An emerging rapper in today’s market must appeal to both genders if they want commercial success. This goal of universality can often grind down the gears in the minds of ‘underground’ artists who make the leap into the limelight, so how are rappers supposed to find the balance? How can you have conscience themes while still getting across that inkling of misogyny we’ve come to expect? J. Cole seems to have found a way with his debut album, Cole World: The Sideline Story.
Though this is the North Carolina native’s first commercial release, it comes after three mixtapes in as many years. A majority of the songs on those albums were produced by Jermaine and this release is no different. The familiar sounds of the violin, drum machine and piano (all played by J.Cole) are all put on display and combined with proficient flows and original stories. The themes will sound familiar to hardcore fans, and those new to J.Cole’s story will be inspired to go back and catch up after hearing songs like “Dollar and a Dream III”.
On one hand, songs like “Lights Please”, “Lost Ones” and “Daddy’s Little Girl” are a testament to how a social message should be presented. But the theme of songs like “Work Out” and “God’s Gift” make J.Cole seem like the cause of, AND solution to the problems he’s rapping about. It’s hard to take a song about unwanted pregnancies seriously if the next few songs talk about one-night stands and getting morning wood. However, when you look past the contradictions you’ll be pleased with the variant flows mixed with the Nas-like story telling. J.Cole manages to keep tender songs from sounding too blatant and has a way of wrapping up the few witless lyrics in a catchy package.
And if producing your own album isn’t enough to impress the doubters, the dearth of features might help. The Missy Elliott feature on “Nobody’s Perfect” does nothing to bring you back to her Misdemeanor days, and even the Jay-Z verse on “Mr. Nice Watch” sounds rushed. It’s as if Jigga was interrupted from watching a football game and had to turn something in. The lack of guest appearances on Cole World speaks volumes about the confidence of its creator, who clearly wants to ensure that his debut isn’t diluted by too many voices.
The word ‘classic’ gets thrown around often, and some would be quick to label this project as such but this album lacks the variety and flawlessness needed for ‘classic’ status. After listening to it numerous times I’m left thinking how much better Cole World might have been if Jermaine had gotten some big name producers instead of going the ‘DIY’ route and although the older songs (“Who Dat”, “Lights Please”, “In The Morning”) have been re-mastered it doesn’t change the fact that they’ve been out for over a year. Still, this CD is a breath of fresh air that will shed light on important social issues. When you combine that with the catchy hooks and club-ready production on some songs, J.Cole’s fans are sure to be happy with the result of his four-year voyage.
- VIDEO: J. Cole – “Work Out”
- MUSIC: J.Cole – “Before I’m Gone” [Prod. by J.Cole]
- MUSIC: J.Cole – “Higher”