Tuesday, June 11, 2013

J. Cole – Born Sinner (2013) – Review

Review: J. Cole follows up his strong debut Cole World: The Sideline Story with an even better sophomore effort. He is among the best young artists in hip hop, an MC that fans have a lot of hope in (though, Kendrick Lamar has surpassed him as the genre’s ‘future’).

On Born Sinner, Cole’s production is more polished and lush and his lyrics are darker this time (as is the overall tone). He still maintains his great lyricism and ability as a storyteller, but seems to be following in the trend of Kanye West’s early work trying to find his place in mainstream hip hop, ruled by boasting and materialism, while also fighting against it. There is a duality to his message on many of the tracks. He wants to just be himself (a nerdy guy with thoughtful stories and great flow), but feels the pressure to create a persona that appeals to the mainstream (money, women, cars, power, and so on). This struggle is a central theme to the album. Additionally, Cole spends much of the remaining space playfully and emotionally ruminating on his relationships with women – but his lyrics feel less misogynistic than what the genre usually offers (misogyny is so mainstream in hip hop and R&B among male artists that listeners just seem to embrace it – it is not shocking or disgusting; it is just normal, and that is a sad comment on the way we view women). Cole’s faith also plays a role in the lyrics and especially in the overall sound for the album.

Musically, J. Cole’s production is fantastic and striking (and probably the most brilliant aspect of the album). While I was a fan of his beats on his mixtapes and previous LP, he has taken a big step forward with Born Sinner. Every track is musically engaging. I particularly like the darker melodic themes (songs like She Knows especially) that Cole has brought to the album. The full cohesive sound feels both aligned with hip hop in the classical sense (as Cole samples from Notorious B.I.G. and Outkast) and sounds different than everything else on the radio right now, which is a very good thing. This is hands down the most musically interesting album of 2013 so far (a title that Kanye West’s Yeezus is sure to take though, once we get to hear the full album on June 18th).

Another aspect of the album that I like and respect is that Cole is confident enough in himself to not feature any guest verses on the album. This is a personal album and would be lessened by tons of features (like every other hip hop album). However, that is not to say that there are not strong contributions from collaborators. Miguel, Amber Coffman (of Dirty Projectos), and Kendrick Lamar all show up with great choruses. Producer No I.D. also works with Cole on one of the album’s best tracks.

Born Sinner is a great hip hop album, again reminding fans that J. Cole is one of the genre’s real artists (personally, he is in my current top five with West, Lamar, Pusha T, and Drake – they just make the aesthetically most engaging music in the genre right now). 4/5

Essential Tracks:
1)      Power Trip – Produced by J. Cole, featuring Miguel
2)      Rich Niggaz – Produced by J. Cole
3)      Let Nas Down – Produced by No I.D. and J. Cole

Available on: Digital Download

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