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 411mania » Music » Album Reviews

J. Cole - Born Sinner Review
Posted by Tony Acero on 06.24.2013

1. Villuminati
2. Kerney Sermon (Skit)
3. LAnd Of The Snakes
4. Power Trip featuring Miguel
5. Mo Money (Interlude)
6. Trouble
7. Runaway
8. She Knows featuring Amber Coffman
9. Rich Niggaz
10. Where's Jermaine? (Skit)
11. Forbidden Fruit featuring Kendrick Lamar
12. Chaining Day
13. Ain't That Some Shit (Interlude)
14. Crooked Smile featuring TLC
15. Let Nas Down
16. Born Sinner featuring James Fauntleroy

*17. Miss America
*18. New York Times featuring 50 Cent & Bas
*19. Is She Gon Pop
*20. Niggaz Know
*21. Sparks Will Fly featuring Jhene Aiko

When J Cole's first album came out, I had only heard sputterings of who he was. I recall purchasing it and listening to it for The Low End Theory and being fully blown away. The boy was good, and finding out that he was relatively young and produced the album himself really impressed me. He made it to my top ten list, was my Rookie of the Year for 2011, and I immediately became a fan. His ability to tell a story and still make good music was met with much respect, and it appeared that Jay-Z knew just what he was doing when he signed Cole.

Two years later, and Cole has released Born Sinner. Cole starts the album off with a slap in the face, sounding angry, vicious, and like he has something important and new to say. Calling the track "Villuminati" is more than enough to send the internet world of hip hop fans into a flurry, and I can't wait for the next YouTube video made to dissect the track. In the first track, he offends, and probably won't make friends in the mass media by using "faggot," but the shock factor works here considering it's the introduction to an album that, although has its speed bumps, is another solid effort from the young Cole.

The deluxe edition has 21 tracks so it's easy to get lost in the album, and admittedly, listening to it straight through was tough at times. The album isn't boring by any means, but it's relatively conflicted, and although the thematic elements of faith are tested, there are times when it gets tedious. In an effort to try to prove himself, Cole sometimes stretches the concept and because of it, there are times when less is truly more. Take "Mo Money," for instance. The track is just over a minute, and has all the vitriol and fire necessary to make this album a cut above the rest, even after escaping the united theme (the sole reason behind calling it an Interlude, I'm sure). And again, with "Ain't That Some Shit," where he makes you bob your head like a motherfucker, and makes you wish for just another minute with it. There are a few throwaway tracks, such as both of the skits which added nothing to the album, and "Runaway" didn't really impress me all that much.

If, when listening, you feel a bit of reminiscent attitudes towards songs like "LAnd of the Snakes" and "Forbidden Fruit," it's because you undoubtedly have heard something like it before. Outkast and A Tribe Called Quest are sampled respectfully here and are part of what I see is the most common complaint of the album. Cole samples no less than 8 former celebrated artists, and a few lesser knowns that cause many purists to assume that this was a lazy production job, but I have to disagree as Cole simultaneously honors and makes the tracks his own in impressive fashion. Aside from that notion, there is also the fact that we now live in a musical world where sampling is simply a given. That same person that complained to me regarding Cole's sampling of other's work told me how much they loved Kanye West.

Guest stars on the album are readily available, but they never take the center stage, and no one outshines Cole - instead, they enhance Cole, and rightfully so considering this is HIS album. From Kendrick Lamar on the hook for "Forbidden Fruit," to getting "TLC" in on "Crooked Smile," and even having 50 show up for the Deluxe Album only "New York Times," Cole uses his guest stars masterfully. They are simply there to lend a hand. It always surprises me when a big name such as 50 or Kendrick lend help without so much as one rap verse, leaving their ego at the door and seemingly just adding what they can to a friend's track.

The content is where Cole is strongest, as he stands atop a pedestal with uneasy footing. His storytelling is still his best asset, and when he's on, he's on. His social views are not hammered over the head of the listener, and his personal struggles are relaetable, even after the success of his first album. The trips down memory lane with Cole are perhaps my favorite, especially during the standout track, "Let Nas Down." An ode to Nas and his distaste for Cole's first album highlights a theme that is reoccurring on the album. Cole's attempt to sit both aside and atop a table of legends is a struggle I can only imagine every artist goes through, but not everyone wants to admit to. He touches on the ego numerous times here, but none so deeply as in "Let Nas Down," and this strikes me as important for the entire album and Cole's career as a whole. Simply put, he is a storyteller, and all the success could mean nothing if one's own idol means little of you. "Pac was like Jesus, Nas wrote the Bible" highlights the feelings of Cole throughout the entire album, and the presence is obvious.

Upon final review, the only negative of the album is that his message, as impactful in the beginning of the album it is, gets a bit tiring after sixteen tracks. Not to say that they are all the same, because Cole does a solid job of mixing numerous different themes. But in a world of ever-changing hip hop, there is something that needs to be distinct in order to stand out above the rest. In this case, Cole only scratches the surface, and perhaps that's not the worst thing, considering he's young and has plenty more to say.

The 411: J. Cole is still blossoming as an artist and as a man. His internal struggles are laid out on wax here for us and a majority of it is instantly relatable. He is able to weave a simple story together with the needle of production and the thread of lyrics in a glorious way. In some cases the colors are not as vibrant, but for the most part he does solid work in creating a piece of musical history.
Final Score:  8.0   [ Very Good ]  legend


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