Before you dive right into the review, I want to just say that this project has meant a lot to me personally and it being released has been a long time coming. My biases are clear. I cover Cole, a lot. And I personally really enjoy his music more than most artists. I did my best to take an objective approach with his music. I let it sit for a little and really listened to every song a bunch. I analyzed and analyzed more to really get my thoughts clear. This album is crazy and it’s J. Cole at his finest. Sorry for the delay in posting the review, I had to make a few tweaks in it after hearing some small things in the music. Well without further ado, hit the jump for Uptown Soldier’s J. Cole Album Review.
Uptown Soldier Album Review: J. Cole – Cole World: The Sideline Story
Finally this day has come. After all the push backs and interesting promotion strategy, Jermaine Cole has his debut album in stores. For many J. Cole fans this is a long time coming. I’ve heard this countless times “When’s that J. Cole album coming out?”, especially when I was interning at Columbia Records last summer working on J. Cole projects (they have a partnership with Roc Nation). The buzz was there last year, but it wasn’t where it needed to be. I understand why the album took this long to drop, but I can’t really agree with how this project was handled. This album is overdue. We needed this album months ago. And because of this need, the album has even higher standards and expectations. This creates a small problem. Well that is if your someone other than J. Cole. This album will shut up the critics, silence the haters, and provide you with plenty of great music.
The thing you HAVE to respect about Cole is that he never puts out a bad song. Yeah some of his songs might not be hits but his lyrics are always there and his production is never off beat. His mixtapes have been considered album worthy and his music has been becoming increasingly popular in the last year. If you were hearing Cole back in ’09, you knew this was coming. You had to know this guy was going to blow up. You don’t even need to listen to “Lights Please”, his biggest song ever, to notice. Any other song off The Warm Up would do the trick, and that was well over two years ago. Lucky for Jay-Z, he pretty much found the perfect rapper to be the first artist on his label to release an album. Cole has progressed to be a full artist and you see that on this album. This album is vintage J. Cole as well as catering to the major CD buying markets for commercial success. I’ve come up with a list of 5 things I believe made Cole’s album a “classic”:
Theme - The theme of this album represents everything J. Cole. The title explains it all. Cole’s world is The Sideline Story. His life has been about working his ass off just to get off the bench and be a star. The great thing about this is the comparison any person can make to their own life. Everyone is trying to make it in this crazy world and J. Cole is just like any regular person. He’s in Cole World where he’s trying to get off the bench which is a great metaphor for his ambitions in both basketball and the rap game. Cole was struggling and doing whatever it took to make ends meet, not anymore.
Perfect Features & Amount of Features - When dropping a debut album you want the focus to be solely on yourself yet still have some features that draw big fan bases to the album. Cole was able to do that to the T. With 4 features Cole was able to get Jay on there as well as Missy Elliott, Drake, & Trey Songz. First, getting Hov on there is insane. The song is crazy and with Jay on there it’ll be a hit. Next we get Trigga (Trey Songz) on the single “Can’t Get Enough”. Trey is a great R&B feature and brings a huge young (and female) fan base to the record. He also doesn’t outshine Cole on the track which is really great in my opinion. “In The Morning” speaks for itself, Drizzy is nuts on that beat. Finally, “Nobody’s Perfect” is one of those songs that’ll stick for quite some time. The beat is so damn smooth and Missy literally sounds perfect on it. All 4 are Cole’s tracks. What I mean by this is that you can hear Missy or Hov or Drizzy or Trey (especially Trey) on these songs, but they in no way steal the show. The feature makes the main artist sound better and that’s what a feature should do. Props to Cole for getting these features and for not overdoing the amount of features. 4 is a great number and works perfect for Cole.
Intimacy of Songs - This album as a whole is really intimate. The visuals Cole creates through his story telling (Nas-like) flow are very vivid throughout the album. He has his crazy story telling tracks like “Lost Ones”, “In The Morning”, and “Lights Please” and tracks with a purpose and a theme like “Nobody’s Perfect”, “Never Told”, “Breakdown”, “Daddy’s Little Girl”, and “Nothing Lasts Forever”. Even on the more up beat (harder) tracks, you still really feel Cole’s passion and emotion he has towards his music and life in music. Another thing to recognize in Cole’s music is his production. No matter what the lyrics say, the beat has to evoke an inner emotion or mood for people to really feel it. Cole started off pretty good as a producer and he has just continued to grow and get better. Now he has songs like the Missy-feature that are instantly so classic and “God’s Gift” that’ll get you going at any time. I’m also glad he took advantage of No I.D.’s production skills on a track that’s really intimate and brings an interesting point about being man that most don’t discuss (and for good reason). When listening, get ready to go for a ride in Cole World.
Relate-ability of Content - This may very well go hand in hand with the above theme, but Cole’s lyrical content is some of the most relatable content out there in Hip hop right now. His music is just being eaten up by the 16-30 year old listeners. And what’s crazy is even the older cats really appreciate his music because of the way he does his thing. Cole may have some great hooks on this album, which he does, but he is all about his lyrics fitting perfect over his production. “Dollar And A Dream III” says a lot about Cole in how he has come from a regular college kid to Jay-Z’s star rapper. Every kid out there has a dream to do something big, if you don’t, get your act together. Cole was one of those kids with a dream and literally did everything he could to get there. The way he raps about everything the youth goes through from trying to make something of yourself to sex drugs and alcohol (they get grouped together, ha!) to issues with relationships and all the shortcomings that go along with that draws many people to his music. You’re bound to listen to this music and hear a line or two that will make you nod your head because you’ve been in that place Cole’s rapping about.
Great Range of Music - This album has music for everyone. As I said in the last paragraph, Cole’s content is easy to relate to for a lot of people out there, but it even goes beyond that. The music itself on the album can cater to so many different moods and types of people. He’s got his radio/pop songs for people who like those in Work Out, Mr. Nice Watch, & Can’t Get Enough. He has his slow intimate story-telling tracks like Lights Please, In The Morning, Lost Ones, Daddy’s Little Girl & Dollar And A Dream III. He has his vintage Cole bangers for those crazy Cole fans including God’s Gift, Rise And Shine, Cole World, & Sideline Story. He has those crazy soulful tracks that sound really fucking smooth. These tracks are Never Told, Nobody’s Perfect, and Nothing Lasts Forever. Bottom line is there is music for everyone on this album and there’s music for whatever mood you’re in. Great range shown by Cole which really makes the album even better.
TRACK BY TRACK BREAKDOWN:
Intro - Dope piano set. Great talking before the piano beat kicks in faster. Cole brings a few bars but with great passion and meaning. Great intro to the next track and sets a mood for this album that Cole’s going after success with all his heart and determination. This is a guy who cares about every little detail and lives through his music. He doesn’t decide to try, he just does.
Dollar And A Dream III - Completes the trilogy with this track from The Come Up to The Warm Up to now. Great track that shows cole’s progression as an artist and his ability to evoke inner passion and put it on a track. The passion spills out of this track. The moment the smooth beat hits your ears you get this eerie sense which allows Cole’s message to really ring through. The chorus is old for you Cole fans but is dope on this beat. The last quarter of the track is crazy as Cole changes the beat up a little bit and goes in with his bars. The message Cole brings isn’t new (coming from nothing to something) but the way he presents it is insane. This is an ever-present theme throughout the album.
Can’t Get Enough feat. Trey Songz - This is probably one of the better tracks Cole has done in a while, both for radio purposes and as a Cole song. First, this is a smash radio single that probably should have been the first single and been released in May. But anyways, the reason is that he brings a dope feature (Trigga, Mr. Steal Yo Girl) that brings a new fan base, but doesn’t outshine Cole on the track. Next, the beat is really catchy. Even though Cole didn’t produce this track, it still is up there as one of the best beats on the album. If Cole let it get on his album, you know this shit is good.
Lights Please - This is by far Cole’s most “classic” track. I was happy to see it on the album. It had been THE song that was going to be on the album when Cole got signed, then came “Who Dat”. It’s also the song that put Jay-Z onto Cole and eventually got him the deal. This song is a classic because it’s fucking dope. You may hate it because its over 2 years old (its actually like 5 years old, so is “Lost Ones”, Cole wrote them when he was in school) but appreciate the story it tells of a guy trying to teach a girl something and all she’s trying to do is cut the lights.
Interlude - Soft, smooth piano beat throughout the interlude creating a very surreal, intimate tone. Cole is talking on the interlude (seems like to a group of people) about the moment he first got signed. It’s a crazy story and a memorable one for Cole. I’m glad he was able to share this on the album and it was a nice continuation from the beginning of the intro.
Sideline Story - The first of two title tracks on the album is becoming one of my favorite beats on the entire project. When I first heard it I instantly took to the lyrics and message of the track. Cole establishes himself in the rap world as the guy doing it for everyone out there. The beat is real smooth and Cole kills the hook with catchy lyrics. The beat changes up for the last first and Cole’s lyrics really rings through, some of his best bars are in this part. The end is my favorite part and I’m having trouble deciding the best title track, ha!
Mr. Nice Watch feat. Jay-Z - That Shit Cray!! This beat is one of the more insane ones on the album and Coley Cole shows his range as a producer. Cole definitely went out of his box for this one, even choosing it as the “Jay feature” on his debut. Jay’s verse is dope as usual but he definitely didn’t beat Cole. The hook is catchy and will attract a lot of radio play. As for the theme of the track, it takes the place of “Cost Me A Lot” on FNL. Cole is blowing up and seeing some real money, you don’t expect him to rap about it sometimes? I like the way he approaches it “No more Mr. Nice Guy, Hello Mr. Nice Watch!” If you like dub-step, electronic beats this is definitely for you. Also Cole does a good job of singing/harmonizing on the hook.
Cole World - This is a vintage up beat, fire lyrics Cole track. As the second title track on the album it takes a different approach than “Sideline Story”. The beat has a fast drum beat and uses some crazy electronic sound throughout the track. Cole’s passion on the verses really fits great over the beat. The hook is also vintage Cole and is super catchy. Early bet for my favorite hook on the album. This track brings out Cole’s swagger and confidence in himself now that he’s become the big artist he once dreamed of being.
In The Morning feat. Drake - This beat is so fucking smooth. Even though this track is over a year old in it’s original form and 10 months old with Drizzy, I still give it a lot of love. The theme of the song gets any guy to relate to the track and Cole lays some great bars taking his wordplay approach on his verse. Then comes in the best feature on the album Drizzy Drake with probably the smoothest verse on any song I’ve ever listened to. The way Drake attacks this song could probably let him get with any girl on the planet. The lyrics on this song are so on par with the beat you’re going to want to play this song more than once (if you already don’t).
Lost Ones - This is by far the most intimate track on the entire album. Cole has had the verses and theme for this track for quite some time as this is one of the tracks he has a lot of emotion towards. On the track Cole tells the story of a girl dealing with an unwanted pregnancy and her troubles with the father. This happens plenty across the country (and world) and is one of those issues many people rarely address. Cole is a good guy at heart. He definitely has only good intentions with his music and this track shows his lyrical range is capable of great things. He attacks the verses using 3 different perspectives of the situation really taking you deeper into it. When this track leaked a while ago I didn’t take to it at first. After hearing the album version I really was inspired by Cole’s passion and emotion that it has become one of my favorites on the album. When listening to this get ready to get deep.
Nobody’s Perfect feat. Missy Elliott - Thank goodness Cole said this is going to be the next single off the album because this track is a hit. Missy Elliott comes in beautifully on the hook and makes this song capable of being a radio hit. Honestly it’s the best I’ve heard Missy in a long ass time, Cole is lucky as hell he got her sounding like this on his album Even Cole’s harmonizing on the hook is dope! But as usual this beat is smooth as hell and the drumline just keeps you nodding and nodding. Cole’s verses are slowed down to the beat real well allowing fans to easily rap them along with him. The theme of the track is another very-relatable theme from Cole that nobody in the world is perfect but someone can be perfect for you. This is going to be a great song in concert and on the radio (very soon).
Never Told - The lone No I.D. track on the album is up there for my favorite on the album. The beat has a bit of a soul-feel to it and the drum line sets up the bars in different style for Cole, but he still kills it. The message in the track goes over the life of a man, but the behind the scenes look at the issues and situations that people don’t talk about on a regular basis. You might hear this song and just nod your head because Cole’s vocals sound really good over the beat., but he’s actually telling a bunch of crazy stories in the song. Another really intimate song that will last for a long time. “This is for all the fans that waited”
Rise And Shine - This track is the second craziest beat on the album to “God’s Gift”, but it was a close call. The intro is right on par with an old Jay-Z sample saying he was going to sign the next biggest rapper. The drumline on this track is insane with powerful kicks and quick snares. The hook is another great hook from Cole and the drums cut off giving way to some uplifting horns. This track is also up there for some of the best lyrics on the album. Cole has come to show you that the Roc Nation superstar is here and here to stay for a long time. 3:30-4:11 might be my favorite part of any song ever. “Medal of honor, I’m feeling on top like Pac, when he slept with Madonna”, wow.
God’s Gift - This beat is going to make you go crazy. This song is going to make you go nuts. I’m starting to understand why this track is called God’s Gift because this track was sent straight from the rap gods to Cole’s album. This beat is so damn good I can’t think of something I get more into than this. The lyrics are vintage Cole as he goes in with passion and fire behind his voice about he came from the days of waiting in the rain to give Jay-Z his beat CD to now having him on speed dial. How he saw girls look right past him, now the hottest girls are lining up to just spend a second with him. The hook is almost picture perfect with a phased up guitar and great lines from Cole. He’s talking to a girl he deeply likes asking her if she’d love him without any of the fame and fortune he has. This is a must listen and probably one of my favorite tracks that I’ve ever heard from Cole.
Breakdown - Reminds me of The Autograph from FNL and brings the album to a nice close. It has a bit of a soulful feel and a slower beat than “God’s Gift”. The beat is also real smooth and calming almost when Cole lets it ride in the middle of the song. Cole does a great job in this song with telling three different stories in the hook. All three address different people in different situations but the message rings through to not breakdown and keep your head up because there’s a brighter future ahead. I love the thought in the this track and the ending is a really great way to close out the album. Sounds a tad bit like Pac on this record, just sayin’.
Bonus Tracks – Work Out, Nothing Lasts Forever, Daddy’s Little Girl - “Work Out” is definitely a hit song, I don’t know why people say Cole has no hits, but in my opinion this is a hit. It gets constant radio play, the video release was somewhat of a success, and it’s definitely a track that a lot of females really like. Props to Cole on the sample, I’ve loved it since I first heard the song the day it got cleared. “Nothing Lasts Forever” is such a classic Cole track that you can play it multiple times in a row and be perfectly fine. The hook is dope and sounds classic. Cole’s flow on this track is vintage Cole and his message really rings through. There’s some lines in there that will be pulled up as favorite Cole quotes in a few years. “Daddy’s Little Girl” might be disliked by some but I personally like this track a lot. The beat is simple but is perfect for the way Cole raps,sings on the record. The hook is so catchy that I could listen to it on repeat for a while. Crazy theme on this track and when you see the video you’ll be slowly brought into the world of the girl Cole is rapping about. I’m glad they threw the video out before the album dropped, gave this song some much needed love.
Cole came through on his debut. This is something the fans needed. And he did it his own way. He didn’t go the route of Kendrick or Big Sean, and might be somewhat close to Drake’s but he’s a different artist, who produces, so he’s in his own category. When you listen to the album if you hear remnants of 2Pac, Nas, Kanye, Jay, or any of the greats, don’t shrug and wonder why. Cole has a little bit of everything in his music. Yes he may curse a lot in his songs, but attribute that to his passion and ambition. This album is the culmination of everything Cole’s been working for over the past 6 years. Where does he go next?
Side Note: The album’s projected to sell 225,000 to 250,000 copies the first week. And you said Cole won’t sell?