J. Cole - Born Sinner

Posted June 19, 2013

Two years after after exploding onto the scene with freshman full-length Cole World: The Sideline Story, J. Cole has unveiled the highly-anticipated follow-up. Sophomore set Born Sinner comes heralded by reader-acclaimed song releases "Miss America," "Power Trip," "N*ggaz Know" and "Crooked Smile."
The 16-track project (with five additional bonus track when purchased in deluxe form) boasts a formidable slate of guest features, including 50 Cent, James Fauntleroy, Jhené Aiko, Kendrick Lamar, Miguel and TLC. Cole himself produces the lion's share of the album's beats, enlisting outside assistance from Elite and No I.D..

Born Sinner Album Review

The smartest move of 2013 (thus far) goes to Fayetteville’s native son J. Cole, who he decided to move up the release date for his sophomore album Born Sinner, to directly go up against Kanye West’s Yeezus. What some may look at as a marketing ploy also transformed a normal day in June into hip-hop history. A day when questions would be answered. Can Cole shake the sophomore jinx? Or more importantly, can he match up against a proven heavyweight like Ye?

Wasting next to no time, Cole kicks off Born Sinner with an extremely lyrical rant on Villuminati. We hear the words “It’s way darker this time,” and then over the classic Juicy sample, Cole gets right to it, touching on everything from his relationship with Jay-Z to his thoughts on the Illuminati (duh). You could hear the late 90s-early 2000s Timbaland influence on this track, but even so, Villuminati sets the tone for Born Sinner, which true to Cole's word is much darker than what we heard on his debut, Sideline Story.

Speaking of which, following his rookie offering the most common complaint was a lack of outside production. On Sinner Cole totally ignores that critical concern, producing 100% of the tracks on the album. Focusing on how to grow as a lyricist is one thing, but his production has grown as well, which is most evident on the LP's lead single Power Trip, featuring certified hitmaker and R&B singer Miguel. The captivating production brings out some savvy-storytelling from Cole, which when paired alongside one of the catchiest hooks of the year, solidifies the pair's flawless chemistry.

But even while obviously pushing for a radio hit, Cole also pays homage to those that came before him. For example, on Land of the Snakes, Cole bows his head to Outkast and Slick Rick, delivering a remake of the classic The Art of Storytelling. It isn't a knock on Cole to say that his spin on the record isn't as good as the original (seeing as how the original was perfect and all), but it was disappointing to see that Cole didn't really stick to the concept of … you know… storytelling. With the respect that Cole has earned for himself in the game this far, if anyone would get the nod to take a stab at the beat, it would be him. Disappointingly, Land of the Snakes was one of the album's only weaker efforts.

On a more positive note, it is great to see the newest generation of hip hop stars bring back the importance of dope interludes and skits. Cole dishes out two interludes on Sinner, Mo Money, and Ain’t That Some Sh*t, both of which fit nicely and complement the records surrounding them on the tracklist. The church choir skit, Where’s Jermaine, fittingly leads us right into the Kendrick-assisted Forbidden Fruit. Some listeners might be upset to learn that Kendrick doesn't provide the record with a hot 16, but it is quite refreshing to here K-Dot simply take care of the very chill, memorable hook. Cole, however, isn't as chill, taking shots at anyone in sight (particularly magazines): “How many records do a n*gga gotta sell/Just to get the cover of the XXL/or Fader?

(Oh yeah, and he apparently found his new ad lib now too.)

Not surprisingly Cole also finds a way to share even more about his life with his fans. On the No I.D. co-produced record Let Nas Down, the Roc Nation team captain reveals regret in the form of an audio biography, sharing a story about second hand knowledge that Nas was disappointed in Cole'd critically-weak, double platinum single, Work Out. Cole defends himself, saying, "You made You Owe Me, I thought you could relate..." But whatever: that’s not really what this song is about. It’s about Cole being a relatable guy, who is more like us than he is like his heroes, a nice your man who made good and now gets to interact with the rap pantheon on our behalf. The fact that Nas was even listening to him in the first place isn't mentioned in arrogance, but with a charmingly humble sense of, “Can you believe this?”

Overall, Born Sinner is an impressive effort. Moving his drop date forward to go up against Yeezus proves he deserves to be mentioned in the same conversation as hip-hop’s heavyweights, and will hopefully provide the extra light that the album deserves. Even better, the growth in both his emcee and production skills means Cole is here to stay for the long haul. He may have been born a sinner, but he has made himself into the opposite of a loser.

DJBooth Rating - 4.5 Spins

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Posted June 19, 2013
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