J. Cole
Born Sinner


3.5
great

Review

by Seth Barry-Hinton USER (18 Reviews)
June 14th, 2013 | 14 replies | 5,749 views


Release Date: 06/18/2013 | Tracklist


2 of 2 thought this review was well written

June 18th is probably going to be a memorable date for hip-hop fans, given the massive hype train that Kanye West generated via his alternative media tactics. In particular, the sharing of the release date between West and fellow producer/rapper/Jay-Z disciple, J. Cole, has stirred up something of a frenzy. The affair is reminiscent of when 50 Cent went head-to-head with West in 2007, in a sales battle that would end with West's "victory" and the realization of gangster rap's popular decline. (At least you tried, Curtis.) So the general consensus is that once more West will take home the gold in the all-important competition that is first-week sales, but when examining the batch of June 18th albums, it's clear that J. Cole has created, if not a perfect product, at least a largely original one.

Not even close to a perfect product, really. For instance, Born Sinner has convinced me that J. Cole is a sex addict - either that, or is addicted to sharing his sexual exploits on record and then feeling bad about them. Born Sinner is obsessed with sex. Six of the sixteen tracks here have sex or women as the motif, and even more than that refer to the ideas raised by those six songs. By the time "She Knows" rolls around, the concept of J. Cole's guilt has become repetitive and detestable. Fortunately, after that song, the topics diversify, but the listener has already been bludgeoned over the head with the image of Cole plowing through groupies while his loyal girlfriend sighs resignedly at home. Moreover, Cole has a bad habit of lapsing into idol-worship. While opener "Villuminati" proclaims "Sometimes I brag like Hov" over a Notorious B.I.G. vocal sample, Cole's braggadocio, flow, and lyricism are all more emulative of Kanye. The imitation is not an issue that encompasses Born Sinner, but crops up enough to be noticeable, and detracts from Cole's originality. He also repeats sociopolitical ideas unique to other rappers, most notably on "Villuminati", where he declares that a black man would never be allowed in the Illuminati - a point already raised in almost the exact same way by Kendrick Lamar.

But Cole is also capable of bringing his own personality and ideas to the table, and that's where Born Sinner shines. True to the title, the biggest theme of the album is immorality: the immorality of infidelity, the immorality of America's societal standards, and the immorality of creating music for mainstream success rather than artistic vision. "Crooked Smile" demonstrates this best, taking female self-esteem (a topic discussed in Kendrick's "No Makeup" and Drake's "Every Drake Song Ever") and putting his own spin on it. It's slightly pandering, but Cole admits that, which gives the song charm - and then he puts the whole idea in context of American celebrity culture. "Crooked Smile" is catchy, sure, but even more importantly, it turns a cliched idea into something distinctive.

Originality in production and subject matter is this album's greatest strength. "Power Trip"'s powerful beat contrast nicely with the emotional lyrics to produce a compelling ode to both Cole's girlfriend and to hip-hop. "Miss America" (which, shamefully, is not included on the regular edition of the album) turns an indie-folk sample into the backbone of a rage-filled political song that rejects American ideals and instead proclaims "I'mma pass your classes, I'mma learn your craft/I'mma fuck your daughters, I'mma burn your flag". "Rich Niggaz" speculates on the loss of morality that comes with wealth, over, of all things, a ukulele, and it surprisingly works well. The outside production is great as well; Elite's help with "Crooked Smile" made that song a highlight, and No I.D.'s presence on the jazzy, horn-driven "Let Nas Down" with Cole's experience of disappointing one's idols create another standout. A couple songs could hardly be said to have been produced by Cole, though. "LAnd of the Snakes" is an OutKast song with slightly different percussion, and "Forbidden Fruit" is just a louder version of A Tribe Called Quest's "Electric Relaxation". The songs aren't particularly bad, but credit should certainly not go to Cole for producing them, and they're weaker than those he put considerable effort into.

There's also a notable amount of filler, unfortunately. "Chaining Day" is filled with an obnoxiously saccharine xylophone throughout that renders it unlistenable. "Ain't That Some Shit" is just a profanity-laden diatribe, full of generic boasts and mediocre lyricism that's out of place within the album. And the skits throughout this album add just about nothing conceptually, and I question why they're even here while songs like "Miss America", "Sparks Will Fly", and "Niggaz Know" got shunted to the deluxe edition. Presumably, it's because the hot new trope in hip-hop is being cinematic and resembling a narrative, especially with the success of Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d. city, but those three songs fit in far better than the skits do and actually improve Born Sinner's narrative.

J. Cole still has to grow into his own as a rapper and a producer, as his personal perspectives on the topics of this album are far more interesting than his imitation of idols or peers. But Born Sinner is still more enjoyable than listening to sessions of Mac Miller's singing lessons or watching Kanye West masturbate vigorously to his reflection while house music blares in the background.

Oh, wait, that new album from Madlib's alter ego comes out on June 18th, too.

You'll get 'em next time, Cole.



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user ratings (148)
Chart.
3.2
good
other reviews of this album
trainofconsequence (4)
A gem of an album that captures an artist coming of age with some honest, fantastically written hip ...

Aziz STAFF (3)
"Yo j coles album is like boringly good"...

Guzzo CONTRIBUTOR (4.5)
Coherence in the form of grandiose; J. Cole has finally achieved his potential....


Comments:Add a Comment 
Guzzo10
Contributing Reviewer
June 14th 2013



950 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

That conclusion was lol, good review man.

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kingsoby1
Emeritus
June 14th 2013



4938 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

first track is totally stupid. very disappointed after how awesome power trip was

Guzzo10
Contributing Reviewer
June 14th 2013



950 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Stupid good*

kingsoby1
Emeritus
June 14th 2013



4938 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

strikes me as a homophobe tbh. i know what he's trying to say but it's played and immature. he's got potential, and this is definitely better than his last. but i dont think will be in my top 100 this year.

Guzzo10
Contributing Reviewer
June 14th 2013



950 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

More than likely, but lets be real here, what mainstream rapper not named Macklemore doesn't come off as a homophobe

Cadda
June 15th 2013



162 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Great review.

Haven't heard this yet, hope it's better than Cole World

GnarlyShillelagh
Staff Reviewer
June 15th 2013



5968 Comments

Album Rating: 3.1

villuminati is great imo

but yeah the whole who can blame ya topanga shit took it to the homophobia realm

kingsoby1
Emeritus
June 15th 2013



4938 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

he's got so much potential

FourthReich
June 15th 2013



17071 Comments


that he does, and what's this about a homophobe?

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Cygnatti
June 15th 2013



21349 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Lol j cole.

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kingsoby1
Emeritus
June 15th 2013



4938 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

@reich4 just listen to the first track (or actually dont). basically the rebellious "yall are uptight" mentality of a 14 year old (or tyler the creator)

totally unnecessary. it's like a white rapper using the n word and being like "yo it's totally okay im not racist"

FourthReich
June 15th 2013



17071 Comments


yeah i've been meaning to listen to this but perhaps i won't now, j cole is definitely one of my guilty pleasures. oh and i see now, to me aback for a moment as most rap contains homophobic lyrics (obviously)

SigurFloyd
June 16th 2013



107 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I was really excited for this one, he hasn't gotten better or worse...kinda just plateaued into averageness. Sideline had it's
flaws but had better joints then this one...still waiting for cole to blow us
away, maybe next album.

JumpTheF**kUp
June 16th 2013



2710 Comments


really great review

"and Drake's "Every Drake Song Ever""

my sides



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