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J. Cole - Born Sinner Album Cover
Author's Rating
Vocals 5.25
Musicianship 5.25
Lyrics 5.25
Production 5.25
Creativity 5.25
Lasting Value 5.25
Reviewer Tilt 5.25
Final Verdict: 53%
Member Ratings
Vocals 5.05
Musicianship 4.95
Lyrics 4.7
Production 4.9
Creativity 4.7
Lasting Value 4.7
Reviewer Tilt 4.8
Average: 48%

J. Cole - Born Sinner

Reviewed by: Ryan Dennehy (07/01/13)
J. ColeBorn Sinner
Release Date: June 18, 2013
Record Label: Roc Nation


In 2004, Kanye West proved that you could be a successful producer and an MC, regardless of what the conventional wisdom was at the time. Since then, there’s been a steady stream of producer/rappers, though none have managed to imitate West’s success. The influx of artists skilled at both though means that it’s largely irrelevant these days. No one is particularly impressed or forgiving of shortcomings in either area if you happen to claim both on your album credits, and most of the time you’d be better off focusing your efforts on just one aspect. That’s certainly true of J. Cole, who has shrugged off every criticism of his rapping to work his way into the public consciousness.

Cole’s sophormore LP, Born Sinner, falls victim to the same problems that plagued J. Cole’s debut, Cole World: The Sideline Story. The name of the first record does not even make an attempt at hiding Cole’s frustration at being placed on the bench, but it certainly didn’t live up to its own promise of proving he deserved greater playtime. And in 2013, Cole seems even less likely to be placed in the upper echelons of rap that he so obviously aspires to. It’s not often that a producer forces you to consider the source of the sample, but when he’s so obviously reaching to classics like “Da Art of Storytelling Part One” and “Electric Relaxation,” desperate for the same sort of hallowed position in hip-hop as the original creators, there is not a lot of choice. His rapping does not stand up to the source material, and as well-done as the beats may be, they can’t hold the bloated weight of Cole’s interminable sense of entitlement. And when you open your album with “Sometimes I brag like Hov,” and that’s among the best you can muster, there’s a problem. Not the least because Hov himself looks set to release another clunker in just a few weeks.

That same opening track, “Villiuminati” lays bare exactly why J. Cole probably is not going anywhere he isn’t already. In a rap climate where A$AP Rocky and Kanye West have essentially reduced homophobia in hip-hop the equivalent of an impending case of appendicitis and Macklemore has managed to make “Same Love” a hit, Cole drops philosophically muddled lines with excessive use of the word ******. Political correctness has never been raps forte, and no one really expects it to undergo a paradigm shift any time soon, but in 2013 this sort of roundabout nonsense has no place in popular culture. Other vestigal organs of hip-hop crop up, with a fellow (extremely talented) rapper’s appearance on “Forbidden Fruit” being wasted on a poor hook and an abundance of skits and interludes to pad the run time. Half-assedly dissing Trinidad James and the state of club music and rap is not doing Cole any favors either - rap is seeing something of an underground renaissance of experimentation and revival, which Trinidad is a part of for better or worse. On top of that, Cole’s own radio-ready “Power Trip” (with a lovely appearance from Miguel) features nasty lines like “feel like this is the longest crush ever/if I ever get a nut it’ll be the longest bust ever.” Cole is certainly in no position to be judging Trinidad James for vapidity.

There are certainly some decent songs here, like “Power Trip,” but they’re ultimately brought low by the fact that when Cole isn’t being outright offensively stupid, he’s flaccid and boring. He’d be better off sticking to his production, with perhaps a contributing hook or verse in his spare time. The Cults-sampling “She Knows” shows an adeptness for adopting indie rock jams for a different audience that could prove to be a valuable asset to explore, but the song itself is, unsurprisingly, rendered grating by Cole’s awful hook and uninteresting flow. There’s room in rap for all sorts nowadays, and Cole forcing himself into the role of producer-rapper isn’t doing anyone any favors.

Allow me to let Cole down rather harshly, since he didn’t seem to get the hint when his debut was so lukewarmly received by both critics and audiences: you will never ascend to the heights of those groups. The chances of doing so grow smaller each time you drop a song that is, to borrow a zeitgeist word, thirsty. Drake is often accused of being the softest in the game, but he’s never released a song that’s titled “Let Nas Down” and puts Wests “Big Brother” to shame in the cloying-for-approval department. Ultimately, Cole fails to even be interchangeable with Drake, Future, or even Kid Cudi. Those artists are, to varying degrees of success, trying out new ideas and pushing boundaries. Three years after his album should have put the "sideline" comments to rest, Cole’s still studying the traditional playbook from the bench, preferring to follow Nas’ bible than strike out on his own.


5.25/10

Additional InformationTrack List:
1. Villuminati
2. Kerney Sermon (Skit)
3. LAnd Of The Snakes
4. Power Trip featuring Miguel
5. Mo Money (Interlude)
6. Trouble
7. Runaway
8. She Knows featuring Amber Coffman
9. Rich Niggaz
10. Where's Jermaine? (Skit)
11. Forbidden Fruit featuring Kendrick Lamar
12. Chaining Day
13. Ain't That Some Shit (Interlude)
14. Crooked Smile featuring TLC
15. Let Nas Down
16. Born Sinner featuring James Fauntleroy
 
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 121.
08:51 PM on 07/01/13
#2
Jake Jenkins
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this album is bad
08:55 PM on 07/01/13
#3
Ryan Dennehy
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trust me i know
06:34 AM on 07/02/13
#4
HanLuk
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Album may be boring as hell....but the Let Nas Down Remix is fucking awesome.
06:58 AM on 07/02/13
#5
Eich696
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Good first review Ryan. Album starts off bad with those terrible homophobic lines and just doesn't do after either.
07:15 AM on 07/02/13
#6
perceptrons
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First time I ever heard him was "Looking for Trouble," where is that guy?
07:30 AM on 07/02/13
#7
cococrisp20
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How come people love J. Cole so much? He's so mediocre.
07:48 AM on 07/02/13
#8
starsinhand
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I actually really enjoyed the album but too each their own
08:12 AM on 07/02/13
#9
Ryan Dennehy
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Good first review Ryan. Album starts off bad with those terrible homophobic lines and just doesn't do after either.
Thanks dude! I actually had one for Sigur Ros up yesterday though
08:32 AM on 07/02/13
TorontoMatt
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your review was clear in showing your dislike for J Cole as a person so it kinda makes your review of his music less credible. I've only listened to the album once when it leaked but I'll give it a spin, maybe it's a grower.
08:35 AM on 07/02/13
Ryan Dennehy
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your review was clear in showing your dislike for J Cole as a person so it kinda makes your review of his music less credible. I've only listened to the album once when it leaked but I'll give it a spin, maybe it's a grower.
What? I don't mention anything about him outside of what's in the music. If I come off as disliking him personally, it's because he gave me cause to on the album.
08:43 AM on 07/02/13
TorontoMatt
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What? I don't mention anything about him outside of what's in the music. If I come off as disliking him personally, it's because he gave me cause to on the album.
it came off as you were offended by some of his word choice in his music, mostly pertaining to homophobia and sex, therefore you repeated multiple times the same areas of dislike. And coming to Trinidads defense multiple times in a J Cole review just ruins the review in my opinion.

In my opinion a review should state what's good or bad in the work, but you're bashing.
08:46 AM on 07/02/13
Ryan Dennehy
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it came off as you were offended by some of his word choice in his music, mostly pertaining to homophobia and sex, therefore you repeated multiple times the same areas of dislike. And coming to Trinidads defense multiple times in a J Cole review just ruins the review in my opinion.

In my opinion a review should state what's good or bad in the work, but you're bashing.
He dropped an incredibly immature line about homophobia that doesn't even make coherent sense as a defense of his use of the word. He talks about Trinidad James on the album as being some sort of useless, vapid club shit - and also apologizes to Nas for doing the same with "Work out" - before doing the exact same thing on "Power Trip." The problem isn't lines about sex, I'm more than cool with that (see: Yeezus) but he's a clumsy MC that isn't nearly as clever as he seems to think he is.

I like "Power Trip" for what it is. It was hard to find a whole lot to like about a record that stacks itself against classics, but hardly matches up to the weakest output by the creative legends that made them.
08:50 AM on 07/02/13
promisemedan
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Comparing it to Sideline Story, Born Sinner is better in every aspect. The biggest improvement is in the production. The entire album is cohesive and thought out. The only tracks that "pad the run time" would be the skits, but there's only two and put together they total less than two minutes of the entire album so they can be easily overlooked.

Now on to the lyrics... I find it interesting that people are cherry picking and tearing apart J. Cole's lyrics, yet think Kanye's are brilliant. The homophobic line in the first track is distasteful, but J. Cole isn't the only rapper to have offensive lyrics. There is some lyrical substance on this album, especially in tracks like "Runaway", "Rich N****Z", "Chaining Day", and "Crooked Smile".
08:55 AM on 07/02/13
Ryan Dennehy
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Comparing it to Sideline Story, Born Sinner is better in every aspect. The biggest improvement is in the production. The entire album is cohesive and thought out. The only tracks that "pad the run time" would be the skits, but there's only two and put together they total less than two minutes of the entire album so they can be easily overlooked.

Now on to the lyrics... I find it interesting that people are cherry picking and tearing apart J. Cole's lyrics, yet think Kanye's are brilliant. The homophobic line in the first track is distasteful, but J. Cole isn't the only rapper to have offensive lyrics. There is some lyrical substance on this album, especially in tracks like "Runaway", "Rich N****Z", "Chaining Day", and "Crooked Smile".
plus the three interludes that are essentially useless.

Kanye's lyrics, on Yeezus, serve a specific purpose for creating a theme and atmosphere. At the same time, everyone knows his lyrics have never been the best. There have been critics of his lyrical ability since day one.

The garbage lyrics on this album are downright offensive and hypocritical, and in my mind, outweigh any sort of positives he had elsewhere.
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