Review Summary: Two years after the release of his first mixtape, J. Cole is at it again with The Warm Up. The album presents itself as a 22-track barrage of lyrical emotion that leaves you hungry for more.
Remember the scene in Get Him to the Greek
where Aaron Green(Jonah Hill) tells Aldous Snow(Russell Brand) that the version of his band people want to hear is one that consists of a drummer, two guitarists, and a bassist? I'm paraphrasing of course, but you get the point. Now imagine if J. Cole was Jonah Hill, and hip-hop was Russell Brand. In an era of auto-tuned tracks and overproduced Top 40 singles, The Warm Up
almost seems like the word warm should be replaced by wake. Cole conveys to the rap scene that you can still break it big without forgetting your roots or distilling your message.
I've always been a fan of an artist that spills their guts and shows emotion in their tracks. I'd like to think the listener can tell the difference from a genuine and artificial production. I prefer The Black Album
to The Blueprint 3
, and The College Dropout
to 808s & Heartbreak
. This brings us to the kind of artist that J. Cole is. Much like the Jay-Z and Kanye of yesteryear, the formula of the songs on The Warm Up
revolve around a very old-school feel. Cole brings strong lyricism accompanied by delicate samplings and beats to make his second mixtape a very success release. While most of his peers are looking for the next new thing, Cole keeps it original. It reminds me of what my mom used to say, “If it ain't broke then don't fix it.”
The first artist signed to Roc Nation, Jay-Z signed him after hearing his single, “Lights Please.” Many wondered if Cole could live up to the hype of being the inaugural member of a label owned by a titan of rap. He alludes to the doubters and haters in his opening track, “Intro (The Warm Up).” The first lines uttered on The Warm Up
are presented as a monologue of sorts. Giving us insight on his life and dreams he speaks in a tone so sincere and personal you feel as if he is speaking to you specifically. “You ever prayed for something your whole life? I mean, all you dreamed about was this one thing?See, me, I came a long way. Way too far for me to stop now.” This denouncement sets the tone for the rest of the album; J. Cole is a man on a mission.
Right off the bat, you notice there's something different about Cole. The first track that caught my ears was “Can I Live.” At first it seems to present itself as a typical rap song, with topics about things like the pursuit of women and the thug life. However, it has a much deeper underlying message. In a matter of 3:21 Cole paints a picture of a young black male with a college degree who willingly lets himself be stuck in the slums. Choosing the life of a gangster over a conventional 9 to 5 job, he finds his untimely demise at the age of 21 via a shooting. The closing lines repeat the title over and over, until the words, “Can I live,” echo in your ears. The ability to mold a song from meaningless to thought-evoking is a great one, more importantly it's something that sets Cole apart from the rest of the pack.
The samples throughout The Warm Up
consist of tracks from artists that are a who's who of the hip-hop scene; such as Kanye West, Jay-Z, Talib Kweli, and Big Boi. Two of the more memorable remixes are of Kanye's “Last Call”, and Jay-Z's “Dead Presidents II.” Even though these are remixes, Cole seems to make them his own. Personally, I even feel like his verses on these two songs are much better than those of the original artists. He raps with the prowess of someone with years of experience, and he's not just blowing smoke; Cole has stated that he's been writing and rapping since the age of 15. This ten years of self-taught experience has sharpened him to his current state. He can use samples from songs created by artists many years his senior and hold his own, word for word.
Out of all the tracks on The Warm Up
, “Grown Simba” embodies J. Cole the best. From beginning to end, it feels like an autobiography, written in masterful prose. The song opens with lines like, “Now I was dreaming about a deal at the age of 13.” It gives details from his lowest moments to his current state in life, an up-and-comer with a record deal and a bright future ahead of him. Comparing himself to Simba from The Lion King
, Cole states with confidence that, “I'm like the young Simba, I can't wait to be the king.” It's a smart move on Cole's part to make a track like this, it shows that he has a level head. Though he might not be king yet, it's only a matter of time. J. Cole is filled to the brim with potential, and the sky is the limit.