The highly anticipated J Cole album was played to a room full of London critics including DJ’s and journalists. The walls were decorated with quotes from the album, teasing us with what we were to expect. As soon as a member of Roc Nation introduced the album, the buzzing room went silent. Being the first signee to Jay Z’s record label would make many feel pressured. J Cole has proved with Cole World: The Sideline Story that he can handle it, giving his fans what is owed, a truly thought out, lyrical masterpiece.
The album begins with a piano led intro with J Cole introducing the album, explaining how he’s taken his time and that stories will be told, sounding as hungry as he did on the first mixtape. What can only be expected from hearing the intro is that when hearing the songs it will be like watching a movie, keeping listeners interested the whole way through and seeing what the talented Cole has to tell us now. Dolla and a Dream III is the opening track on the album leading on beautifully from the intro with pianos and a big beat to follow, with the beats switching up on every verse, progressing to something better. Launching straight into second single, Can’t Get Enough, which has an addictive bassline line and beat and could easily be heard in clubs and on radio, unlike some of the other tracks on the album. His line, ‘ and I got love for the underground,’ is no lie, as he showcases his ability to be himself and not pander to record executives who want his style to change to fit into more commercial hip hop.
Lights Please from the Warm Up mixtape is a cleverly mastered track that was so well received it has made a place on the album, entwining serious issues with relationships. Mr Nice Watch, which features a verse from Cole’s boss Jay Z, with him encouraging Cole on, ‘You go Cole, it’s your time,’ is a straight banger with a catchy hook, guitar strings and drums. In Cole World there is one word he says in his lyrics which describes him and his artistry perfectly, ‘innovation.’ A nod towards the haters this is an intense track that will get you in deep thought. Lost Ones is a heart wrenching, emotional song about a teenage couple finding out that their expecting a child. It speaks from both the woman and mans point of view about the difficulties they face, the first that they are not ready, money worries, and the woman feeling alone.
The sense of passion and near belligerence in his lyrics and producing shine through in Nobody’s Perfect. As the song plays you imagine it being a calm laid back song, but then the beat drops and Missy Elliot covers the hook perfectly. Along with Breakdown where Cole truly exposes his life to us, leaving the listener feeling like we know him personally. Never Told is one of the songs on the album that on first instinct, you may skip past, but don’t, this one is a grower. The song is relationship based, but as we all know with Cole it’s not going to be a mushy love song. He talks us through infidelity and how it’s passed down from father to son. The guitar instrumental at the end is quite long, but sounds beautiful.
God’s Gift was the song meant for Jay Z to drop a verse on, and has many references to him, but he went for Mr Nice Watch instead. With or without Jay Z on it, it’s still a banger and when he talks about breathing your last breath and what would you do, it makes you think about your life. Cheer Up is the final song on the album minus the bonus tracks, and evokes such emotion that it leaves the listener on a positive high.
J Cole has always let us into his life with his lyrics, and this album is no different. I feel through listening to it I understand him better. His ability to produce soulful songs with lyrics that can make us think, is what makes him a true artist all round. He is fearless and talks about issues that most rappers won’t talk about. Of course there are a few club hits in there, but he has still stayed true to himself. As J Cole warns, ‘I’m ahead of my time/N****s scared of my future/I know they dreading my prime/Cuz I only make classics.’ This album is definitely ahead of its time and will remain a classic for generations to come.
Cole World: The Sideline Story Out September 27th 2011
Words By Shireen Fenner