Album Review: “Cole World: The Sideline Story” by J. Cole

J. Cole's debut album, "Cole World: The Sideline Story"

By Michael Lu

Cole World: The Sideline Story
J. Cole
Sony Music Entertainment
Release Date: September 27, 2011

After a four-year string of mixtapes and notable guest appearances with Reflection Eternal and Wale, J. Cole’s highly anticipated debut, Cole World: The Sideline Story, has finally arrived. Ever since becoming the first artist signed to Jay Z’s Roc Nation label back in 2009, the buzz surrounding J. Cole was filled with absolute excitement as his grit and dedication reveled critics and listeners with the standards he established as a talented emcee and budding producer. As J. Cole spent the last few years as an outsider looking from within witnessing peers, including B.o.B., Drake, and Kid Cudi carving niches and creating headlines in the industry, could he raise the bar even higher from all of the accolades he has garnered thus far? Not quite. Nevertheless, the  high school basketball player from North Carolina laces up his J’s and showcases why he believes he is deserving of a starting position.

A true testament of an artist is how one’s work truly embodies the inner-workings of their life. With the case of J. Cole, he finds his rhythm so seamlessly regarding his personal experiences or depicting realistic scenarios. “Sideline Story” and “Dollar and a Dream III” poetically describe his desire for musical success amidst constant struggle and  frustration. In “Breakdown”, an emotional deconstruction occurs as he lashes against his father for abandoning him while simultaneously yearning for his presence, and recounting his mother’s addictions all in one fell swoop. “Never Told” reminisces on the causes and effects of infidelity while “Lost Ones” discovers a young man and a mother-to-be vigorously arguing over the prospect of an abortion. J. Cole’s remarkable storytelling through stirring imagery, a passionate delivery, and daringness to expose himself serves as a reminder that hip-hop has not completely fallen off the wayside and into the depths of Hades.

Notwithstanding, the commercial success necessary for any artist to expand his or her platform and attract a larger demographic in the grand scheme of things has provided J. Cole the opportunity to diversify himself through a solid collection of radio worthy jams. “Can’t Wait” utilizes a staccato flow and a Trey Songz chorus for J.Cole to address his fixation for women while “In The Morning” depicts him and Drake cooing to women for early action. “Cole World” features an energetic yet formulaic soundbed for his bravado and a Missy Elliott hook enlivens “Nobody’s Perfect.” Even though these tracks are not as galvanizing as his soul-bearing offerings, their additions provide a sufficient balance for the album.

However, the primary critique of Cole World is perhaps the overall quality in the beat production. As accomplished and heralded as Cole is in terms of beatmaking, evident with “HiiPoWer” from Kendrick Lamar’s highly acclaimed Section 80, nonetheless, he produced 15 of the disc’s 18 tracks and played or co-produced another. Aside from the dubstep inspired “Mr. Nice Watch” featuring Jay-Z, most of the tracks sound eerily similar to each other and do not match the conviction of his rhymes. It would have been more beneficial for him as an artist if he could have used his Roc Nation connections and contacted other production heavyweights, such as 9th Wonder, Just Blaze, and Kanye West.

Even so, Cole World: The Sideline Story displays glimpses of flash and promise that undoubtedly lands him a spot on the team. The mechanics of his game need a little reworking but he will be dominating on the court faster than you can say “yahtzee.”