On Tuesday morning (June 18), J. Cole formally liberated his sophomore studio album, befittingly titled Born Sinner. In keeping consistent with his Good Vs. Evil theme, Born Sinner boasts an intricate body of work that is all about struggling with temptation — be it the allure of material wealth, the battle with infidelity or the grapple to keep from becoming the nominal rich antagonist.
Born Sinner is especially unique in that it is J. Cole’s effort to fully produce his own consecutive major-label LP, with no rap feature (excluding bonus tracks on the deluxe version). With the backing of Mark Pitts and Roc Nation, Cole succeeded in executive-producing what could arguably be better than his leading major-label project, Cole World: The Sideline Story (2011).
In an excellent reintroduction to who Jermaine Cole is, the North Carolina emcee achieves blending superb word play and wicked instrumentation. “Mo Money” is the interlude (a single-versed tune) that can easily be considered one of the foremost songs where he effortlessly shows off lyrical ability. “Trouble” and “She Knows” (feat. Dirty Projector’s Amber Coffman), are songs that equally follow suit.
“Chaining Day” is the distinctive cut that talks about giving into material wealth, comparing it to slavery, while “Forbidden Fruit” featuring Kendrick Lamar speaks volumes on the various kinds of ‘forbidden fruits.’ “Ain’t that Some Shit” and “Power Trip” (feat. Miguel) are largely feel-good, infectious tracks you just want to rock to, the latter drawing us into a story of being gripped by the hands of love.
“Villuminati,” (which embodies portions of “Juicy” by Biggie) opens the album, while “Born Sinner,” featuring Fauntleroy closes it. Both are arousing tracks that possess an honest and vulnerable voice, complete with live choirs.
And here’s what really helps separate Cole from the pack –– what makes him stand out as the people’s champ. The relatability and genuineness in his music translate remarkably in songs like “Rich Niggaz,” where Cole fluctuates between quick couplets and long pauses to allow for some of his heaviest lyrics to resonate, in a ballad that recounts his growing up broke, with a single mother who abused drugs. “Let Nas Down” is equivalently engaging as he pens the ultimate ode to one of his idols, Hip-hop legend Nasir Jones.
“I’m just a man of the people/Not above but equal/And for the greater good I walk amongst the evils… This is for the nigga that said Hiphop was dead/I went to hell to resurrect it/how could you fail to respect it.”
Cole generated an album without today’s go-to embellishments (i.e. auto-tune), and managed to restore life to fundamental Hip-hop elements, including lyrical wordplay and soulful/hard-hitting melodies, all while layering on his conceptual flairs. No futuristic-blurring-of-the-generes-new-wave ish (which I’m not totally against), just good Hip-hop.
We could easily give this record a 5… but for the sake of shying away from sheer perfection, Born Sinner gets a