After his three highly acclaimed mixtapes won millions of dedicated fans worldwide, anticipation for J.Cole’s debut album has been astronomically high.
But with great anticipation, often comes great disappointment.
Going against heavyweights of the hip-hop industry, including his own mentor, hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, does the young rapper deliver? The Sideline Story incorporates the traditional ego-tripping, booty-seeking, money-worshipping tracks with more socially aware, lyrically sharp and thought-provoking songs.
With much of the production done by J.Cole himself, the young rapper has secured creative control over the project and made it true to his vision. When not rapping about casual sex in ‘In The Morning’ featuring Drake and in ‘Can’t Get Enough’ with Trey Songz, or bragging about watches with Jay-Z, he’s spitting verses about taboo and socially provocative subjects.
In ‘Lost Ones’, the young rapper argues with his girlfriend (whom he raps on behalf of as well) about abortion. The track reflects the two-sides of young pregnancy; the hesitation of raising a child that he isn’t ready to have and the girlfriend’s response, “Trying to take away life, is you God…? Talking about your father, he left you when your mama had you and he ain’t shit, now here you go doing the same shit.”
Indeed, in ‘Breakdown’ and the effortlessly produced ‘Dollar and a Dream III’, J.Cole opens up to living in poverty and having a tense relationship with his father.
On ‘Never Told’, J.Cole shares his brutal honesty about male infidelity (though it may anger his female fans). “See, I could probably rush you, tell you that he should have loved you, take advantage, fuck you, tell you I’ll do all the shit he wouldn’t do, but the truth is, we all the same, on different teams, but it’s all a game.”
The musical production of the album is not flawless, but easily beats many albums released earlier this year. From the beautiful notes of a grand piano and the eccentric strings of the jazz guitar in the slow tempo songs to the use of heavy bass and drums in the club bangers, the album is an ear-gasm.
Any rapper can spit verses about money and girls (and many do) or drop verses that may sound amazing but at a closer listen don’t really make any sense (Lil Wayne). Perhaps what sets J.Cole apart from many other rappers is his ability to connect with his fans by relating to everyday problems, dreams and realities of the average man and woman. Is this a masterpiece album? No. Is this a powerhouse production that is worth your money and establishes J.Cole’s official place as a big player in rap? Absolutely.