#8 Album Of The Year: J Cole- Born Sinner

Posted: December 29, 2013 by ericbernsen in Album Reviews, Music
Tags: , , ,

J Cole is one of those rappers that raised the bar high with his critically acclaimed early mixtapes The Come Up, The Warm Up, and Friday Night Lights. All of these projects were well-received universally and hip-hop fans everywhere began to proclaim Cole as a new legend so to speak. With expectations high as ever for Cole’s debut album Cole World: The Sideline Story, the project had commercial success, but did not please the purists who bashed Cole for trying too hard to gain mainstream acceptance. These fans wanted more meaningful tracks like “Lost Ones” and less Trey Songz and forced Jay Z features. With Cole seeming to be a normal guy trapped in a famous rapper’s body, he took these criticisms to heart and found himself on a mission; recapture the passion he displayed in his early work while still appeasing the industry model in order to meet RocNation level standards. J Cole sorts through this pressure and the result of this identity crisis is the album aptly titled Born Sinner

Right off the bat we are hit with the aggressive intro track “Villuminati”. The beat is very reminiscent of something Timbaland would make and Cole captures the dark side of his personality, ferociously spitting about his skills on the mic. These verbal onslaughts are almost always well executed by Cole, so it is a shame we do not get more of them on Born Sinner. Nevertheless, Cole sets himself up properly with a soulful, laid back vibe throughout the project that is almost entirely self-produced. While Cole is a talented producer in his own right, he chooses to heavily rely on classic nostalgic samples such as Outkast’s “Da Art of Storytellin (Part 1)” and A Tribe Called Quest’s “Electronic Relaxation” on the tracks “Land of The Snakes” and the Kendrick Lamar featured “Forbidden Fruit”. Cole does the samples justice with his honest lyrics driven by imagery, but the listener is left wishing Cole would create his own legacy rather than continuing to bring up the legends of the past.

However, a standout track on the album is a direct letter of sorts to hip-hop legend Nas, a song that defines the inner struggle of J Cole and shows the rapper at his most vulnerable. “Let Nas Down” describes how Nas was not a fan of Cole’s breakout single “Work Out” and the lyrics travel deep into Cole’s feelings into his idol’s negative reaction, “But while I shot up the charts, you mean tellin’ me, That I was not up to par, when I followed my heart, Granted, my heart was tainted by my mind, I kept on sayin’, Where’s the hits? You ain’t got none, You know Jay would never put your album out without none, And dog, you know how come, Labels are archaic, formulaic with their outcomes”. While it is easy to make fun of Cole for letting his guard down on the song, the brutal honesty makes the track a fitting tribute over a beat that you could envision Nas rapping over….(hint hint there was a remix).

While Cole’s radio singles may have previously sounded lyrically uninspired, he learned from his mistakes on Born Sinner as he perfected the formula with the Grammy nominated hit “Power Trip (ft. Miguel)” and the return of the 90’s R&B group TLC on “Crooked Smile”. The latter is a feel-good song about Cole embracing his crooked smile and inspiring his audience to have confidence in their own appearance. While TLC sounds at home over the hook, the R&B feature that steals the show on this project is Miguel who flexes his smooth vocals on “Power Trip”, a catchy track that has Cole rapping about a past relationship with a girl. He is able to bring back some of the magic he had on “Dreams” and “Lights Please”, the song that influenced Jay Z to sign the rapper from North Carolina.

While J Cole triumphantly succeeds with these mainstream-friendly hits, he still makes room for hard hitting tracks like “Runaway” and “Rich Niggaz” which tackle the themes of fame, money, race and an overall sense of infidelity. And once J Cole wraps the project up with aid of James Fauntleroy on title track “Born Sinner”, the listener again is left with the decision of whether Cole did enough to be grouped in with the Kendrick Lamar and Drake’s of the world. There is no doubt J Cole is a talented rapper and although we hope he chooses to reach out to other producers for his next album, he should be commended for taking control behind the boards on Born Sinner. While Cole does achieve redemption and answers some of the naysayers who doubted him on Born Sinner, we know Cole’s true potential has not yet been unleashed. Nevertheless, the album is an exceptional and emotionally driven body of work that stands on its own as one of the best releases of 2013.

Listen to Born Sinner below and let us know what you think of the review/ranking!








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