I am writing this review at 11:30pm. In half an hour, we will be just 4 days away until J. Cole’s sophomore album ‘Born Sinner’ hits the shelves. As a big Cole fan myself I can’t wait until this highly anticipated album drops on June 18th. I’ve been counting down the days ever since the release date was announced as January 28th (His birthday). However, the album was pushed forward to a later date (June 25th). J. Cole said in numerous interviews that he did this because he was coming out of the studio with even better material then what he had, and he still had more left in him. Later on during the year Kanye West who’s also signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label like Cole, announced that his sixth studio album ‘Yeezus’ will be dropping June 18th via Twitter. Instead of letting his album drop a week later and putting himself in the shadow of one of his idols, as Cole said himself. He decided in an instant, that he wanted to meet Kanye on June 18th. “It’s like Kobe vs Jordan, or Lebron vs Kobe. This is like the young kid coming in like yo! I can play too” J. Cole said in an interview with Fuse.
So, lets get into this album ‘Born Sinner’. Cole said he wanted to end the chapter of the basketball themes which came from his first 3 mix-tapes (The Come Up, The Warm Up and Friday Night Lights) and also his first album ‘Cole World: The Sideline Story’. He wanted to create something that reflects where he is at, at the moment and two years ago. The theme of ‘Born Sinner’ can be seen and heard easily, with it going from darkness to light, evil to good and so on. Both covers of the album also show this. The standard version and the deluxe version. Lastly, one of the main points J. Cole is pushing before the release of his second album is that all of the production work was done by him himself. He said hes grown as a producer during the making of this album. In fact, Cole has officially released a stream of his album after it had been leaked and it is up now on: http://www.bornsinner.com/albumstream/
Track 1 – ‘Villuminati’ 5:08
The opening track is definitely a warning shot. Over a backdrop of dramatic, rising strings, Notorious B.I.G. samples (“Juicy”) and a live choir, it strongly shows the theme of the album. Cole is also more confident than ever. “Sometimes I brag like Hov,” he raps. There are also lines about the homophobic which Cole raps in a lighthearted way.
Track 2 – ‘Kerney Sermon (Skit)’ 0:46
A very brief skit of a pastor giving a sermon. This also links in with Cole’s track off ‘The Warm Up’ called ‘Blow Up’ where he raps “Praise God it’s hard to stay spiritual, how they got these niggas on the TV selling miracles, you mean to tell me everything gon be fine If I call your hotline and pay 29.99 shit”.
Track 3 – ‘LAnd of The Snakes’ 4:15
“This the Shit I used to roll down Lewis Street with”. J. Cole’s story telling continues, with him rapping about his Fayetteville upbringings, move north and struggle with temptation. Cole’s producing side shows in this track with the song breaking down at the end, and the drums being dropped to sparse percussion.
Track 4 – ‘Power Trip’ ft. Miguel 4:01
Yes, we’ve all heard it plenty of times by now but Cole’s hit single “Power Trip” still sounds as good as ever in the context of the album. It successfully introduced many of the sonic elements that tie “Born Sinner” together: crunchy, jumpy Timbaland-inspired drums, deep, rumbling bass, and soulful melodies, often sung by Cole himself — though Miguel provides a huge assist here, of course. This track was also produced by Cole himself. To prove it he posted the video of him re-making the beat late at night in the studio. Here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FA-stQEPJtw
Track 5 – ‘Mo Money (Interlude)’ 1:18
This very short track will surely be a street favorite. Don’t be fooled by the title, it is a real song. While the eerie sound of the beat intertwines, Cole talks about money and shows his lyrical skill in ending every rhyme with the word ‘Money’.
Track 6 – ‘Trouble’ 4:18
This is my personal favorite track on the album. It shows Cole’s new level in beat producing, and is one of the darkest songs on the album. The choir is also on this track which makes it feel so powerful. Again hes addressing temptation.
Track 7 – ‘Runaway’ 5:15
With a sample of Mike Epps at the beginning telling a joke about married men, Cole goes into a track about relationship problems. He’s trying to be good to his girl but isn’t succeeding “You don’t wanna let her down but you’re too young for the settle down.” But the topics soon expand: a pervy high school coach, how rape during slavery led to his grandmother’s light complexion. The drama builds musically as well, with break-beats and subtle rhodes chords giving way to strings, electric guitars and a bass solo.
Track 8 – ‘She Knows’ ft. Amber Coffman 4:57
Cole once again struggles with monogamy and temptation on this standout cut. But here, as the album begins its journey toward higher ground, Cole’s conscience may finally be winning out. “I’m passing up on bad hoes trying to be what she wants,” he says, while a melody from Amber Coffman of the Dirty Projectors floats above big. Like on many songs on Justin Timberlake’s “The 20/20 Experience” (there’s that Timbaland influence again), the beat launches into a switched-up coda at the end, with the piano chords changing and Amber’s singing blending with Cole’s. You have to give it to J. Cole, for on almost every song, he puts in extra work to take the production beyond the usual looping rap track and transforms them into something bigger and more moving.
Track 9 – ‘Rich Niggaz’ 4:36
Although “Born Sinner” has some powerful beats, the album has intimate moments that shine as well. ‘Rich Niggaz’ starts with a harp looping over the sound of running water, which is very calming while Cole gives some of the most personal and relatable rhymes of the album, rapping about his mom moonlighting for money because his dad wasn’t around. In the end, it’s something of a mission statement for Cole’s career and his struggles throughout it. He wants success, but he doesn’t want to sell his soul for it.
Track 10 – ‘Where’s Jermaine (Skit)’ 0:37
This is a skit featuring choir rehearsal. Don’t really know why Cole put this on the album. Maybe hes trying to show the lighter side of the album. For example there is laughter from the choir and it shows the fun they had. To be honest i’m clueless on this skit.
Track 11 – ‘Forbidden Fruit’ ft. Kendrick Lamar 4:29
Another very different type of beat with a Jazz type of feel, shows Cole’s experimenting with beat producing. Kendrick Lamar, the albums only rap feature. You would think he would spit a hot 16, but no. Kendrick is actually singing on the hook. This song is again showing the temptations of love and lust. Lastly, for all the Cole fans lil Cole is back!
Track 12 – ‘Chaining Day’ 4:45
“Chaining Day” is almost a spin-off of “Jesus Walks.” Cole tackles another dichotomy, one of hip-hop’s most well-known love-hate hypocrisies: the lavish Jesus pendant. “My last piece I swear, I even iced out Jesus hair,” he spits, admitting he bought expensive jewelry and a car to keep up rap-game appearances but still doesn’t own a house. The production is again really well done.
Track 13 – ‘Ain’t That Some Shit (Interlude) 2:27
Like “Mo Money,” this interlude stands on its own, with chopped up, off-kilter strings and a double-time bounce. An amped-up Cole is in top-notch talk-smack form here: “Ain’t that some shit? Well paid from this rapping shit.” The album needed something like this after the tracks which had more deeper meanings.
Track 14 – ‘Crooked Smile’ ft. TLC 4:39
The second single from the album updates “The College Dropout”‘s chipmunk soul, with a sped-up vocal sample, bouncy piano chords and a choir. TLC’s T-Boz and Chili drop an uplifting hook in between J. Cole’s honest bars. It’s easy to see this song becoming Cole’s biggest pop hit yet.
Track 15 – ‘Let Nas Down’ 4:37
t’s already been widely discussed, thanks to Hot 97 personality Peter Rosenberg talking about it on the air (and getting the title wrong, to Cole’s public annoyance). Fortunately, the result lives up to the hype. While a bluesy sax melody loops in the background, Cole recounts his struggles coming up with a good single for his first album, “Cole World: The Sideline Story”, a struggle that eventually produced Cole’s biggest hit to date, “Work Out.” But Cole says he was crushed when he found out via No I.D. that one of his idols, Nas, didn’t like the song. “You made ‘You Owe Me,’ dog, I thought you could relate,” he tells Nas. However, it’s refreshing to see Cole talking about his own musical insecurities.
Track 16 – ‘Born Sinner’ ft. James Fauntleroy 3:29
“Born Sinner” concludes with its title track. Over a backdrop of blues chords and skittering drums. Most people saying its the worst song on the album, but I disagree.
To conclude, as a massive J. Cole fan i’m going to buy this album on the day of release. I love the concept of it, and the theme is really good. On the other hand, I still feel as if he could of put another rappers verse on any one of the tracks, especially ‘Forbidden Fruit’. He could of had Kendrick rap a fresh 16 but instead had him singing the hook. Even putting a massive rap icon like his mentor Jay-Z on one of the tracks would of been amazing like ‘Mr. Nice Watch’ from CWTSS. However, I believe that this album will be as good if not better than Kanyes ‘Yeezus’. This is a true hard core Hip-Hop/Rap album, but apparently Kanyes album ‘Yeezus is mean’t to be a bit on the Rock side of the genre. I feel that kanye would get more sales in the first week cause of his status in the game, but ‘Born Sinner’ will be another classic hip-hop/rap album that would go down in history and will do better in the long run. In my opinion, I will give ‘Born Sinner’ a 9/10.
Written By Arjun Kooner – Gotthathiphop Co-Founder
Twitter – @arjunkooner Instagram – @arjunkooner
Comment below your thoughts on the album, and what you would rate it out of 10. Also vote on the poll on who you would think will sell more albums in the first week, J. Cole with ‘Born Sinner’ or Kanye West with ‘Yeezus’.