J. Cole, Born Sinner | Album Review
J. Cole delivers a superb effort on his sophomore album, Born Sinner. The album concept remains intact and accessible throughout the effort.
“Never got to church to worship, but please be merciful.” That’s Jermaine Cole’s repentant sentiment on the title track of his highly anticipated sophomore album Born Sinner. Cole may not have been ‘angelic’ on his debut Cole World – Sideline Story, but the standout rapper certainly seems more sinful, brash, and assertive in his persona and rhymes this go-round. A sinner he may be (“It’s way darker this time…”), Cole’s rhymes also go deeper lyrically, showcasing incredible growth between the two albums. That’s a massive compliment, considering Cole’s first album was easily one of the best rap efforts of the year when it was released in 2011.
“Villuminati” incites controversy quickly:
“Fake niggas get sprayed up / My verbal AK slays faggots / And I don’t mean no disrespect whenever I say faggot, ok faggot / Don’t be so sensitive…”
A sinner he may be, Cole is at least an intelligent one, reasoning, “Couple more A’s I would have been a summa cum laude…”. Ultimately, “Villuminati” is chocked full to the brim with notable lyrics, whether Cole he ‘brags like Hov’ or is ‘real like Pac’. The sole drawback? Its a lot of intellectualisms to embrace in one track. He follows up the illuminati-themed opener with a thoughtful skit, “Kerney Sermon” in which minister Kerney Thomas claims he can fix problems with a Personal Prayer Package
“All you gotta do is either log on to our website / or you can dial toll the toll free number and place your order.”
Cole uses the skit as a preface of “Land of the Snakes.”
“Lord, know some hoes from the past like / ‘Damn Cole, wish I knew that you would be rich’.”
“Land of the Snakes” examines Cole’s past as well as his sinful endeavors. He ‘cockily’ proclaims, “My kicks hard, my whip hard / I came out the womb with my dick hard.” On the hook, he eschews church for hook-up:
“She said ‘You bout to miss church’ while she riding me / I like my sundaes with a cherry on top / Make that ass drop.”
If that’s not bad enough, he details a one-night stand, but admittedly is regretful of his actions.
His girl ‘got him all night, singing love songs’ on the valedictory “Power Trip,” where he gets a boost from a rising Miguel. The ‘girl’ is really bothering Cole:
“Well this has gotta be the longest crush ever / If I ever get to fuck it’d be the longest bust ever.”
The ‘power trip’ turns to a ‘money trip’ on interlude “Mo Money,” in which ole boy:
“Used to dread the strip club cause I couldn’t throw money / Now the strippers give a n***a the throat for no money.”
While it’s obvious what he’s referencing sexually, the lyric truly represents the old tale of from ‘nobody’ to ‘somebody’.
On “Trouble,” Cole’s magna cum laude status pays off. “First the text, then the draws, see first the sex / then it calls cause the bird’s obsessed.” His intelligence turns threatening, on the bold hook:
“Real niggas trying to fuck, fuck niggas wanna fight / …Gun shots into the air, but I ain’t scared for my life.”
For all of the top-notch lyrics, it’s the churchy choral sample that truly anchors down the sinful nature.
On “Runaway”, he claims “…the devil got his hands on me… she pop a molly let the motherfucking games begin,” in addition to bragging about having more ‘notches in his belt’ compared to über pop star Justin Bieber. He also questions “could I run away from 50 mill like Dave Chappelle?” Agile flow, with thoughtful rhymes, “Runaway” continues his trouble. So does the interesting “She Knows”, featuring Amber Coffman, in which he boldly proclaims
“This is Martin Luther King in the club / getting dubs, with a bad bitch / in his ear sayin’ she down for whatever / in the back of his mind is Coretta…”
Despite this, he knows that “She knows.”
On “Rich Niggaz,” J. Cole hates ‘rich niggas’:
“I hate rich niggas… cause I ain’t never had a lot damn it / who you had to kill, who you had to rob / who you had to fuck just to make it to the top damn it…”
He goes on to talk about the effects of lacking money, claiming it, “make a nigga smoke a whole sack of dope writing rhymes tryna bring back the hope…” While Cole takes a ‘street’ approach, his message transcends the vernacular. After interlude “Where’s Jermaine? (Skit)” solidifies Cole’s absence from choir practice and church in general, he compels on the ‘jazzy’ “Forbidden Fruit”, featuring subtle, but important contributions from Kendrick Lamar. Beyond the ‘sip, sip, sipping’ of the hook, Cole acknowledges his reason for releasing his new album the same day as Kanye West releases his new album.
“I’ma drop the album the same day as Kanye / Just to show the boys the man now.”
On “Chaining Day,” J. Cole points an accusatory finger towards himself about indulging in material things, specifically the ever-popular Jesus Piece. His guilt is short lived as on “Ain’t That Some Shit (Interlude),” where the first words uttered out his mouth are, “Ok I lied…” His devilishness knows no end.
“Crooked Smile,” featuring TLC (T-Boz and Chili) is one of the better cuts of the album, if not among the very best. Cole offers up a truth in his third verse: “…Look at the nation, that’s a crooked smile braces couldn’t even straighten.” It’s not all about getting it on with hotties.
“Let Nas Down” is a personal favorite. Based upon the MC’s idolization of Nas and disappointing his rap mentor, it’s among the more distinct cuts of his career. What even more appealing is the fact that it sounds like something Nas would spit capably over. “Born Sinner” closes the standard edition appropriately and solidly. The cut is only ‘semi-repentant’ you might say. The deluxe edition of Born Sinner includes five more cuts: “Miss America”, “New York Times”, “Is She Gon Pop”, “Niggaz Know,” and “Sparks Will Fly.” All five are enjoyable, but the best is “New York Times”, featuring 50 Cent and Bas. According to the ‘Times,’ “They say you can win anywhere if you can win here…”
Ultimately, Born Sinner is a superb effort. The concept remains intact and accessible throughout the effort, with J. Cole delivering some killer rhymes. Sure, he’s a bit more provocative this round, but he’s also more cerebral. The overall balance of he album feels sound. Born Sinner, hence joins an select list of the best albums of 2013.
Gems:“Land of the Snakes,” “Power Trip,” “Trouble,” “Rich Niggaz,” “Forbidden Fruit,” “Let Nas Down” & “New York Times”