With J.Cole’s recently release of his debut album “Cole World: The Sideline Story”, Cole showcases his growth between his early mixtape days to delivering a solid full length debut album, solidifying his place amongst his hip hop contemporaries in the process.Cole takes risks and steps out of the box in certain areas on the album which is rare when it comes to a first time debut album from a hip hop artist in following a set “formula”.
In crafting the album Cole self-produced or co-produced a majority of the 16 tracks and two bonus tracks on the album, enlisting top hip hop producers such as No I.D. and Brian Kidd to contribute to select tracks. The finished product fuses a blend of dubstep, electronica, piano, strings, live violins, 808’s, Brazilian beats,and Afro-Hispanic,sounds which complement the narrative flow and capture the feel of the lyrical messages within the songs, especially on songs such as “Lost Ones”, and “Dollar and a Dream III”.
Lyrically the album leads listeners on a first person journey through Cole’s struggle trying to get signed to a label, to how his deal with Roc Nation came about to concluding with what he faces currently as a mainstream hip hop artist. Besides tackling Cole’s journey within the music industry, “Cole World’ is unique in the way that it handles various other themes that the album examines. The album also delves into themes dealing with abortion, father-son relationships,dealing with different kinds of women and the male view on things such as relationships and cheating. On the first verse on the track “Never Told” Cole raps, “But the truth is, we all the same, on different teams, but it’s all a game”, in which the line seems to offer an impartial perspective on a male’s impulses to cheat in a relationship. The two- dimensional approach, conveyed on “Lost Ones” giving both the male and female perspective on abortion helps make the song one of the most well rounded on the album.
The guest features on the album are few unlike many recent albums that have been released by fellow hip hop artist, but the placement of guest artist on this album seem to be very meticulously placed. R&B crooner Trey Songz lends his vocals to Cole’s rap on the Brian Kidd produced track, “Can’t Get Enough”, in which the arrangement of Cole’s rap, Songz vocals on the hook and Kidd’s beat makes for a “radio-worthy”, mainstream single, tailored for the Billboard charts. The Jay- Z collaboration “Mr. Nice Watch” gives the album the rare “club” type single which it would otherwise lack, with Cole driving the verse “Let’s ball while we here / Let’s ball while we here / Like ain’t no tomorrow, like ain’t no next year / Drink away all our problems, make it rain with no care / Like I make that back, f*ck it I make that back.” On the song “In the Morning” which features Drake, both artist vocal delivery manage to blend smoothly together as they switch verses. The last standout collaboration on the album worth mentioning “Nobody’s Perfect” features Missy Elliot, which is both radio friendly in it’s production, lyrically balanced and timeless in the message that it presents.
Cole smoothly wraps things up on the album with the songs “God’s Gift”, “Breakdown” and “Work Out”. “God’s Gift” in a essence concludes the story about Cole’s journey to make it, while on “Breakdown” the rapper reaches his audience by painting a picture of the effects of fatherlessness, violence in the urban community and the effect of drug addiction within a family and community, in which listeners can relate to to some degree or another. It seems as a wise move to have the Paula Abdul sampled single “Work Out” as the last track on the album, as it is very different in both feel and production from any of the previous songs. He leaves “Who Dat” and “Daddy’s Little Girl” as bonus tracks.
Overall where “Cole World: The Sideline Story” comes across as strongest is in the lyrical anecdotes that J.Cole uses to present messages that his audience could relate to, even if they haven’t been directly involved in a situation described within the song themselves. Although the although isn’t perfect, for a first time album debut the album is fresh, clear, genuine and delivers quality.Cole manages to elevate himself more than just a mixtape rapper or Jay-Z protegee with his debut.
Standout Songs on the album: “A Dollar and a Dream”, “Lost Ones”, “Breakdown” “Sideline Story”