After several false starts and moments of uncertainty, J.Cole’s debut album has finally arrived.
It seems as if 2009 was a lifetime ago when many, myself included, were first introduced to J. Cole on “A Star Is Born” from Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint 3.”
While this may have been his introduction to the masses, Cole had already made a name for himself on the mixtape circuit. “The Come Up Mixtape Vol. 1,” released in 2007, gave listeners their first glimpse at the man who would eventually become the first artist signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation. The follow-up, “The Warm Up,” was met with crticial acclaim and featured the track that got him signed, “Lights Please.”
Despite releasing two well-received mixtapes, being the Roc Nation’s first artist, and gaining a substantial fan base on the mixtape scene, J. Cole’s debut album was placed on hold. The project’s indefinite hold fed into the longstanding theory held by many about Jay-Z’s inability to promote other’s careers over his own. After all, Jay-Z is a brand and could release an album at anytime and it would at least go platinum. So what’s wrong with J. Cole?
Notwithstanding, Cole continued to release music, including the critically acclaimed “Friday Night Light”s and recently “Any Given Sunday,” a free, weekly music series.
When the album’s September 27 release date hit the Internet, many remained skeptical. “Who Dat,” the original lead single released in 2010, fared poorly on the charts, leading many to believe the date was simply a rumor. In addition to poorly received single, the initial buzz surrounding Cole had faded, which led to more questions than answers. Do we care? Is he another case of a good mixtape rapper who can’t make the transition to becoming a viable commercial artist? Who is J. Cole?
However, the date was confirmed and here we are. J. Cole’s debut album, “Cole World: The Sideline Story,” is officially available for the world to hear. But does the album live up to the hype? Was it worth the wait?
The album tells the story of the underdog. Overcoming adversity, coming from nothing to something, and making transitions in life are reoccurring themes found throughout the album. The 18-track set gives a narrative of where the 26-year old came from and where he is currently.
“Cole World” features three tracks from previous releases: “Who Dat,” the album’s original lead single; “Lights Please,” featured on “The Warm Up” and landed him his deal with Roc Nation, and the Drake-assisted “In The Morning.” Each included on the album for various reasons, but offer nothing to get listeners, new and old, further acquainted with the St. John’s University graduate.
“Lost Ones,” “Nobody’s Perfect,” and “Daddy’s Little Girl” showcase Cole’s ability as a storyteller. “Lost One” tells the story of a young couple dealing with abortion. Jumping from the prospective of young man and woman, “Lost One” is one of Cole World’s brightest moments. “Nobody’s Perfect” featuring Missy Elliott is worth repeat listens. “Her mind is on a different level/Plus the teachers couldn’t reach her, always been a rebel/Hit the club, watch out boy, you dancin with the devil/She f–k, she suck, she swallow/Man, it’s like a triple double” raps Cole on “Daddy’s Little Girl,” the standard edition’s closing track.
What “Cole World: The Sideline Story” lacks in commercialism, it makes up for in lyricism and cohesiveness. It’s unclear if the album will be a breakthrough hit and take Cole to the next level, or if it will take years before it’s fully appreciated. “Cole World: The Sideline Story” is available in stores and on iTunes now.
By – Monté Alexander