Pushing your album’s release date one week forward, to go head to head with Kanye West is a bold and risky move by Jermaine Cole. But when you really think about, and begin to dissect the reasoning behind it, it actually makes a lot of sense. Cole is not yet on the same level as a Kanye West (although his ego may be inching closer to him), but coming out the same day gets the people putting him in the same conversation as one of the biggest and most innovative artists, not just in rap but in music period. Which means more exposure and hype behind the release of Cole’s second solo album, Born Sinner.
The first taste off Born Sinner was from the Miguel assisted single ‘Power Trip’. I’ll admit I was sleeping on this track at first until I saw the video. Now I’m at a point where this could make my top 5 tracks of the year list. Jermaine really did his thing on this record, specifically on the superbly layered production. These are the type of beats I know and expect J. Cole to produce and you can never really go wrong nowadays with Miguel singing on the hook. Lest we forget, Miguel first stepped into the universal spotlight via J. Cole’s very first debut single, “All I Want Is You”. Which seems like light years ago.
Another highlight to me is the Kendrick Lamar/A Tribe Called Quest assisted cut ‘Forbidden Fruit’. If you’re going to use that specific Tribe/Ronnie Foster sample (Electric Relaxation/Mystic Brew), then you better murk it and overall Jermaine delivers some of his best verses on the record. Kendrick is only featured on the hook but it makes me wonder if Cole decided on not letting Kendrick spit so he wouldn’t get shadowed on his own track, a la ‘Renegade’ style with Roc-Nation head honcho Jay-Z and some rapper named Eminem. Again, it’s Kendrick we’re talking about, so I’m not mad at Cole for taking both slots. The track ‘Runaway’ is another stand out for me as Cole gets personal and goes in depth into the pros and cons of having a relationship while being a rap star. Something that relates back to the good/evil, tug of war theme of the LP.
Backtrack to the production for a second, I really wish the rest of the album was on the same level as the single ‘Power Trip’. I mean, I know J. Cole is about his lyrics but to me, the production has to hit equally as hard as the words. And if you’re producing the majority of your record, I would think you would try to supply yourself with more upper-echelon instrumentals OR whittle down your 16-song tracklist. For example, the hard-hitting Hii-Power’d beat he produced for Kendrick. Another note is that the track ‘Cole Summer’, which was released on the Your’s Truly Pt. 2 project could have fit perfectly on Born Sinner. It’s too bad he couldn’t clear the classic Lauryn Hill sample but oh well. In fact, Truly Yours parts 1 and 2, the two mixtapes that served as a prelude to Born Sinner were formidable projects in and of themselves. Cole always seems at his finest and most creative when in a space of pressure-less, free-flowing content.
Prior to the release of the album, there was alot of hype surrounding the track ‘Let Nas Down’. On the record, Cole tells the story of how Chicago producer and Kanye West mentor, No I.D. gave him a call after the release of the single ‘Work Out’ and goes on to tell him how the one and only Nas was let down by the lyrical simplicity of the song. Which is ironic because ‘Work Out’ happens to be Cole’s most commercially successful single. What makes this a more signifacant moment in rap history is that Nas released a response to this record entitled ‘Made Nas Proud’, where the legend gives the young MC praise for his artistry and body of work. Mutual respect from an elder statesman and a young prodigy can be a rarity at times, but it’s not hard to see how both of these artists can mirror each other in some regards.
Altogether, I’m not mad at this album at all, because it’s better than good. And kudos to the young sophomore for amassing more record sales for Born Sinner to date than its release date rival in Yeezus. I can almost appreciate that Cole leaves himself this gap in where he has clear cut room for improvement on any subsequent projects. Feels like he’s doing a reverse-Illmatic to his career, where fans are left anticipating a certified “5-mic” classic album from the young rapper/producer. Credit is due in that regard when you think of all the factors J. Cole has to consider – the trials and tribulations of fully producing your own record seems like more than half the battle in putting out a studio album. There is a certain growth you can hear from the Sideline Story Jermaine and the Born Sinner Jermaine. The rhymes are more thorough and complex and the beats are solid enough to get the job done. As a full length project, Born Sinner will definitely please his core fans and show the rest of the world why Jay-Z signed him and why Nas won’t be let down this time around.