Drake will get a reaction out of listeners because he takes risks that people will love or hate him for. Cole gave a solid effort but the album’s last power will leave you coming back for more as a full album. Pop in Kendrick Lamar’s Section 80 (another debut album that came out this year) to compare and Lamar sets the tone from beginning to end. Same for Big K.R.I.T.’s Return of 4Eva. Those newcomer albums leave you wanting more because of the chances Lamar and K.R.I.T. take and the edge they have. If the rap game was the NBA, J. Cole would be Brandon Roy. He’s a solid player to be recognized but doesn’t take enough risks or dominant enough to be noticed as great. That is the conundrum with J. Cole.

Going by the old Source mic ratings system: Cole World: The Sideline Story gets a 3.5 mics out of 5 mics.

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