Stepping into familiar territory early on, J. Cole adds a third chapter to his “Dollar And A Dream” series which first surfaced in 2007 on his debut mixtape The Come Up and again exerts the same passionate delivery and stern words. Cole’s transition to mainstream status puts no strain on his story as Cole trudges through an ominous production, metaphorically portraying his own struggle. Cole diverges into more pressing issues throughout the album, but Cole World… does provide some slick, sharp moments which aim to catapult him into the masses after some lighter moments.
With Trey Songz offering some vocal gloss to “Can’t Get Enough,” Cole’s first dalliance with a commercially driven track hits all the notes as its African influenced score blends wonderfully with both parties’ contributions. The first official single “Work Out” slows down the tempo, cutting up Kanye West‘s “The New Workout Plan” with Paula Abdul‘s “Straight Up” and adding a Midwest bounce to two-step to.
Although both singles will draw more attention to Roc Nation’s rising star, Hip Hop aficionados arguably have sought J. Cole to provide fiery performances which have been missing from the scene – even from rap’s heavy hitters. Young Jermaine doesn’t disappoint as the acid tongued narrations which were found on his previous mixtapes return. “Sideline Story” may evoke the same underdog-come-good spirit as “Dollar …” but Cole delves further into the angst of waiting to explode. From the burdens weighing him down close to home to the pilgrimage to New York, the spiritual home of rap, J. Cole transcribes these emotions confessional-style and should score high from all professors of the genre.
There’s little wonder as to why J. Cole has the backing of JAY Z as the young rhymer exhibits the traditional emcee role with maturity. So much so that the veteran emcee steps away from the executive table to add a verse to their much anticipated collaboration on “Mr Nice Watch.” Taking a sped up, robust instrumental Cole stunts hard on the doubters, fully embracing his celebrity status as Jigga keeps up with young Simba with a solid verse. In time however, this co-operative effort will be long forgotten as its uninspired concept falls short in comparison to their effort on 2009′s Blueprint 3 cut “A Star Is Born.”
One partnership which does work remarkably is on “Nobody’s Perfect” – a thumping slow jam/Hip Hop crossover which welcomes back to the game Missy Elliott. Missy’s star turn on the chorus draws out the seductive side to Cole, whose charming tones will ensure his female fanbase will continue to grow.
Listen To: J. Cole ft. Missy Elliott – “Nobody’s Perfect”
“Lost Ones” highlights the mature levels of his lyricism; penning an all too familiar story of an unplanned pregnancy from both perspectives of the parents, recited with enough care, passion and originality to impress.
Listen to: J. Cole – “Lost Ones”
If there is one aspect of …The Sideline Story which both helps and hinders Cole’s debut, it’s that most of the production his handled by the rapper himself. On the plus side, J concocts an array of lush piano keys and ’90s inspired arrangements which further echo both his toil-tinged bars as well as his delight in his newly acquired status. “God’s Gift” is powered by rampant drums and excited guitar riffs bulking up J. Cole’s empirical performance, whilst “Breakdown” draws on his own personal pains of an absent father and a substance inflicted mother, set to a kaleidoscope of musical flavours on the beat.
But whilst Cole provides a number of solid beats, when looking at the range and variety of such the differences between them are very few. At times it’s hard to differentiate between tracks due to the similarity in set-up and several tracks fall somewhat into the ‘filler’ bracket. It’s also the case that content wise, J. Cole doesn’t diversify as much as anticipated. Although he can be praised for his stern approach, serious demeanour and delivery, the story of his struggle and the celebratory mood he switches between may be ineffective in keeping the listener fully attentive to his utterances.
After going back and forth with Missy, receiving an alley oop from Jay and taking control of both the mic and boards, how does J. Cole’s debut fare? For many of his more than faithful followers, ‘debut’ would feel like an inappropriate word. Cole World: The Sideline Story is packed with the recognised passion, lyrical rawness and rich musical sounds which the North Carolina star has become synonymous with on his three mixtapes prior. For newcomers this offering will enthrall them – but the seasoned folk will see it as an extension of stuff he had already released.
Cole is no exception to a common issue which plagues many artists today; after flooding the ‘net with free music, will the studio album differ significantly from their giveaways? Whilst former mixtape tracks “Lights Please” and“In The Morning” [featuring Drake] reappear here, nevertheless Cole World… still floors many of today’s releases for its honesty, old school spirit and execution. J. Cole’s debut may not be the ‘classic’ many wished for but instead offers up a polished, archetypal collection of work from the lyricist as he climbs further up the list of future game-changers in Hip Hop.