Review: J. Cole's "Born Sinner"

Review: J. Cole's "Born Sinner"

J. Cole's second offering picks up where "Cole World" missed the mark and reintroduces Cole to the Hip Hop world.

Cole World: The Sideline Story was considered somewhat of a disappointment to fans who really knew the raw talent that J. Cole posseses. The storyteller and the street smart rapper that fans loved was missing in his debut album. This time around Cole delivers a more cohesive project, with tracks easily flowing one by one to create a complete concept: Born Sinner.

He comes on strong with the opening track, “Villuminati,” with clever wordplay, and the dope Juicy Fruit sample made famous on Biggie's "Juicy."  After the opening track is a skit of a preacher seemingly preaching about the power of God until you hear him tell listeners to pick up the phone and place orders. It’s a perfect example of a preacher selling hope: one of the many issues about religion that Cole brings up throughout the album.

Born Sinner is impressive because of how much Cole sounds like he’s grown musically. He’s really come into his own with this project. His flow is more fluid than before and his voice inflections hint at a greater confidence.  The N.C. native's skills shine on tracks like “Land of the Snakes” which features a smooth laid back summer vibe, and a switch-up reminiscent of a Timbaland move. “Chaining Day” and “Forbidden Fruit” again showcase Cole’s ability to make chilled out cuts. At times he sounds like he’s taken pages out of Pete Rock’s producing playbook. 

The “Mo Money” interlude tours into the handle of money in the world and is one of the stand out tracks lyrically with for Cole, “Blacks always broke cause we don't know money/ Spend it before we get it and could never hold money/ No wallets, nah, nigga we'd rather fold money/ Money control niggas, white man control money/ Laughing like ‘yeah yeah my nigga get your money.’”

Biblical themes settle in “Trouble” where a choir hauntingly sings as the emcee braggishly rhymes about his intellectual high ground.  On another standout track, “Runaway,” Cole raps about the woes of being a man trying to be faithful but falling to temptations.  He discusses the power of money in today's society, citing Dave Chappelle’s seeming disappearnce from the media, and contradiction of religious views in today’s world. This track even features J flexing his singing ability which Lauryn Hill or Erykah Badu easily would have sounded at home on.

The Kendrick Lamar assisted “Forbidden Fruit” is a dope track. Cole brings his signature story telling to the table and Kendrick lends some simple vocals to produce a well-crafted track.  You can hear the fun these two have working together.

It’s fitting that Cole dropped his sophomore effort the same day as Kanye West's Yeezus, because Born Sinner is reminscent of 'Ye's College Dropout.  Challenging many ideas within the hip hop community, and also expanding boundaries with his production style, mixing soul samples with synths, violins with tribal drums, distorted vocals and changes in tempos.  Whereas Cole World felt disjointed and slightly underwhelming, Born Sinner impresses as a complete album. 

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