After much anticipation and many changes in release date, Roc Nation rapper J. Cole finally drops his much anticipated sophomore LP "Born Sinner" this week. Taking a break from the mixtape game for a brief period, fans waited patiently for some new heat from the NC rapper. With the wait finally over, music lovers can appreciate a more refined and confident Cole on this latest effort.
Many thought Cole was a little overconfident when planning to release "Born Sinner" a week ahead of schedule and in direct competition with Kanye's "Yeezus", considering it worked so well for 50 Cent's music career. However, after listening to the both LPs , Cole may just win this war of sales.
The buzz for this album started subtly with the release of the first single "Miss America". Not really the best effort from J. Cole and over-conceptual, the real build came when he teamed with crooner Miguel for the infectious single "Power Trip". Repeating the same chemistry that worked so well for "All I Want is You", Cole delivered the well versed story while Miguel added some charisma on the hook and chorus to make a hit that is quickly climbing the charts. Why these two haven't collaborated on an entire album is still unknown to me, but it is always refreshing to hear them together on a track.
It seems that biblical references and a messiah complex have been 2013's rap game focus, but J. Cole delivers an interesting take on the ideas of temptation on "Trouble" and Amber Coffman of the Dirty Projectors assisted "She Knows", lust, pride, and original sin mixed with familiar speakings on race relations, gender relations, and success in the mainstream. With "Power Trip", he offers a catchy tale about a woman that keeps him up all night. On "Forbidden Fruit", he collabs with rising star Kendrick Lamar over a Ronnie Foster "Mystic Brew" sample to speak about temptation as he spits "apple juice falling from her lips..." (modernize reference to Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit), as well as pride as he also comments about his decision to drop his album on the same day as Kanye's.
J. Cole later transitions into speaking on vanity, self esteem, and race on "Crooked Smile" featuring TLC. What could have easily been a cheesy "self-love" anthem becomes a catchy single by Elite and J. Cole's production. Adding the girl group to capture the same success as their "FanMail" hit "Unpretty", the great hook compliments J. Cole raps about loving your flaws and imperfections no matter what people say.
The NC rapper continues on a more serious note as he speaks on racial segregation on the tough "Chaining Day". Spitting about the differences between blacks and whites and that material wealth has become the new enslavement. This idea carries through on the interlude "Mo Money" and heavy-hitting beat on the track "Trouble".
Although Cole delivers lines about race relations, commitment issues, and a few braggadocios rhymes about success, he still has time to show a little humility on the last few tracks. On "Let Nas Down", he literally gives a full story over a saxophone led beat on the devastation he felt when finding out that one of his idols, Nas, was disappointed in hearing some of his music (especially "Work Out"). Following this track, he gives praise for his talents and achieving success on "Born Sinner" ft James Fauntleroy.
It is clear that J. Cole has grown lyrically and production wise on "Born Sinner". What he lacks in charisma in much of his flow is complimented by a good taste in sound and delivery of catchy hooks that offer a certain effortless simplicity. Both thought provoking and relatable, the message J. Cole brings with this latest 16-track (21 on deluxe version) effort is that he clearly is not perfect and that humility is still a large part of his character and his rise to fame still has some setbacks .
Like West, J. Cole is comfortable and confident enough to pen and construct a beat that doesn't have the listener reaching for the "forward" button on a player. What Cole lacks though is that stand-out, almost overbearing, passion and ego in delivery that really makes a lasting impression.