There are a lot of expectations that accompany a debut album for any artist, but there is an added set of challenges when the artist has already built an intensive, concentrated fan base on a more independent basis. In the case of J.Cole, it is a tough gig to follow up on three mixtapes that are so highly revered by all, especially when the content and production exceeds many of the debuts that have been released over the past few years.
But we all know about the story of commercialism, so it’s to be expected that Cole World: The Sideline Story falls in line with the plot quite nicely. On the tracks that are reminiscent of the album’s predecessors, however, Jermaine delivers in big ways, creating a well-balanced debut that will satisfy both the masses and the dedicated, while leaving a lot of room for growth on the already in-progress sophomore disc.
One of the key successful factors of Cole’s overall product is his knack for production. He established a signature style infused with unique vocal samples and drum kicks, fitting the Common criteria of being able to cool out and just listen. Like much of his career, J.Cole has a firm grip on maintaining this profile and only gave up the reigns for In The Morning, Can’t Get Enough and the No I.D. produced Never Told. But the opportunity to deviate to help his appeal in charts, and the sounds are hella good. It’s hard not to bounce to potential club banger Mr.Nice Watch or half-title track Cole World, though neither of these are particularly strong on the lyrical side, the former including a fairly weak verse from big brother Jay-Z. Nobody’s Perfect brings in the best feature from Missy Elliot, which is a surprisingly smooth R&B-esque hook and chorus. All of these are fun to listen to, but its no surprise that the better tracks are the ones stronger in storytelling, including Rise and Shine, Breakdown, and bonus track Daddy’s Little Girl.
I think that there will be a lot of debate as to whether or not it can go down in the books as a classic, and there are definitely a few songs that work in favour of such a title. Lost Ones, a narrative on abortion from both the male and female perspective, has been circulating on the internet much before the album dropped. In full finished form, it is easily one of two standout tracks on the entire album, and packs a heavy theme that hits you hard. The second is God’s Gift, which is so fluid and poetic. Lights Please, the track that infamously caused Hov to get Cole in to the office and sign those Roc Nation papers, is simply a Cole Classic and fits in well on the album.
As I said before, It’s difficult to satisfy harder, more passionate fans while ensuring that the album performs, but it’s comforting to know that the transition isn’t as easy for someone who is more skilled in his craft than what the mainstream demands of him. I say this because I get more from the album as a fan when I hear the J.Cole that I fell in love with. A solid effort that has bits to satisfy all, but Jermaine, stick to your guns – that’s the only way to hit em’.