While many predicted J.Cole’s new album Born Sinner would be the stepchild to Kanye’s epic release Yeezus, both of which debuted on the same day, critics and fans already knew Cole had a legit reason for competing with Jay-Z’s other mentee. On the track “Forbidden Fruit”, he raps “When I say that I’m the greatest/I ain’t talking about later/ I’mma drop the album the same day as Kanye/ Just to show the boys the man now like Wanyá.” Now, if that isn’t rap bravery, then I don’t know what is. J.Cole was confident of his lyrical prowess and flawless beats, and from first listen, I can say Cole was correct in his assumptions.
Born Sinner is a cleverly crafted compilation of Cole’s personal experiences as an artist, once aspiring rapper, boyfriend, Bi-racial b-boy and imperfect human being who many times lets temptation and sin defeat his intellectual nature.
For those who follow J.Cole, they know he doesn’t have your typical hip hop artist background. Before he morphed into J.Cole, Jermaine Lamarr Cole was a Communications major at St. John’s University in New York where he graduated magna cum laude. He wasn’t a college dropout, but always had dreams of becoming a rapper, which he continued to pursue after school. A number of mixtape releases eventually landed him a deal with Jay-Z’s then new label Roc Nation, where Cole was the first artist signed.
His debut album, Coleworld: The Sideline Story was a good introduction for the North Carolina bred MC, but Born Sinner is a beast that further showcases Cole’s goal of reaching the same level of hip hop superiority that rappers like Tupac, The Notorious B.I.G. Jay-Z and Nas have attained.
Cole’s deep reverence for those artists are clearly evident from the first track on the album, “Villuminati” which samples lyrics from B.I.G.’s “Juicy,” reference’s Tupac’s association with the controversial philosopher Machiavelli and has Jay-Zisms sprinkled throughout the chorus and outro.
The brilliance of Born Sinner mainly rests in the darker, spiritual based tracks which don’t paint a pretty picture of success, but instead highlight the problems that come with “mo money.”
Over a haunting gospel chorus backdrop, “Trouble” tells the story of the lustful nature that can come from attaining success in the music industry. Cole even alludes to the “promise land” on earth as nothing but a dilemma.
“Rich Niggaz” also contains a dark, orchestral structure as Cole fervently raps about his disgust with privileged people who don’t earn their wealth, and what the cost of selling your soul for money can really do.
Past experiences of life before rap stardom always seem to make for the best lyrical themes in hip hop and Cole takes full advantage of that subject matter throughout the album.
Both “Runaway” and “She Knows” deal with Cole being torn between being faithful to his girlfriend or cheating with all of the women he encounters on tour. It’s no secret that Cole has been with his girlfriend since freshmen year of college, so he clearly isn’t making up any of these conflicted feelings about the temptation of mating with tour groupies. Cole’s somber, sincere tone is priceless even amid his insecure attitude toward salvation which is defined in the lyrics “The preacher says we were made in image of Lord/To which I replied: “Are you sure?/Even the murderer? Even the whore?/Even the nigga running through bitches on tour?” His profound opinions also narrate the feelings of many who question whether their sin will truly be forgiven.
The hottest tracks on the album are clearly J.Cole single handedly spitting from the heart, but he also features some other well respected artists such as Miguel, TLC, and another talented young MC Kendrick Lamar.
As much as he references his idols, you would think one of them would make an appearance on the album. But Nas does dominate one of the dopest tracks on the album.
“I Let Nas Down” poetically addresses the heartache Cole experienced when he found out his biggest hero Nas was disappointed with his first single. Even though Cole spends a majority of the album bragging on himself, his profound respect for other artists comes across full fledged to the point where he says “Pac was like Jesus, and Nas wrote the Bible.”
J.Cole is clearly on the same path of his idols, trying to establish himself as one of the best rappers in the game. Born Sinner is evidence that he isn’t far from rap royalty. I’m sure Nas would be proud of this record.
5 out 5 stars