Earlier in the week, J. Cole held an international listening session of sorts (he was present in NYC) where folks got a chance to listen to Born Sinner to see if it’s really going to hold it’s own against other same-day releases (namely, Kanye West’s Yeezus and Mac Miller’s …Movies…). It’s safe to say that, even though we probably won’t know what to expect from ‘Ye until the 18th, J. Cole’s sophomore offering probably isn’t quite as good or as progressive as whatever it is Mr. West is going to release.
‘Power Trip’ feat. Miguel
By all means, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad album; actually, it’s an excellent effort (even without virtually any Hip-Hop features present). The first thing I need to attack here would probably be his first official single…and by attack, I mean praise: getting Miguel on ‘Power Trip’ was an excellent move (it charted fairly well, making it as high at #20 on the Billboard 100 last I checked). I see this as a big deal because with Sideline Story, it seemed as if it was a struggle just to come up with a single to play on the radio, which it why his album took so long to be released. Wasn’t the case this time.
Moving onto the project as a whole: Born Sinner carries a general theme of an ordinary individual making it musically and having to face the different trials and tribulations throughout his young career, especially when it involves being not-so-saintly (money, women, drugs and alcohol, etc.). Two songs have to be mentioned because of the soundbed choices: Land Of The Snakes, which pays homage to Outkast’s Art Of Storytelling, and the Kendrick Lamar-assisted ‘Forbidden Fruit’, which points directly to A Tribe Calls Quest’s ‘Electric Relaxation’ (which in turn sampled Ronnie Foster’s ‘Mystic Brew’). Both songs are not only powerful songs aesthetically, but Cole actually managed to further the progress on both songs with his production (plus, he doesn’t even need an actual verse from Kendrick!).
The album also comes with some skits that act as glue for the album’s message: one features a hypocrite preacher selling his product, while another one features a choir who notices that their main character is missing during rehearsal (I’m not going to include the Mike Epps one here, it’s easiy recognizable when you hear it). In addition, J. Cole has included fairly short interludes (‘Mo Money’ and ‘Ain’t That Some Shit’) that he raps on that compliment the skits well. It’s obvious that Jermaine is really fighting with the organized church’s ideology in his album.
Most of you have probably heard the TLC-assisted ‘Crooked Smile’, which to me wasn’t bad….but it was pretty underwhelming, considering that he had Chilli & T-Boz at his disposal. The same can be said for ‘She Knows’ (with Amber Coffman). My favorite track on the album? ‘Runaway’. You just have to listen to it and picture how J. Cole was on his previous mixtapes….he’s in pure form on that record.
Finally, everyone is talking about his ‘Big Brother’-esque message to his idol on ‘Let Nas Down’, which he gives his take on his feelings and emotions when he found out that Nas hated ‘Work Out’. It’s a powerful record, no doubt; but I can’t really call it as good as Kanye’s ode to Jay-Z. There was simply a lot more to what was going on over at Roc-A-Fella between the boss and his employee.
Overall, the album is a strong listen. The only real problem that I feel is that, with every project that J. Cole has released, there hasn’t been a huge amount of growth or progression, lyrically or production-wise (when I say that, I’m also comparing his own projects along with the evolution that’s found in Kanye West’s work. Simply put; Ye breaks the mold every time with some new mind-blowing shit while J. Cole gives you more of that same dope music that he’s been creating).
In closing, when you listen to Born Sinner and you’ve been a Cole fan, then you know what you’re getting…..and you’re going to be happy with the final product. It just isn’t going to put him on the same level at his biggest competitor(s?) come June 18th (June 25th if we count his peer Wale).