J. Cole’s cross to bear is his association with Jay Z, who many argue is the best to ever do it. Signed as the first MC to Jay’s Roc Nation label, Cole had monumental expectations dumped on his shoulders while preparing his 2011 debut, Sideline Story. It was a strong first attempt and eventually birthed a hit with “Work Out”, but the record felt scattered. Was Cole trying to go the route of the power single, or would he rather be content to churn out thinkers? And where would the label stand during all this soul searching?
Cole’s proper follow up, Born Sinner, hits stores and web retailers this Tuesday. Never mind that it leaked a week ago. This time around he’s taking head shots, and people aren’t going to know what hit them. While choosing a release date to rival a legend in Kanye West (Yeezus leaked two days ago), and Mac Miller (a young man who is just figuring out the trajectory of his career) might not have been the best decision in terms of numbers, Cole’s body of work will speak for itself.
Kanye’s influence is all over Born Sinner. Cole is handling the bulk of the production duties himself, varying tempo’s, and working in clever samples right and left from Biggie’s “Juicy” to Tribe’s “Electric Relaxation”. Cole seems concerned with the album as a complete project, playing on a theme which explores the shift between the darker and lighter sides of life. It’s ambitious, loud, and carefully crafted. Cole is making the type of music I grew up hearing. It sounds like hip hop with a purpose, leaving the boasting and name dropping to gather dust. Born Sinner is a soulful and aggressive record from a man who just might be in line to capture that crown his label boss has been wearing for years.
Support the arts and buy the record on Tuesday, even if you’ve already grabbed the leak.