It sure had been a ride for J.Cole. The North Carolina rapper was poised for a Cinderella ride to the top, garnering a Roc signing and a slot on King Jigga’s Blueprint 3. Young Simba’s run halted with debut delays and rumors of Rihanna rangling and label dropping and endless interviews waiting for that final verse from the Big Homie. Alas, we’re here and his album, Cole World: The Sideline Story is far better than the throwaway crap he’s been releasing these last couple months. While not the classic he may have swung for, it is an honest record full of solid themes, a few delusions of grandeur and some pretty solid bar work.
Cole opens with “Dollar And a Dream” in “Dynasty Intro” mode, complete with stream of staccato thoughts and mentions of Stevie and Rich & Po. The track is a journey of big production with strings, piano and many moving parts that keep it interesting. Simba got a lot to get off his chest, with God in his prayers, his momma on his mind and his fans in his heart.
Singer turnt wannabe rapper Trey Songz brings his sex talk on “Can’t Get Enough” over a tribal infused rhythm. Cole adopts Kanye’s Late Registration flow while delving into dick game grandeur.
A boom bap basic rhythm powers “Lights Please” with Cole dropping his philosophy on the pussy. Cole is trying to kick knowledge, but all she wants to do is sex. He takes a left to expound on fatherly abandonment, castigating men who drops seeds and go to farm elsewhere. Cole hasn’t yet mastered that skill of melding deeper ideas with elements of fun and this track is made weird by that lack of finesse.
Later on in the album, Cole tackles that issue head on with the dual-perspective song, “Lost Ones.” The argument is nothing new: father doesn’t want to raise kids without his pockets right, hints at abortion and wonders if she got pregnant to keep him, while prospective mother wants to keep her child no matter what. She remembers his emotional talks of abandonment he shared but he seems willing to perpetuate the cycle. The story happens too often in real life, but Cole’s two-sided take deserves applause for making a common song a bit different.
Missy Elliot returns from milk carton exile on “Nobody’s Perfect,” a seriously dope tracks featuring those famous double drums from her golden era and a sharp performance on the hook and verse. Cole’s performance is ill, particularly on the first stanza over the unbalanced beats. Cole revisits the male female dynamic, this time including the failings of both sexes on “Never Told,” a track that includes an admission of his father’s indiscretions and Cole’s secret-keeping complicity. The game is changed when the chick fillet wants out of the sheets.
“Rise and Shine” is his tour de force lyrically and his attempt to infuse gravitas to his spitter’s legacy. He goes hard but there isn’t enough force of personality to make this song great. It stands as a very good window to what he’s capable of.
He takes a crack at upliftment on “Breakdownn” but his delivery isn’t passionate enough to really nail the song. The pianos bring emotion and aurally Cole can’t match it. He gets more emotionally involved on the breakup track “Nothing Lasts Forever,” complete with regret and threats of cousin delivered ass whuppings and all the stuff that unfolds during hood breakups including the awkward friendship aftermath.
Cole closes with what he knows best, a song about chicks with “Daddy’s Little Girl.” You can never figure out whether Cole thinks he’s a player or whether he’s soft on them, but it’s serviceable yet lacking the force of a closer.
This album will make people take notice. There are lyrics to go and layered production that goes far beyond what we’ve heard him rapping over. He broaches real topics and everyday issues and it’s there that he separates himself from the average spitter. Anyone can rap about hoes; most of them do. But when you infuse elements of your own life and touch on relationships in a real way, you allow your listeners to bond with you. The album is not without flaws (note the lame “Mr. Nice Watch”) and when he’s not overtly in concept, he’s really limited in what he raps about, but Cole World lays firm ground work for a young emcee to bust a move.
Out of 3.75 out of 5
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