J. Cole isnt afraid of a challenge. He moved the release date of his album to compete with/ feed on the buzz surrounding Kanye West’s Yeezus in a move reminiscent of the great 50 Cent vs Kanye album release ‘beef’ (minus the threat of retiring from music). It was a bold move from J.Cole but after listening to both albums, it is undoubtedly Born Sinner that needed the extra attention as the album falls short of expectations.
The most disappointing aspect of the album is the poor standard of lyrics from the usually intelligent and articulate Cole. Opening track ‘Villuminati’ utilises a great pulsating gospel sample and break beat, but lyrics about ‘faggots’ and ‘retards’ really don’t go down well in 2013; especially coming from a man with a college degree. J. Cole therefore finds himself in a unique and difficult position. Expectations for his lyrics are so high that he isn’t allowed drops in quality allowed to other rappers. Cole is capable of some great bars but his poor verses stand out even more in the light of undeniable talent. ‘Land of Snakes’ is the strongest track on the album with a great beat, fresh message and strong lyrics. It could throw a positive light over weaker tracks but in actuality it just makes the gulf in quality even clearer.
The production of the album, mostly handled by J. Cole himself is solid although sometimes underwhelming. Gospel samples and strings are frequently used to good effect in songs like ‘Trouble’ and ‘Rich Niggaz’. The album interludes work very well and never make the album lose its drive which is an surprisingly rare achievement in itself. ‘Kerney Sermon’ is the perfect example of this – barely audible synths hint at the upcoming ‘Land of Snakes’ whilst a preacher’s voice commands the listener to order the personal prayer package. Religious capitalism is poetic and beautifully executed on this 46 second track.
Sadly, a further frustration with Born Sinner is the poor usage of feature spots. Kendrick Lamar and Miguel are wasted and underused, whilst ‘Crooked Smile’ featuring TLC is out of place and irrelevant to the rest of the album. J. Cole should not and does not need to rely on others to promote himself as an artist. By utilising Kendrick or Miguel properly ‘Forbidden Fruit’ and ‘Power Trip’ could have been massively improved and be commercially successful as well as critically acclaimed, which was surely the intention when they were signed up.
Born Sinner feels far longer than its 60 minutes. The last four tracks could be cut and nothing would be lost. This is by no means a bad album despite the focus on the negatives – it’s the frustration of seeing a straight A student coasting and settling for a C.By Joni Roome