J. Cole – Born Sinner

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A disappointment, not because Cole World: The Sideline Story was anything special (it disappointed everyone; not just Nas) but because the Truly Yours 2 EP – released just months before and barely acknowledged in professional circles – told me that J. Cole’s learned a few tricks production-wise after the wholly singular vision of his debut album and spoke volumes of his versatility as a rapper; that he knew how to hit an emotional soft spot (“Cole Summer”, “Wishes”) and could do a 180 and best Kanye West and Jay-Z at their own game (“Chris Tucker”). 

It starts off well enough: J. Cole’s opening announcement that “It’s way darker this time around!” puts false hope in the listener’s ear, especially since J. Cole is best when he’s dealing with darker subject matter, ie. abortion (“The Lost Ones”) or domestic abuse (“3 Wishes”). But as soon as the drum-filled “Villuminati” throws a sample of “Juicy” in our faces, it’s a really sour moment, partly because I’m frankly tired of hearing “Juicy” samples, but mostly because J. Cole had to speed Notorious B.I.G.’s delivery up to match the new beat, and the product sounds embarrassing, and when repeated four times in a row to give us a chorus? Well, then. That being said, J. Cole running through homophobia in the first verse of that song was a rather arresting moment. 

I’m almost similarly angry that he rides another classic hip-hop song on the following LAnd of the Snakes” (stoopid misspelt title and all), this time using OutKast’s “Da Art of Storytelling Pt. 1,” but it’s actually the best track on the album once you get past the sample usage (and Cole nicely adds some female harmonies or slowly deconstructs the beat when necessary), and each verse here is a goodie. Some sample bits: “No more sleeping in my brother’s room / Like man I might as well be sleeping in my mother’s room / Cause how I’m supposed to sneak hoes with my bro here? / Plus she gon’ find out I been rocking all this old gear” (verse 1); “Now if you only had one wish is it devious? / Cause you already know who your genie is / Ain’t get a cover, now your mag on my penis / Like damn he turned out to be a genius” (verse 2). And when you think the chorus is dumb, verse 3 a moment of self-reflection (he’s really good at these) where he runs into a girl that he fucked and chucked and reveals it to be nothing more than empty braggadocio (all while referencing “Lost Ones”‘s “You ain’t shit, nigger”). Single “Power Trip” that follows continues the goods, where he doesn’t leave Miguel to his devices as most rappers would, instead adding a chorus of his own and providing both artists with the most melodic beat of the album (after “LAnd of the Snakes”).

But after that opening stretch of tracks, Born Sinner starts heading downhill. The skits are absolutely useless, and when he tackles subject matter like religion (“Kerney Sermon”) and family (“Where’s Jermaine”), it feels like he’s just going for a good kid, m.A.A.d. city-vibration. Oh, and speaking of Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole pulls him in to boostBorn Sinner’s sales, but blasphemously relegates one of the most impressive rappers in hip-hop (ever) to a fucking hook. It’s obvious that J. Cole did this to avoid critics from saying that “Kendrick Lamar killed him on his own album,” but in doing so, he looks more cowardly than anything. And whereas he often didn’t bother with choruses on Truly Yours, they’re everywhere here, and a lot of them are packaged with useless outros (“Runaway,” “She Knows,” “Crooked Smile”) for a more holistic listening experience or whatever, and what could have been decent 3-minute songs become nearly unlistenable 5-minute ones as a result. The only tracks that I like that I haven’t mentioned yet are “Rich Niggaz” and “Let Nas Down,” if only for the harp sample in the former and the jazz-rap beat of the latter. On the latter, the lyrics play like a discount version to Kanye West’s “Big Brother” (which wasn’t that great to begin with). And I suppose linking the title track with “Villuminati” was a nice touch so that the album sounds great on repeat if I let it.

”I’mma drop the album the same day as Kanye,” J. Cole announces proudly on “Forbidden Fruit,” having purposefully pushed the release date of Born Sinner up a week. I originally thought this was a decision of pure pride-filled stupidity, but after hearing the album, I realized it’s kind of smart. When (more like if) people talk about Born Sinner, they’ll suggest that it was great, just simply and unfairly overlooked by critics because the infinitely betterYeezus came out on the same day. The real truth is that it just wasn’t very great to begin with. And yes, Born Sinner did sell more, but that’s because Yeezus – an album that came without an album cover and without any prerelease singles – was meant to be divisive. This one just panders to every crowd possible. 

Take a laxative, J. Cole, because you’re full of shit. All the artists you namedrop on the album — Jay-Z, Nas, Kanye West, Black Star, 2Pac — they’ve earned their braggadocio. You haven’t yet. I doubt you ever will.

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3 responses to “J. Cole – Born Sinner

  1. Pingback: J. Cole – Truly Yours 2 [EP] | Free City Sounds·

  2. Pingback: The 10 Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2013 | Free City Sounds·

  3. Pingback: J. Cole – Truly Yours | Free City Sounds·

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