Review Summary: A confident, articulate return to form, Truly Yours is a stripped down, intensely personal setting that showcases J. Cole's growth and refinement both as a producer and as a lyricist.
When Cole World: A Sideline Story
dropped in 2011, few expected it to be the most polarizing record of his career to date. Many fans petitioned for a return to "mixtape form", as the oft-forced nature of Sideline Story
was viewed in a less forgiving light given its major-label status and the sheer volume of hype generated prior to its release. With Truly Yours
, J. Cole has added a much more consistent album to his catalogue, despite its short run-time (just under twenty minutes). In a letter released on his website along with the EP, Cole divulges his reasons for dropping this 'tape as a precursor to his upcoming album, which is slated for release later this year. Here is the artist fans fondly remember, only this time he's brought a distinctly personal touch to the mix, both in the lyrics and overall production.
Given that Truly Yours
is only a five-track EP, there are still a number of noteworthy highlights. J. Cole's finesse as a producer deserves a nod here, especially on the first two cuts. "Can I Holla At Ya" (which features a sample of Lauryn Hill's "To Zion") serves as an solid foundation for the duration of the album, as it ambles smoothly along beneath Cole's trademark storytelling. "Crunch Time" is a personal favorite here, a stopwatch is used perfectly to convey a visceral sense of urgency that (almost too fittingly) drives the track. A "tick" (yes, really) from Cole ushers in a beat that shimmers throughout its three-and-a-half minute run-time, with the organ and guitar tracks adding more crisp layers to a cut that truly shines. It's a great example of J. Cole's propensity to include more instrumentation (both live and sampled) within his songs, giving a note of much-needed musicality (pun intended) in a genre currently over-saturated with less ambitious tracks.
Lyrically, Cole is in top form on Truly Yours
. There's not a "Mr. Nice Watch" to be found anywhere near this record, as the braggadocio has taken a backseat to more honest and relatable themes. "Can I Holla" is a perfect example of this, as the track sees him returning to his hometown and speaking to three important people from his past. Cole's skill in conveying several (often seemingly unrelated) emotions under one unifying theme is on full display throughout the EP, but nowhere is it clearer than the first track. "Rise Above" describes the struggles of two different women faced with some of life's more harrowing situations, while "Crunch Time" and "Tears" are more indicative of Cole's experience with the hardships faced in the pursuit of success and those incurred upon achieving it, respectively. His ability to tell stories from a multitude of perspectives further highlights his versatility as a lyricist, and the flow on Truly Yours
is textbook J. Cole material.
An interesting tidbit: does the final track "Stay" sound familiar? Reportedly, producer No I.D. gave Cole this beat back in '09, but he "didn't do anything with it", so it was later given to Nas, who released it as the twelfth track on his most recent full-length.
Overall, a keen sense of self-awareness is this record's key redeeming quality, as evidenced in one example by the line "I'm here for more than just to kick some witty metaphors, dawg...". J. Cole appears very aware of his current place in the hip-hop game, but doesn't show any signs of letting up now. Truly Yours
deserves at least a few listens to discover the depths of Cole's growth as an artist.