It’s difficult to be a protégé of Jay-Z. Beanie Sigel had some quality albums but nothing earth shattering. Most of us are still waiting on Memphis Bleek to produce an album worth talking about, or not. Kanye West is a super-success but he didn’t initially get the co-sign from Jay. Remember, Ye was Dame Dash’s boy.
Enter J. Cole. Born Jermaine Lamarr Cole in 1985, the Fayetteville, North Carolina native caught the ear of the self-proclaimed best rapper alive and became the first artist signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation record label.
Cole dropped a handful of dope mixtapes but we were all waiting to see what he would do on the grand stage. The time is now, J. Cole’s first official solo album Cole World: The Sideline Story finally hit stores this week.
The album begins with a short intro and transitions into Dollar and a Dream III. J. Cole goes hard over a laid back piano driven beat, “I run the town/They try to call me underground/ I spun around, like, you wish/Homie my backpack Louis/Now watch as how I do this/I got the nerds rapping hard sh*t, dummies rapping smart sh*t/Mozart meets Humphrey Bogart, with this from the heart sh*t.”
The album’s current single Can’t Get Enough is produced by Brian Kidd and features R&B singer Trey Songz. This catchy radio friendly song finds Songz and Cole stepping a little out of their comfort zone to positive results. Songz sings, “She said I heard you got a main chick, a mistress, and some hoes/You be up to no good and everybody knows/My homegirl’s tried to warn me, they tried to let me know/What you got, I need a lot, so I can’t let you go.”
Lights Please is a mixtape classic that made its way on to Cole World. The song is over two years old, yet it still sounds good next to Cole’s newer material. “Light please, lights please, turn off the lights/For now everything just seems so right/And how you make the darkness seem so bright/I’m feelin’ like things gon’ be alright,” J. Cole sings on the chorus.
Mr. Nice Watch is a train wreck of a song featuring Roc Nation CEO, Jay-Z. Cole, who produces the bulk of Cole World tries his hand at Dub Step and it just doesn’t seem to fit.
Lost Ones is an emotional song that finds Cole recounting a conversation with his girlfriend about terminating an unplanned pregnancy. “Think about it baby, me and you are still kids our self/How we gon’ raise a kid by our self?” Cole asks.
On Breakdown J. Cole spits a heartfelt verse to his estranged father, “So many things you could have told me/To save me the trouble of letting my mistakes show me, I feel like you barely know me/And that’s a shame, ‘cause or last names is the same/ That blood type flowing through our veins is the same.”
J. Cole produced most of Cole World by himself which gives the album a cohesive, but slightly repetitive sound. For some this doesn’t work, but I’ll take J. Cole’s piano based sound over J. Cole’s contrived radio sound as heard on songs like Mr. Nice Watch and Work Out.
Cole’s debut album works. There are a few missteps like the aforementioned Work Out and Daddy’s Little Girl, but songs like Rise and Shine and Sideline Story are slam dunks. Even older tracks like Who Dat and Lights Please don’t sound out of place on Cole World. Cole only slips when he does his sappy sing-songy Drake impression. Drake, by the way is the only other guest emcee besides Jay-Z on Cole World.
Cole World: The Sideline Story, much like Kanye West’s College Dropout is Hip-Hop’s versions of Rocky. Cole plays the role of the underdog emcee who works so hard at his craft until he gets his world title fight. Cole takes his lumps in a few rounds but in the end he stands victorious.
Purchase: J. Cole – Cole World: The Sideline Story