Review: J. Cole, ‘Born Sinner’


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J. Cole⎪ Born Sinner ⎪ Roc Nation / Columbia ⎪⎪ US Release Date: June 18, 2013

English: J. Cole and DJ Zeke backstage, St. John's

“Never got to church to worship, but please be merciful.”  That’s Jermaine Cole’s ‘repentant’ sentiment on the title track of his highly anticipated sophomore album Born Sinner.  Cole may not have been ‘angelic’ on his debut Cole World – Sideline Story, but the standout rapper certainly seems more sinful, brash, and assertive in his persona and rhymes this go-round.  A sinner he may be (“It’s way darker this time…”),  Cole’s rhymes also go deeper lyrically, showcasing incredible growth between the two albums. That’s a massive compliment, considering Cole’s first album was easily one of the best rap efforts of the year when it was released in 2011.

Villuminati” incites controversy quickly – “Fake niggas get sprayed up / my verbal AK slays faggots / and I don’t mean no disrespect whenever I say faggot, ok faggot / don’t be so sensitive…” A sinner he may be, Cole is at least an intelligent one, reasoning “…couple more A’s I would have been a summa cum laude…”. Ultimatel, “Villuminati” is chocked full to the brim with notable lyrics, whether Cole he ‘brags like Hov’ or  is ‘real like Pac’.  The sole drawback? Its a lot of intellectualisms to embrace in one track.  He follows up the illuminati-themed opener with a thoughtful skit, “Kerney Sermon” in which minister Kerney Thomas claims he can fix problems with a Personal Prayer Package (“…all you gotta do is either log on to our website / or you can dial toll the toll free number and place your order…”) Cole uses the skit as a preface of “Land of the Snakes” – hmm imagine that!

“Lord, know some h**s from the past like / ‘Damn Cole, wish I knew that you would be rich’” – Verse 1, “Land of the Snakes”

“Land of the Snakes” both examines Cole’s past as well as his ‘sinful’ endeavors.  He ‘cockily’ proclaims “My kicks hard, my whip hard / I came out the womb with my d**k hard” on the second verse, while on the hook, Cole eschews church for hook-up (“She said ‘You bout to miss church’ while she riding me / I like my sundaes with a cherry on top / make that a$$ drop”).  If that’s not bad enough, he details a one-night stand, but admits to being regretful of his actions.  His girl ‘got him all night, singing love songs’ on the valedictory “Power Trip”, where he gets a boost from a rising Miguel (“Would you believe me if I said I’m in love?”). The ‘girl’ is really bothering Cole, as he proclaims “Well this has gotta be the longest crush ever / If I ever get to f**k it’d be the longest bust ever…” TMI, perhaps, but he’s honest at least. A ‘power trip’ turns to a ‘money trip’ on interlude “Mo Money”, in which ole boy “Used to dread the strip club cause I couldn’t throw money / now the strippers give a n***a the throat for no money…” While it’s obvious what Cole is referencing sexually, the lyric truly represents the old tale of from ‘nobody’ to ‘somebody’.

“Got a b***h on my d**k right now / and she just want to sing on it” – Verse 2, “She Knows”

jcole_ts_C5473_R4On “Trouble”, Cole’s magna cum laude status pays off – or maybe it’s just ‘life lessons’.  “First the text, then the draws, see first the sex / then it calls cause the bird’s obsessed” (True) and “But I’m back on track, jump shot wasn’t that good / couldn’t sell crack but I rap good / that’s one stereotype” (a true message about stereotyping).  His intelligence turns threatening, on the bold hook where “…real n*****s trying to f**k, f**k n****s wanna fight…gun shots into the air, but I ain’t scared for my life.” For all of the top-notch lyrics, its the churchy choral sample that truly anchors down the sinful nature.

On “Runaway”, he claims “…the devil got his hands on me… she pop a molly let the motherf*****g games begin” in addition to bragging about having more ‘notches in his belt’ compared to über pop star Justin Bieber (“This just in, f****d more b*****s than Bieber though / still I keep it low, got my n****s on the need to know…”).  He also questions “could I run away from 50 mill like Dave Chappelle?” Agile flow, with thoughtful rhymes, “Runaway” continues Cole’s ‘trouble’.  So does the interesting “She Knows”, featuring Amber Coffman, in which Cole boldly proclaims “this is Martin Luther King in the club / getting dubs, with a bad b****h / in his ear sayin’ she down for whatever / in the back of his mind is Coretta…” Despite this, he knows that “She knows…” and that he “…can’t be what you want from me…”. Obviously.

“B*****s come and go (you know that) / money come and go  (you know that) / love come and go (don’t s**t last)” – Bridge from “Forbidden Fruit”

On “Rich N****z”, Cole hates ‘rich n****s’: “I hate rich niggas… cause I ain’t never had a lot damn it / who you had to kill, who you had to rob / who you had to f**k just to make it to the top damn it…” He goes on to talk about the effects of lacking money, claiming it “make a n***a smoke a whole sack of dope writing rhymes tryna bring back the hope…” While Cole takes a ‘street’ approach, his message transcends the vernacular.  After interlude “Where’s Jermaine? (Skit)” solidifies Cole’s absence from choir practice and church in general, he compels on the ‘jazzy’ “Forbidden Fruit”, featuring subtle, but important contributions from  Kendrick Lamar. Beyond the ‘sip, sip, sipping’ of the hook, Cole acknowledges his reason for releasing Born Sinner the same day as Kanye West’s Yeezus (“I’ma drop the album the same day as Kanye / just to show the boys the man now”).  That’s a bold move J. Cole, but a good one for hip-hop.

J+ColeOn “Chaining Day”, J. Cole points an accusatory finger towards himself about indulging in material things, specifically the ever popular Jesus Piece (“…my last piece, I swear, my guilt heavy as this piece I wear / They even iced out Jesus’ hair…”). His guilt is short lived as on “Ain’t That Some S**t (Interlude)” the first words uttered out his mouth are “Ok I lied…” His devilishness knows no end: “Flow tight put a n***a in a headlock / f**k ho*s out of wedlock / n***a bed rock / red hot so they got red dots…” “Crooked Smile”, featuring TLC (T-Boz and Chili) is one of the better cuts of the album, if not among the very best.  Cole offers up a truth in his third verse: “…look at the nation, that’s a crooked smile braces couldn’t even straighten…” So it’s not all about getting it on with hotties apparently.

“Told me Nas heard your single and he hate that s**t / said you the one, yo why you make that s**t? I can’t believe I let Nas down…” Verse 1 from “Let Nas Down”

J.Cole_Let Nas Down” is a personal favorite.  Based upon Cole’s idolization of Nas and disappointing his rap mentor, it is among the more distinct cuts of Cole’s career.  What even more appealing is the fact that it sounds like something Nas would spit capably over.  “Born Sinner” closes the standard edition appropriately and solidly.  The cut is only ‘semi-repentant’ you might say.   The deluxe edition of Born Sinner includes five more cuts: “Miss America”, “New York Times”, “Is She Gon Pop”, “N****z Know”, and “Sparks Will Fly”. All five are enjoyable, but the best is “New York Times”, featuring 50 Cent and Bas.  According to the ‘Times’, “They say you can win anywhere if you can win here…”

Ultimately, Born Sinner is a superb effort. The concept remains intact and accessible throughout the effort, with J. Cole delivering some killer rhymes.  Sure, he’s a bit more provocative this round, but he’s also more cerebral.  The overall balance of he album feels sound.  Born Sinner, hence joins an select list of the best albums of 2013.

Favorites:

“Land of the Snakes”; “Power Trip”; “Trouble”; “Rich N****z”; “Forbidden Fruit”; “Let Nas Down”; “New York Times”

Verdict: ✰✰✰✰

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