With a dollar in his back pocket and big dreams front and center in his mind, a young Jermaine Lamarr Cole embarked on a long journey and chased the bright lights all the way to New York City. He dreamed of becoming not only the next big thing in music, but also of becoming one of the greatest MC’s to ever step behind a microphone.
With a full ride to college, the man we know today as J. Cole left his hometown of Fayetteville, N.C. and attended St. John’s University for a degree and a record deal while he was studying in the big city.
Four years after graduating magna cum laude, Cole finally released his long awaited debut album “Cole World: The Sideline Story” under Jay-Z’s label, Roc Nation.
After many delays and false starts, the album hit shelves Sept. 27 and needless to say, it was well worth the wait.
Cole carries the bulk of the production in his debut, and in an age where albums are a compilation of random tracks, this one feels more like a story told with J. Cole serving as the narrator.
Immediately, it is ostensible that J. Cole is telling the story of the underdog; he is taking his listeners through the “The Sideline Story.”
But one thing that may be overlooked is the strategically placed order of the songs.
The album starts off with Cole talking about the day he was signed and lets it known that he is hell-bent on becoming one of hip-hop’s key players with a “Dollar and a Dream III.”
Then, in “Can’t Get Enough” featuring Trey Songz, he uses his rap star status to pick up a lucky lady. In the very next track, he tries to show off his intellect about current world issues to woo her. However, she’d rather just let the lust dictate the rest of the night in “Lights Please.”
After an interlude that finds Cole reminiscing about the day he got his record deal, the theme turns back into him trying to solidify himself as an important member of the team (hip-hop) with the “Sideline Story.”
The song ends with Cole asking for “guidelines to get up out of the sidelines.” Well, what better way to get off the bench then to collaboration with the Michael Jordan of rap, Jay-Z?
The song has a dubstep feel to it, which is out of Cole’s element. He does his best with a few witty lines, but Jay-Z puts the rookie to shame with his insane wordplay and just straight up foolish and outlandish delivery.
Doubtful, but Cole being put in his place in this song may have very well been intentionally done to continue the overall theme of the album.
Either way, the next track is “Cole World” where J. Cole tells a female companion that it’s going to be a hell of a night. Next song? “In The Morning” featuring Drake.
The song is provocative and sexy and perfect for J. Cole’s female fans.
But after the sensual night, reality crashes down on J. Cole as the next song finds himself going back and forth debating on whether or not to abort the child he helped conceive. The song is one of the album’s best cuts as he goes in and out of character to show both of the sides of the two parties involved. Well crafted and written song.
Listeners are then treated to a surprise guest on the next song’s hook with Missy Elliot lending her vocals for the North Carolina rapper in “Nobody’s Perfect.”
The album continues with strong cuts such as “God’s Gift” and “Rise and Shine” that features a spine-chilling sample from his mentor, Jay-Z.
After having many setbacks, releasing a weak lead single, and being relatively unknown on a grand scale, J. Cole’s debut is projected to sell 250,000 copies, a number unfathomable a few months ago. But it just goes to show that despite the great party music out by the Drakes and Big Seans, people still want to hear that conscious rap music. That music that Nas, 2Pac, Biggie, Eminem at times, Kanye and Jay-Z gave us when they first hit the scene.
“The Sideline Story” is a modern day classic. Some songs were previously released (“Lights Please” and “In The Morning”) and ultimately could have been altered with a musical breakdown or stronger vocals. Drake should have re-recorded his verse because he sounds like he literally just got off stage and jumped into the booth. But those are small things that may be just a personal preference.
Cole says he is already halfway through his next record and projects to release at least four albums in the next five years so don’t expect to see him leave anytime soon. It took a long time for Cole to break into the industry and it’s going to take a long time to get him out.
Needless to say, the day he leaves the rap game will very well indeed be a “Cole World.”
Overall: 4 ½ out of 5 Owls.