After several pushbacks and a critically acclaimed series of mixtapes anticipation for J. Cole’s official debut has risen to a fever pitch. Will the Roc Nation newbie be a worthy heir to the throne? TRU Nation investigates.
“What do you do when you’re on your last dollar,” J. Cole wonders on Cole World’s opening salvo, “Dollar and a Dream III”? That’s a question the 26-year-old St. John’s graduate attempts to answer on his Roc Nation thesis, Cole World: The Sideline Story. Cole’s sideline guideline is simple but effective: thought-provoking gems (“Lights Please,” “Breakdown”), radio-ready offerings (“Mr. Nice Watch,” Nobody’s Perfect”), and contemplative tales that echo Nas (“Lost Ones”). Production is solid: misty loops and 4/4 drums. Rhymes are laced with Twitter-ready quotables. Despite missteps like the tepid title track and kooky hooks here and there, Cole’s in fine form throughout. “I’m coming for what I’m owed,” he barks on the album intro. Ya gotta love it, unless you work for Sallie Mae. (A longer dissertation on Cole World here.)
Khal (Rock The Dub)
Maybe I’m getting too old. I’ll be 30 in October, and have heard a lot of MCs. One cat I’ve not followed enough is J. Cole. Not as a slight to him at all, but when it feels like someone is getting a grip of hype, it’s one of two things: dude is just that nice or his fanbase is just that rampant. Cole might be one of those figures he fits right in the middle. Dude is obviously talented – he produced the majority of his Cole World debut album, as well as anthems for Kendrick Lamar. And when he’s on, he shines like the rising star his legions paint him to be. Personally, I feel like he takes that Roc Nation affiliation to liberally sound like Hov (in flow) whenever he feels the need. The thing is – does he need to? Maybe he’s more like 2011 Kanye, and this is his College Dropout. I feel the potential in spurts, but I’m not going to be rocking this one for a while. Dude just isn’t that engaging – or deep – for me to really champion him. I’ll keep him on the radar, though.
J. Cole has the ability to invest a lot of his personal struggles, doubts and pain into his music without degrading into whining. He wears his heart on his sleeve but makes it sound like he’s honestly sharing instead of spitting the mandatory emo verses. Over slightly melancholic piano melodies produced by himself, he weaves most of his intimate tales, but he drops in just enough sonically different tracks and employs a breadth of topics to keep the album from going stale. That doesn’t mean the album is without its faults–it could’ve been a track or two shorter and the interludes break up the flow on repeat listens. Some hailed Cole as the next Nas. So, is he? Certainly not, and he won’t be rewriting hip-hop history or introduce a bewildering new strain of rap either. What he did do is drop a debut that holds the balance between artistic merit and marketability and will surely have people paying attention to his own lane while he’s paving it.
Enigmatik (Boo Goo Doo Boom)
After much anticipation, Cole World is finally on store shelves everywhere. The pace of the album is a little too slow for my liking especially towards the second half. Cole can rap but at times my attention waned, and interestingly enough that happened for the two most hyped collabos on the album – “In The Morning” featuring Drake and “Mr. Nice Watch” featuring JAY Z. Props to Cole, though, for keeping features to a minimum and for handling the bulk of the production duties. The top tracks are “Sideline Story,” “Nobody’s Perfect,” “Rise And Shine,” “Dollar And A Dream III” and “Breakdown.” As of now, the album doesn’t have a lot of replay value for me, but I’ll revisit it as a whole in a few months and see if that changes.
Aaron J McKrell
(Sigh of relief) Cole World is finally here. I have to admit I was a little worried at one point that J. Cole’s debut would never see the light of day. In retrospect, maybe it seemed like such a long wait because many rappers these days release half-baked records at a rapid pace. Cole took his time on this album to make sure it was musically, lyrically, and thematically sound. Musically, Cole handles the majority of production and has only improved upon his already-sound skills (pun intended). Epic production that beautifully straddles the line between raw and lushful backs his hungry voice and monstrous lyricism, making for an intense ride for the listener. Thematically, Cole expands on topics from his mixtapes: his views on relationships with women, his struggle to make it in this world, and occasional flossing. Cole makes these topics hit home with personal tales and stark vulnerability. While Cole’s dream talk of making it in rap may seem tired on first listen, focus and you may realize his story ain’t the only one he’s trying to tell. Not every song is perfect (ahem, “Mr. Nice Watch”) and Cole World can’t really be called a game changer. Still, this is a great album. Congratulations to J. Cole for being the first digital-age rapper to be able to weather the hype-storm and make it to the sunny side. No blankets needed.
Nahshon Landrum (NaySchola)
I’ll admit that I let my cynicism get the best of me at first. After hearing Work Out and Mr. Nice Watch and after opting not to waste my time with the Trey Songz feature, I assumed that he just put out a soulless attempt at big sales with crossover audiences. 10 hours of play later, I find myself eating my words and licking the plate. The production, though clearly more expensive, is distinctly loyal to the signature sound young Jermaine has created. The lyrics are a casual tête-à-tête between the two disparate sides of a fractured personality. The interludes and guest features strike as near the bull’s eye as any album that I can recall in terms of tone, theme, and balance. What I initially feared to the representative face of the album turned out to be an appropriate sprinkling self-congratulatory club fodder to season what would be a much darker album without it. This album is the intersection of poignant and poppin’.