When you have Jay Z, one of the largest hip hop names, sign you to a record label and don you as his “rising star”…. you better know that the hype behind you is incredibly heavy. Jermaine Lamar Cole, better known as J. Cole is the MC carrying it all. He is a promising MC that delivers catchy hooks, introspective song writing, and wide versatility that has delivered on the hype he has been riding so far. His debut album “Side Line Story” released in 2011, showed that Cole can make music tailored for the mainstream as well as keep his underground roots. With his much anticipated release “Born Sinner”, J. Cole attempts to create a cohesive project detailing his mistakes he has done that focuses largely on the women he has mistreated, the opportunities he has missed, and failures he has endured. The project is ambitious in respect to its length and concept but falls flat with some boring production allowing it to stay relatively monotone throughout.
To begin the album, it starts with a nearly perfect intro with the track “Villuminati”. The track has Cole aggressively spitting on the mic with energy that can be felt all trough the track. The production on the track was spot on. It began with a gospel like chorus that transitioned into this darker beat with some hard hitting bass to compliment the murky sound. Sadly, the intro is the highest point in the album. Once the intro finishes, gone is the energy Cole had unleashed on the intro. Gone is that aggressive style throughout.
The tracks that follow the intro aren’t necessarily bad, it’s just that the energy and the momentum that was created in the intro was vanquished immediately. Although the energy does plateau the majority of the time, there are glimmers and spikes of liveliness. On the track “Ain’t that some shit”, which is surprisingly an interlude, Cole energetically brags about everything he has going right for him. “I got that work/Say what? My flow/Say what? My bitches/Say what? You Cole.” There are also brief moments littered across the album that resemble bursts of energy such as the chorus of “trouble” and the moment Cole begins spilling his emotions about rich people on the other interlude “Mo Money.”
Luckily on this album, Cole never strays away from being lyrical. This album may not be the most energetic but Cole’s lyrics and his ability to weave stories together is possibly the only reason that is keeping the album afloat. Cole’s lyrical brilliance is heard all over the album. The ode to Jay-Z’s “Imaginary Player”, “Mo Money”, begins Cole’s lyrical plight. Cole describes different kinds of money in a repetitive fashion that he escalates in severity as he goes from “Clothes Money” to “Strip Club Money” by the end of the track. He ends the track with a shot at corporate wigs by spitting off this last verse ” Money control nigg*s, white man control money/Laughing like “yeah yeah my n*gga get your money” ” On “Forbidden Fruit”, Cole and Kendrick Lamar cleverly create a track referencing Adam and Eve. ” Me and my bitch, took a little trip/Down to the garden, took a little dip/Apple juice falling from her lips took a little sip, took a little sip.” Sadly Kendrick takes the chorus of this track and doesn’t get to lyrically dominate but nonetheless the track delivers with clever references and smooth lyrics.
This album wouldn’t be a Cole album without a story telling track and boy does it have one in “Let Nas Down.” Cole describes his affection of Nas being a huge inspiration to him as a child and even goes as far as saying: ” Pac was like Jesus, Nas wrote the Bible.” He details the moment he found out Nas didn’t like his radio hit single “Work Out” . On the track you can hear the desperation in Cole’s voice to receive the approval he feels that he deserves. He even goes out and takes a shot at Nas about how he should be a bit more understanding .The track has a real sincere tone and puts Cole in this vulnerable position which makes for one of the best tracks on the album.
J. Cole was looking to really hit home on his darker side on this album. His delivery would have me believe otherwise. The image Cole seeks was just not believable with his delivery. Artists such as Kanye and Kendrick Lamar can make you believe whatever type of emotions they are trying to convey. Let it be Kanye’s feverish douche-baggery on “MBDTF/Yeezus” or Kendrick’s heightened sense of fear and desperation on his track “m.A.A.d city”. Cole instead created a “Sinner” persona by detailing all the “horrible” things he’s done to women, i.e sleeping with them and not calling them. 7 of the 16 tracks are about or roughly around that exact idea. It’s repetitive and gets old. Aside from that, he had some really interesting ideas like the stereotypical “Chaining Day”, the hard hitting “Villuminati”, and the climatic “Born Sinner.”
Cole begins the album with the words ” It’s way darker this time”, when in reality it isn’t. It’s his calm, collected, and safe approach to “dark”. Cole didn’t step out of boundaries on the album which largely led to the Album’s missteps. There are plenty of great ideas that could have made a spectacular album but too many mistakes and wrong song choices got in the way of the brilliance. The album began intensely but just burned out like a wisp of fire.